Managing the Overwhelmed Adult Learner
It has been several years since I last took a course online. During the time I was away
from online learning, technology has exploded at a rate I simply have not kept up with!
Being a little out of touch would be an understatement as I am not savvy with the multiple
forms of social media nor have I tried to understand them. Welcome to the Provincial
Instructor Diploma Program (PIDP) and the instant requirement to familiarize myself
with new modes of communication used in online learning and teaching on a go forward
basis. Instant Stress!
My learning partner and I chose the topic of the educator’s role in managing the
online adult learner who may be feeling inundated with work, family, social and
school responsibilities. The cyber anxiety and adjusting to working in isolation create
a learner that is in need of an educator’s attention. There are a variety of ways the
online educator can promote success so we chose this topic to explore.
Online teaching and learning can be defined as a method of instruction that is
delivered using the internet. Instruction is given in real-time (live chats, audio and video
conferencing) and/or anytime, anywhere interactions (e-mail, threaded discussions, file
sharing). It is fair to say, the use of this technology in learning is just the way our future is
unfolding. As a result, online learning can be anxiety provoking for any type of student but
particularly so for the adult learner who is typically managing several roles (spouse,
parent, employee) and may have limited familiarity with the array of applications that may
be required in online course content. To accommodate, educator’s have responded by
expanding their role in the learning process that takes into consideration these factors.
So what are the identified stressors associated with online learning? Typically, the
student is working in isolation which is very different from traditional classroom learning
where interaction is ongoing. As a result, communication, or lack of, can be stressful. If
instructor response time to assignments or questions is delayed or infrequent, anxiety
peaks and learning can be impacted. This mode of learning requires a significant amount
of reading and writing. For many, the requirement to type most interactions (emails,
postings and blogs) can be far more time consuming to complete which only creates
additional pressure. As for technology, it is constantly changing. If a learner is not familiar
with a form of media being used, cyber anxiety is ignited.
Managing the overwhelmed online student, particularly in the area of cyber anxiety,
has gradually become an expected part of the educator’s role. Thus creating an ongoing
need to refine the way instruction is provided. To do this, educators are now responsible to
adequately assess and prepare the learner. It is no longer enough for instructors to simply
prepare a lesson plan with learning objectives, deliverables, methods and expected
outcomes. Online teaching requires a student preparation phase in lesson planning. This
would include assessing the current level of comfort and experience with technology,
outlining in detail the required hardware and technical expertise required for success in
the course. In addition, the student preparation phase must include clear course
requirements such as a course outline, expectations, timelines and teacher availability in
order to create a solid foundation for the learner. However, beyond these basics, educators
must ensure guidelines for accessing technical support are clear and that there is the
opportunity for students to engage in tutorials if not familiar with the requirements.
Lastly, the role of supporting the student is pivotal for student success online. To do this
well, educators might feel they need to be available 24/7 but many role models suggest
offering set ‘office hours’ via synchronous tools which allow students real-time response to
My online experience has provided insight to managing the overwhelmed adult
learner. The role educators are playing in online teaching appears to be evolving and
changing in response to students needs through ongoing class experiences.
In an effort to assist online students to feel connected with their learning community,
educators are engaging the use of synchronous tools such as chat rooms and online
conferencing. These tools enhance participation, provide support to the learner, offer a
venue for sharing information, brainstorming, and discussion (Kosalka, 2010). The use of
these tools help make the classroom ‘real’ which often provides a better sense of
attachment for the student and has shown to improve learner engagement with
asynchronous tools also being used in online course delivery.
Also trending in this area is a role change where the professional is focused on
providing support and navigating the content and methods students use to understand the
material. Educators are placing a greater focus on assisting the student to take more
ownership of their learning which is in line with our knowledge based society of learners
who want to apply more critical thinking, independent learning and acquisition of new and
more challenging technology. With this change it has become evident that students are
engaging in a more supportive role with fellow learners through social media,
discussion/study groups, or online study groups that are overseen by a professional who
can guide and respond to issues as they arise.
As we know the use of technology in online education today continues to increase as
new applications arise. However, the latest trend is placing less of a focus on using
technology to deliver the content and more on using technology to support and encourage
students manage their learning. For those with cyber anxiety issues, the addition of this
type of support is critical and will be the essential ingredient for success in online
In my role as an educator I plan to stay in touch with the trends related to readiness to
learn and potential learner anxieties. It was a valuable learning for me to experience the
feeling of being overwhelmed in a world of technology I was not familiar with. For me the
significant learning is that a comprehensive student preparation phase is essential and will
be incorporated in my lesson planning.
Value in Web-Conference
Web-conferencing for the purpose of this assignment was invaluable. Feeling very
isolated and unsure of my thoughts, I was relieved my partner was feeling some of the
same stress related to the volume of work, comfort level with technology and timelines.
Because of this we were able to talk through our ideas and found clarification in a
comfortable environment. I really appreciated how the Skype session made the course feel
it had a human component not just words posted on a screen and as a result, I was
encouraged to complete the task.
A valuable point raised related to the overwhelmed adult learner was to recognize
that in an intimidating environment such as video conferencing, educators must recognize
that adult learners, need to be given more time to respond. They generally fear
embarrassment and therefore might need a little more time to compose a thought or to
reply in real time situations. Additionally, it is essential that their contributions are
recognized which is a key learning for an instructor to be aware of.
Reflecting on my experience with the online student preparation phase provided by
VCC School of Instructor Education following this research, I recognize how thorough
the content and prep work was. Personally, I think more attention could be given to
relieving cyber anxiety through optional tutorials on related course requirements (creating
a blog, links,uploading etc.), but overall the SIE sets a really good example to draw from in
my future as an online educator.