Online learning as perceived by nontraditional adult learners
Goodwin, Charlene Clare
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The purpose of this study was to understand how nontraditional adult learners perceive online learning. The investigation was guided by three research questions. First, how do nontraditional adult students react to online learning? Second, what factors influenced their successful online learning experiences? Lastly, what factors contributed to their non-successful online experiences? This qualitative study included face-to-face interviews of twelve nontraditional adult learners who were actively participating in online learning courses at the time this study was being completed or had done so in their past educational efforts. Three categories of interrelated findings were inductively drawn from the data using the constant comparative method of analysis. When the participant’s profiles were arranged in a descending age order, the older subjects exhibited more stressful emotional reactions, more lack of computer literacy, and more problems with the technology than the younger age participants. The participants of the study discovered during the interview process that they had indeed experienced growth and development in the area of online learning. The two participants who adamantly disliked online education were still willing to try it again after our session. The participants who enjoyed online were excited about finding new courses to take. The results of this study demonstrate that online learning is a viable method for nontraditional adult learners to use to further their education, personal, and professional goals. Three conclusions were reached: 1) Nontraditional adult learners will be successful with the education method of online learning if the climate is set to address the specific needs of this population, 2) the competence and style of online instructors affect the success of nontraditional adult learners, and 3) the type and user-friendliness of online learning plays an important role in the success of nontraditional adult learners. As a result of this study about online learning, I have experienced a transformational learning experience myself. Online learning did not appeal to me at all in the beginning and now I have gone full circle. I am teaching an online course this fall semester, 2006.