Monday, August 13, 2012

Motivating eLearners, Pt. 1: Time Management

One of the problems commonly cited by distance learning practitioners is getting learners to follow through on their commitment to work.  So, we're basically talking about adult ed's Achilles heal: retention.  Computers are not a magic bullet that will cure all of adult ed's ills, and we can't expect that every application of technology will motivate every learner.  Despite flexibility and accessibility, attrition is still an issue with online learning. So let's look closer at where the process breaks down and how we can see better results as our learners push through their challenges. 

A June post on the LINCS professional development list zeroed in on a particular challenge: time management. Roger Downey, of Brooklyn, Michigan writes:     
One of the main problems is finding a length of time to work at home without interruptions.  They might be able to do ten or fifteen minutes at a time, but find that they have to go over things when they do leave and come back.  The family at home, especially for single parents, is very difficult to get away from.  When the adult comes to school, they can find someone, usually, to watch the ‘home’ while they are away, but to find someone to watch the ‘home’ when they are home is a difficult situation.
I think I've heard every reason why online learning is a non-starter, won't work, isn't applicable, or doesn't fit adult ed over my 12 years promoting distance ed. I can't refute them all, but maybe adult learners themselves can make a case.  Time management seems like a good place to start, as it gets at the core issue of retention: learner motivation. Our learners are the solution to their own problems, and it's their leadership that will shape the future of adult ed services. No offense to Downey (I responded to his post and we spoke on the phone as well), or anyone who's come up short trying to get results with web-based instruction, but we can't exempt the populations we serve from the option of online distance learning.  We're just letting ourselves off the hook from branching out and growing in new directions as educators. I have advice on program design, in which time management is just one facet. 

Time is on Their Side I don't think adult ed will have to leave the traditional classroom behind, but computer-based instruction that results in  self-directed learners is much closer at hand - and much easier to implement - than many seem to think.  Here are a few suggestions to address some of the barriers of time-on-task:

1) So, you wanna be a cheerleader? Say yes.  The facilitator of online learning shifts the bulk of their attention from teaching academic content to counseling on goal-setting and encouraging good study skills (and tutoring to fill in gaps).  Along the way, you will be called on to root for your learners' steady progress, helping them restart when they get off track, and helping them structure their commitments to make time for their studies, switching subjects or learning platforms to boost morale. Whatever it takes to keep motivation high enough to sustain self-directed learning.

2) You can lead a learner to water: Ironically, finding time to study on a 24/7 time-frame is just as hard as getting to class for many learners, even for those who've requested distance education.  Fortunately, without the time and place requirement, there are more opportunities to drop back in.  This is where educators can mentor learners to make good on their intentions. That usually means helping them organize their time or developing a schedule. However, when the drive to learn and achieve is there, they find the time. Most industrious online learners wind up burning the midnight oil, working between 10pm-2am, after the kids are asleep.

3) Let's make a deal: Consider establishing an expectation for participation, below which, their account closes until they recommit. I think five hours per week is a good guarantee that the learner will build a foundation of skills, establish forward momentum, and they'll be rewarded by witnessing their own progress.  While your program's requirement of five hours may motivate your learners to put in more time, three hours per week is pretty good too.  It's like haggling. Ask for five, settle for three.  At least it's not zero.  Set high expectations and use what they give you and encourage it.

The next few recommendations will discuss the basic approach and structural elements of providing distance education and the role they play in motivating eLearners. Be sure to tune back in, but in the meantime, please leave a comment.

(part two concerns the larger programmatic approach to distance ed, see it right here)


  1. Do you think that time management is the real issue with securing commitment? Is spare time what motivates learners? Lack of spare time definitely requires motivation to overcome. So, where does the motivation come from? How do we encourage it.

    Ever start a campfire? It starts with a spark and then a burning ember, both of which are easily extinguished. You have to get down on the ground and blow on it, and you will look silly doing it. And you've got to put layers of just the right kind of kindling all around to make sure the fire grows. But it will have paid off when you're sitting back and basking in the warmth of the fire that you helped get started.

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  3. I'm enjoying this blog post" 25 Ways to Reduce Dropout Rates in eLearning Courses (Part 1). Let us know if you find something new and appealing for your program.

  4. Mostly elearners are basically dependent on the time factor which is termed as the main concern in their life.

    In a general view if we visualize then elearners are related to the web world and its the platform where the all time ahead keeps one to stand out.

    Hence I recommend the use of time tracking software to be the better option to go for in such consequences.


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