The Role of E-Learning in Supporting Adult Education
Background to the Research Topic
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Technology play an instrumental role in enhancing the access of education in todayâ€™s environment. Nowadays, there are various learning tools and applications that have been designed with an objective of facilitating access of learning materials or supporting the teaching process from lower classes to the higher level of education (Owede, 2015). For example, e-library is one of e-learning tool widely used in the field of education to support learning by ensuring that learners can access various types of learning materials online from any location.
According to Cakula, Jakobsone and Florea (2015) e-learning technological tools as well as platforms are playing a central role when it comes to the access of education to adult learners. Most of the e-learning platforms support the adult education through providing learners with platforms where they can access learning materials from the tip of their phone as long as they have efficient internet, without necessarily having to physically travel to a library (Chu, 2010). Additionally, there are e-learning tools that make it possible for adult learners to edit their documents, share information with other learners using online platforms, thereby enabling them to improve the overall quality of their writing and communicating skills. For example, Microsoft provides applications that make it possible for adult learners to edit their essays, thereby, improving in the overall quality of their work by ensuring that there are no spelling and other grammatical errors. Merriam and Brockett (2011) indicates that the use of technology in adult learning, provide supportive tools that makes it possible for the adult learners to enhance their learning process both inside and outside the classroom. For example, e-library makes it possible for working adults to access learning materials that can enable them complete assignments given to them in class, from any location as long as they have access to the internet.
Use of E-Learning Tools by Teachers
E-learning tools are used by teachers in different ways. According to Guan, Ding and Ho (2015) e-learning tools, such as online discussion tools make it possible for teachers to easily interact with learners outside the classroom environment. Online discussion platforms, makes it possible for students to interact with teachers on different issues related to learning process. For example, a teacher can use the studentâ€™s discussion platforms to give clarification concerning certain issues or reply to issues raised by learners concerning particular concepts that were learned physically in class. In addition, e-learning tools are also used by teachers in preparing for classes, especially through accessing learning materials that are used to prepare content to be used in teaching adult learners (Merriam and Brockett, 2011).
Additionally, e-learning tools are used by teachers in providing instructions to students on different issues, such as assignments, and communicating on important matters, for instance, when classes are to be held, especially in scenarios where the scheduled classes in the timetable do not take place. Also, e-learning platforms, such as virtual learning environment are used by teachers to post comments and allow students to provide their course work, such as term papers, assignments for review and marking by the teachers. Therefore, e-learning in general support the overall ability of a teacher to provide quality education to adult learners (Merriam and Brockett, 2011).
Connection between the E-learning and Theories
E-learning tools usage in adult education is related to various theories of adult learning and use of technology in education. Transformative learning theory indicates that the process of transformation usually has three different dimensions, namely, convictional, behavioral and psychological (Wegerif, 2007). The e-learning tools support adult learning, especially in the transformation process, whereby, they provide learning materials that enable the learners to have a deeper understanding of themselves and the belief systems in the society. The second theory is known as cognitive theory of multimedia learning, which argues that learning occurs through two main different channels, namely, visual and auditory channels and learning is a process that involves selecting, filtering, organizing as well as information integration (Wegerif, 2007). E-learning provides platforms through which adult learners can acquire information for purposes of engaging in the active process of learning, through both visual as well as auditory channels.
Review of Current Research
According to Owede (2015) e-learning can play an important role in aiding adults to become integral part of the society, especially by fitting in it through continuous learning processes. Owede notes that online learning environments provide platforms through which information about various issues can be shared freely as well as widely, making learning processes within a community possible. Guan, Ding and Ho (2015) indicates that new advancements in the area of communication systems and information technology have resulted in a major shift in the way knowledge is delivered to the learners. The new communication systems and information technology have resulted in creation of online learning platforms, where learners can acquire knowledge unlike in the past, where they had to be physically in class or have physical learning materials in order to acquire knowledge (Guan, Ding and Ho, 2015). According to Azzin et al (2014) online learning platforms are offering alternative means of acquiring education from what students are used to in face-face learning environment as well as the instructor led learning process.
The main benefit of using e-learning environments and tools is the fact that they allow for flexibility in the learning process, especially in situations, whereby, the learner does not have to be physically in classroom (Knowles, Holton and Swanson, 2014).Â For example, virtual learning platforms makes it possible for a learner to acquire education from any location as long as there is internet accessibility and one is able to download e-learning tools. Therefore, adult education, through distance learning model has been made possible due to availability of e-learning tools that make the process of accessing learning materials easier and facilitating the communication process between the learner and the course instructor (Merriam and Brockett, 2011).
According to Guan, Ding and Ho (2015) online learning provides three different means through which learning process can be enhanced, the first one being in the area of enhancing instruction delivery. Online learning enables an instructor to get platforms where it is possible to deliver instructions to the learners without having to physically meet them, such as web-conferences platforms (Guan, Ding and Ho, 2015).
On the other hand, Merriam and Brockett, 2011) indicates that online learning makes it possible for interaction between the learners and instructors, as it provide interaction platforms where sharing of ideas and information is made possible for purposes of making the course contents rich. Alternative, Guan, Ding and Ho (2015) indicates the e-learning tools make it possible for creation of virtual classrooms, which makes possible for a person to learn from any part of the world.
Lambert et al (2014) indicates that e-learning allow for adult learners to continually access education at a lower cost compared to physical classroom learning process. The cost of acquiring learning materials, such as e-books, journals and articles is cheaper compared to physically purchasing them. In addition, Lambert et al (2014) points out that e-learning make it possible for the learners to learn in a flexible learning environment, unlike in a physical classroom, whereby, it is a must for a person to be physically available in a class.
Also, it becomes possible to access a wide variety of learning tools and platforms that support the ability of an individual to gain deeper understanding concerning different issues, some of the platforms include discussion application that allow adult learners to go beyond what they learn in class without having to be physically in a group, discussing an issue, but doing so using virtual learning which is made possible through online learning (Merriam and Brockett, 2011).
One of the findings from the existing literature on the topic discussion is that e-learning play a central role in enabling adult learners to become an integral part of the society, especially through enabling them to continually learn so as to keep up with emerging trends and issues in the society (Owede, 2015). Another major finding is that e-learning has been made possible due to advancement in communication systems and information technology, making it possible to shift from traditional learning platforms, such as physical classrooms. Also, the literature review indicates that the main benefits of using e-learning in supporting adult education are flexibility, low cost and availability numerous opportunities that makes the learning process beneficial to the learner (Lambert et al, 2014).
In addition, e-learning makes it possible for learners to acquire to access their instructors more frequently outside the classroom environment, through creation of platforms that make discussion and communication with instructors possible. Finally, the e-learning tools according to the reviewed literature plays a central role in moving away from the traditional learning process, whereby a student has to be physically available in classroom, through creation of virtual learning platforms.
Emerging Issues for Future Research
There are two major emerging issues in the field of e-learning tools for adult education. There is the issue of the challenges that are being experienced as far as use of e-learning in supporting adult education is concerned. Thus, it is important to have a comprehensive research on the issues so as to understand how they can be addressed in the future. The second emerging issue is related to understanding of the factors that facilitate adoption process of e-learning in adult education. Understanding the factors, through carrying a study on them can aid in the process of facilitating adoption and use of e-learning tools and platforms in adult education in the future.
E-learning can be generally applied in the area of adult education. First, it can be applied in making the learning process flexible, especially taking into account the needs of adult learners, where in most cases, it might not be possible for them to be physically in class at all times. According to Knowles, Holton and Swanson (2014) flexibility in the learning process, especially in situations, whereby, the learner does not have to be physically in classroom. Second, e-learning can be applied in supporting instruction giving in adult learning environment. Merriam and Brockett, 2011) indicates that online learning makes it possible for interaction between the learners and instructors, as it provide interaction platforms where sharing of ideas and information is made possible for purposes of making the course contents rich. Therefore, instructors can use the e-learning tools as basis of giving instructions to the learners at any time, making the learning process interactive in nature. In addition, e-learning can be used in supporting adult education through making it possible for the learners to access learning materials from different sources and engaging one another, making the learning process more learner based rather than instructor based. Given that there are different e-learning tools that makes communication easier, they can be used as basis of facilitating the learning process by making student based discussions an integral part of the learning process.
One of the specific areas that e-learning tools can be used in adult education is facilitating discussions among the learners. For example, there are discussion applications available online and can be used by learners in an adult education, where they create an account to be used by the group members to facilitate engagement process, such as engagement on certain class related issues, such as completion of assignments.
Second, e-learning platforms can be used in the area of accessing learning materials. For example, the learners can make use of the e-libraries to access different learning materials, such as journals, books from any location, making their learning process easier and flexible in nature. Also, e-learning tools, such as word processing tools, document embedding tools and editing applications can be used by the learners to improve their writing skills, by using them to enhance their essay and research presentation skills, particularly in editing documents before they can present them to their instructors. These examples show that e-learning can be used in different ways to support adult education, making the learning process beneficial to the learners in general.
E-learning is well connected to the pedagogy education theory. The pedagogy teaching indicates that a teacher is supposed to create effective lesson plans to meet the specific teaching needs of the target learners. The learning strategies employed should connect with the learners cognitive needs. In this case, the use of e-learning tools make the learning process suitable for the adult learners in the context of modern environment, whereby, learning is possible through use information technology systems (Aziz et al, 2014). E-learning tools, makes it possible for the adult learners to have platforms whereby they can share ideas and knowledge on different issues with other learners. Given that due to age factor, some of the adult learners might be slow in getting things, e-learning platforms support their learning process by providing tools that can be used to facilitate the learning process, especially more interactions with instructors and other learners in a flexible and timely manner.
In summary, e-learning should be embraced in adult education in the future. It has numerous benefits which makes the learning process beneficial to the learners, especially in responding to their social and cognitive needs.
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