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To:            Donna Shea, Instructor, et all

From:        Philip Fournier

Date:        Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Subject:    WR3 Adult learning barriers, perceived and actual plus the Motivation Style survey.


First, my survey results: My primary motivation style is Goal and my secondary is Relationship.  I pretty much agree with most of what is said in the Goal oriented paragraph, with one strong exception.  The paragraph ends with saying “don’t find the learning, itself, much fun.”  HUH?  I love to learn.  It’s actually my hobby, my mode of relaxation, and gives me immense pleasure.  I think the reason I show up like this in the survey is because of my busy life.  While I love to learn, sometimes it is a luxury I can’t afford to indulge in.  As a for example, I sometimes assign my students research projects that I would like to do myself, but simply cannot because I lack the time.  This allows me to learn vicariously through my students and also benefits them by encouraging them to go through the learning and researching process.


In reading the article “Engaging Adult learners” the immediate thought that came to my mind is that one obstacle surpasses all others.  The great technological marvel of the 20th century has put to sleep the learning processes of a vast number of individuals.  I’m sure I’ll get some flak for saying this, but I think television bares a large part of the blame for a lack of motivation towards continued lifelong learning.  I recall that I used to teach a one-night-a-week course on computerized engine controls.  This was in the early days of computer control when training on the subject was rare and my class was extremely popular.  Generally the class was full and wait-listed, EXCEPT in the Fall when the course was scheduled on Monday nights.  Then, Monday night football took precedence.  A large number were unwilling to give up the football game for a chance at learning new technology.


The article did not touch on this at all.  I’m not opposed to the suggestions made that age, fear of failure, rural isolation, and so forth also contribute to a lack of participation on the part of adults.  But in my (admittedly limited) experience, the biggest obstacle has been a lack of interest due to time taken up in other areas, and television seems the all-consuming passion of our culture.


I’m allowed to lay the blame here, because this happens to be one excuse I never had in my youth, and have made a conscious choice not to have now.  I was raised in a home sans TV and made the choice that my children would not be the losers if they didn’t have the constant distraction either.


Economic factors are a real hindrance for sure, though I have to wonder about the choices that people make as to where they spend their limited funds.  The California Community College system where I have conducted most of my instruction hours has got to be the best deal on earth when it comes to quality education at a very reasonable price.  Yet, I always cringe when I find out the price of the textbook I am requiring for a course.  I don’t know where the profits from the sale of books go, but I wish they would find their funding source somewhere else.  I do appreciate the incredible value in the e-text online textbook.


Recognizing the problems, i.e., the barriers to adult education is one thing; finding solutions is another matter.  As an instructor, it doesn’t always seem right to me that I should also act as a recruiting officer for the school as well, but often I have been called upon to do that.  One thing I can do is to offer the absolute best instructional quality for the hours that the willing students have invested.  If I have little influence in overcoming the barriers that keep them away from school, at least I can influence the experience they have if they make it to class.


One suggestion from the Skills and Education network that I approve of in overcoming barriers is “bite-sized courses.”  Students who are unable to dedicate 99 hours to a 2 night a week, 16 week course, are much more likely to find a 16 or 20 hours time slot within in two or three week period.  The community college system is slowly beginning to adapt to student’s needs by offering fast-track course, longer than a seminar, but shorter than a full semester course.  The difficulty is that as an accredited institution, certain requirements including assessment must be met.  In a 16 hours course, there is not much time for any extras, including test time.  However, the EVOC courses have given me some good ideas for alternate evaluation methods which make the evaluation a part of the learning process and therefore not wasted time.  The other problem I have is that there are no funds for development of these courses.  The college would be happy to have them developed for them, as long as I am willing to work for free.  I’m a dedicated instructor, but not that dedicated.


The article on distance learning had some excellent observations regarding the strengths and weakness of distance learning for adult learners, and also the barriers that limit the success of an adult learner in a distance learning environment.  CSUSB is my first experience at distance learning.  I found myself well described in the demographics of an adult learner in a distance learning program.  I am an adult with more than a full time job.  I also have a family, and I live a relatively long distance (51 miles) from the institution where I study.  Travel time, transportation expense, and time constraints all form barriers to my education.  Distance learning helps with two of the three.  Normally every class I attend in person means 100 miles on my car, $12 in gas money, and at least two hours of time used rather unprofitably.  The article points out that some students choose distance learning because they imagine it will be “easier” or require less time and effort.   Neither is true, as I have found out (not that I was counting on that in the first place.)


Distance learning seems particularly desirable for adults that have learned self-discipline in their daily lives.  I am working on this paper at 10:38pm at night.  While I’d enjoy reading a book, or just kicking back, I have developed the self-discipline to get my work done first.  But this does not come easy for younger people without the life experience to realize that education has to be worked at; it doesn’t just occur without positive effort.  The article indicates that older adults have a higher completion rate in distance learning as compared to young people, and I can certainly see why.  My daughter did a distance learning government class during her senior year, and I marveled at how she put everything off till the last minute, barely getting the course done in time for graduation.  As self-disciplined kids go, she was probably better than most, graduating fifth in her class of 495 kids.  Yet she lacked the personal skills to really excel in a distance learning environment without the constant supervision of an instructor.


As a distance learning student, I find myself feeling pain for the instructor, namely Shady, having to deal with so many students all submitting their work via e-mail.  It would seem to me that the pressures on distance learning faculty are greater than those of the students.  The widely varying skill levels in the use of technology are also a barrier for the instructor.  If an internet-based discussion board is used, the instructor has to attempt to insure it is used properly; if it is not, it throws the course into confusion, leaving the instructor with the unenviable job of putting out fires rather than doing instructing.  Blackboard is a well thought out solution, but also a very costly one, and unfortunately not available in all situations, including the present one of the EVOC program with is famous history of putting student’s welfare ahead of money considerations.


My biggest complaint of distance learning is described in the article as “feelings of alienation and isolation reported by distance students.”  While my motivational style didn’t show up as overwhelmingly “relationship based”, it did come in as the second motivator for me.  It is true that my goal of finishing my degree outweighs other considerations, but I do miss the interaction of the traditional classroom, and I suspect that other distance learners have similar feelings.  I am currently taking a “Latino Culture” capstone course by distance learning.  I am fascinated by the material and really enjoy the course.  Yet I miss very much the enthusiasm of an instructor’s voice who is really into his subject, as this particular instructor is.  Instead, I read his powerpoints and have to fill in the enthusiasm part on my own.  Shady does a good job of overcoming this isolation by being very quick in her e-mailing, but I know what a strain in must be for her to keep up with it.  I have asked my Latino Culture instructor MANY questions by e-mail, simply because of my fascination with the subject.  He does respond, and generally gives thorough answers to my questions, but not usually in a timely manner, probably due to his own time constraints.


All in all, distance learning is really about overcoming barriers to adult education, rather than creating new barriers.  It gives additional options to students like myself who would otherwise find it almost impossible to further their education.  Admittedly it has its drawbacks, both for students and faculty.  But all in all, it solves far more problems than it creates, and I believe it will continue to improve as technology, and the student’s ability to use technology improves.  I doubt it will ever replace traditional classroom instruction, and who would want it to anyway, especially for vocational instructors like myself who place a high emphasis on the psychomotor domain of instruction.