Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Two Most Important Weeks In Distance Ed

It's December 21st and most adult education programs are closed for Christmas, through the middle of next week, or for a longer winter break until after New Years.  Classes ended a week ago or longer.  Classes won't start until the second week in January. This is the most important two weeks the adult education calendar.

There will be a big spike in GED class enrollments in early January. New Year's resolutions, presumably.  The focus of services shifts to intake, assessment, placement, and orientation.  The momentum of last year's progress has collected some dust.  Higher level or self-directed learners encounter the irony of 'hurry up and wait.'  Think highway miles on your car versus start and stop city miles.  Adults' relationship with continuing education is already intermittent, and then you factor in the wear and tear of starting and stopping in accordance with class terms and schedules.  

Learning is 365
Despite the cyclical nature of public programs and traditional classroom services, the needs of adult learners can be served every day of the year.  We're not going to put a dent in the 40 million people needing GEDs without removing barriers to participation, like summer break and winter break. 
How do you empower a learner to keep their studies going while your adult ed program is closed?  Feel free to comment, but one answer is not to close. Designate someone to provide activities, support, and facilitation.  A teacher's hours should not be tied to a schedule or the red tape of grant funding, but to their learners' needs.  No, not every teacher should be given a 365 schedule, or flex hours when they're on-call for their online learners. Just those with the skills and motivation to light a fire under learners and help keep it burning year-round.  Give good teachers flexibility and they'll over-deliver with personal sacrifice and sheer passion.

Learning is 24/7
Before I go further into what might feel like a guilt-trip on (mostly) part-time public employees going on vacation, let me clarify that it doesn't take much to fill most gaps in services.  But, the support needs to be planned and budgeted for to strengthen the safety net... Enough iron-strong threads of silk and the net becomes a trampoline that propels learners to exceed expecations.  Think about our learners. We don't want to encourage them to do the bare minimum: showing up to class. We want to extend the learning beyond the classroom.  What's your favorite way to do that (please comment).  If they want more practice, more videos, more books, more discussion forums or blogs, whatever.  Give it to them (even if it's not reportable) and use it to secure ongoing engagement.  Most online learning takes place between 10pm and 2am. That's learners being resourceful, waiting til the kids are asleep, when the good TV shows are over.  With the right tools, the learners transcend the boundaries of the weekend, and the wee hours.  Educators should take their cues from the most tenacious learners, not the least.

Learning is renewal
Acquiring new skills transforms the learner. We're not the same person after we've acquired new skills. The future is different. It's like the start of a new year.  The path leading up to December is full of ups and downs.  Some completed goals. Others are ongoing. Many fall off the radar. By year's end, it's time to make a big push or risk not continuing the educational pursuit come January.  It's time for a learner to take charge of their own learning process and turn the page. End one chapter so they can start a new one. Sometimes you have to stay up late to do that, or be late to parties or leave early. But it's a xmas gift a learner gives to themselves. One last bit of effort so the new year's opportunities are actually within reach for once. That's what burning the midnight oil on a stretch of otherwise silent nights: the two most important weeks in distance education.  Achievement when no one's looking, except the facilitators of distance learning who'll be poised to celebrate with their tenacious students in the new year.        


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