The posting below give some pointers on working with non-traditional online students. It is from Chapter 10: The Role of Distance Education in Enhancing Accessibility for Adult Learners by Karen I. Rhoda, Best Practices in Adult Learning by Lee Bash, Averett University, .Editor. Copyright © 2005 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN 1-882982-78-9 Anker Publishing Company, Inc. 176 Ballville Road, P.O. Box 249, Bolton, MA 01740-0249 [www.ankerpub.com]. Reprinted with permission.
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STUDENT SERVICES FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTS
For example, student services professionals in distance education do not see the online students. Therefore, the offering of online courses and degree programs adds a layer of complexity to the services typically provided for students enrolled in on-campus courses and degree programs. Services for students who enroll in distance education need to be designed carefully with the realization that students may never come to campus. Careful guidance of students helps build an affinity between the students and the college of university.
The Factors to Consider
Experience provides clear evidence that high-quality, comprehensive student support services are critical to enrollment and retention for online degree programs. Access to education in a digitized society confirms that services for online learners must provide the vital link that produces affinity between the student and the academic campus. For today's learners, especially adults, this means the expectation for responsiveness to their individual needs. This kind of response to adult students represents a departure of service for most traditional universities. Services for adults in online programs must be "concerned largely with changing procedures and processes to better serve new audiences. The changes have been highly entrepreneurial, market oriented, and responsive to these growing [numbers] of [students]" (Hanna, 2003, p. 69). As Cureton (2003) points out, today's adult learners come to the academy from the work arena expecting the same quick response they get fr!
om an ATM machine.
As noted, traditional age students have grown up in a technological era, comfortable communicating in online chat rooms, surfing the Internet for information and using email, Palm Pilots, cell phones, and instant messaging. Many adult students have become accustomed to relying on technology because of their experience in the work arena. However, this doesn't mean that all traditional students and adult learners will know how to take an online course and will have a positive attitude toward doing so. Several factors need to be remembered.
* Adult students beginning or returning to college may not have experience with the kind of technology that is applied to higher education. Many enroll in college studies to help them enter the professional or white-collar work arena from their current blue-collar status. They may know how to operate a robotic piece of equipment but may not know how to navigate their way through course management software such as WebCT. Though the baby boomers surf the web more than any other age group (Winters, 2000), they may not have acquired the technical skills required to be students in online classes.
* Lifestyles today reflect such high use of technology that "approximately 90% of adult students have access to a computer-either at home or in the workplace" (Bash, 2003, p. 47). However, this does not remove the trepidation of adult learners who are grappling with technology, academic jargon, and the unfamiliar process of taking college courses while trying to maintain their work and family responsibilities. Some adult learners begin or return to college because their place of work has downsized or changed ownership. Adult learners who are without jobs and are unnerved about their personal situation are already feeling vulnerable. This feeling is compounded when they must attempt to deal with technology as applied to collegiate learning.
* Student services for distant learning programs are typically set up for all students who enroll in online courses and degree programs. Students run the gamut from highly sophisticated computer users to those who need help with the simplest technology. Since the digital divide is widening rather than narrowing, it has results in economic barriers to technological proficiency. This impedes the ability to succeed in the technology in collegiate settings, particularly in state universities with open admission policies.
* Distance education programs have greater success in recruiting and retaining students when their operation includes student services. Programs that don't have student services are more likely to fail. Schrum (as qtd. in "Helping Students Become Tech-Savvy," 2003) notes, "colleges seem to have this sink or swim mentality when it comes to [comfort levels with technology]. It's like, 'sign up for these courses and we'll see if you make it'" (p. 3).
Accreditation for distance education programs that are offered entirely online requires that student services be part of the criteria. For example, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools provides an extensive list of best practices for student services in order to acquire accreditation for electronically offered degree and certificate programs in the region under its auspices. Institutions must heed these guidelines if they want to receive accreditation and be able to recruit.