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Newest community college, in California, will be entirely online. What new skills will adult learners need to succeed?


If California is setting a trend with it's new online community college, and if that trend grows, what will our adult secondary education, high school equivalency, and college transition programs need to do to successfully prepare adult learners for a 100% online post-secondary education? Will they need to not only meet the current College and Career Readiness Standards, but also need to teach adult learners additional skills to succeed in an online post-secondary learning environment?

If so, what are those online learning skills?  Are they the same as the skills adult learners in distance education need? Are there other, non-cognitive, skills they will need, such as self-management. persistence (grit), online teamwork skills, and others?

Are we preparing adult learners now for online learning, perhaps through blended learning programs? Is that the same as a total online learning experience? If not, what's different?

What features of a totally online community college would be needed to keep adult learners engaged? Are there ways to engage learners online that are equal to or better than engaging face-to-face practices?

What are your questions about what California is doing with this new online community college?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups



Su Lyn's picture




I am certainly happy to hear that there is totally online community college.  I am a Learning and Development Facilitator who delivers both face-to-face and virtual training workshops in a financial institution.  I find that quite a few of the adult learners are initially uncomfortable within virtual training context due to the novelty of it. I think online college programs will better prepare students for the workforce that is filled with the integration of technology.  After having finished high school and my undergraduate degree without the heavy use of technology, I enrolled in an online Masters in Education program.  I must say that I encountered many challenges as learning in a virtual context was quite new to me.  With a combination of my experiences both with teaching as well as learning virtually, there are many challenges that persons without technological experiences may face. In order to lessen these challenges and allow students to be better able to transition into online colleges or even the workforce, there are strategies that can be used. I cannot say whether their needs to a specific set of skills or a course taught in order to better prepare students for online colleges.  However, I think teachers should be integrating technology as much as they can within their lessons in high or secondary school. Teachers should encourage the use of digital tools for students to collaborate and present their work.  There are digital tools like Prezi, Google Docs, Popplet, Mindmaps, Padlet, and many others.  Students should be comfortable using these online tools to do collaborative work with their fellow classmates and to present their work.  This develops their technological capabilities and makes them more comfortable with learning in a virtual setting. 

In my professional context, some of the techniques that have worked to keeping students engaged are:

Calling on participants at any time-this keeps them on their toes and keeps their attention

Instead of telling, turn it into an "ask". This engages their mind to think as they can be called on to respond at anytime.  This is crucial in a virtual setting as you are unable to gauge their level of engagement because you cannot see them.

Have discussion pods or forums where the instructor posts weekly questions that require all students to respond-students engage in great discussions and learn from each other

Have students complete assignment in groups so that can have fun with the online tools by collaborating and presenting their work through digital tools-it makes learning more fun and engaging and shifts from the more traditional forms of learning 

These are just some of the techniques and strategies I have used to keep learners engaged in an online context. I think the online learning context can be even more engaging than the face-to-face context as students can be required to participate within online discussions each week. In addition, in a traditional face-to-face context, many students do not participate in class as they may be more intimidated. In the virtual world, they can communicate through writing without that added pressure of speaking in front of large audiences. This encourages more participation.

What are some of the other strategies that other adult educators have used within a virtual context? I would love hear them.