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Online learning platform is ‘IDEAL’ for adult learners

Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"online learners"The adoption of technology into our daily lives has been transformative. In many cases, things are now faster, more engaging and more efficient, and as a result, additional opportunities have emerged for accessibility, growth and success. For education and training in Iowa, use of technology is a key component for reaching and inspiring students – especially adult learners – across the state.

The Iowa Distance Education Adult Literacy (IDEAL) project is an upcoming, exciting example of how community college educators are taking advantage of technology to reach more adult learners. Initiated in the summer of 2020 by a task force commissioned by the Iowa Association of Community College Presidents, IDEAL was developed to provide high-quality, teacher-led master courses statewide via an online learning platform.

“In the past two years, adult learners have dramatically increased their participation in learning online,” said Elizabeth Johnson, consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “It shows that an online platform is a viable option for reaching adults.”

IDEAL targets adult learners interested in high school equivalency courses as well as those looking to find additional employment skills training, such as career readiness and interview tactics. Online learning for adults can truly open doors and provide more options for obtaining additional workplace and academic skills.

“I always say that if the traditional classroom had been a good fit for all learners, there wouldn’t be such a need for the high school equivalency programs,” said Juline Albert, vice president of learning at Western Iowa Tech Community College. “Our learners are working multiple jobs, raising children and trying to earn a high school equivalency or strengthen their English skills. We must provide alternatives to the traditional classroom setting if we intend to guide our students to success.”

IDEAL aims to provide many advantages for adult learners. Students will have the opportunity to access courses even if a community college campus is not located near their residence. Courses will be available as synchronous, live classes as well as asynchronous downloads, so students have the flexibility and choice for what is best for their schedules and preferences. This flexibility makes learning more appealing and can help motivate success. Online courses will also help build digital literacy for students, which is a valuable skill for today’s workforce.

“There’s always been discussion about how we can reach individuals who don’t have the means to attend in person due to job schedules, lack of transportation or having to prioritize making a living over education,” said Scott Schneider, dean of adult learning at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. “Being able to provide a mix of options, including online, is something we need to do to reach all of the people who want our services.”

Through a partnership with Iowa Community College Online Consortium, IDEAL will use Canvas, an online learning management system, as the platform that can be accessed anywhere in the state. The platform will provide an online enrollment and registration system as well as a calendar of course offerings. Master courses will eventually be available online in the areas of math, reading and writing, social studies, science, ESL and career essentials and can be tailored to fit the needs of each region.

“The online platform provides a foundation of resources for instructors,” Schneider said. “You can use the course shells as-is or you can modify them for your local needs. It provides flexibility for instructors and staff, and there’s a lot of creative, inventive ideas that can enhance what they are already providing in the course.”

Along with master courses for students, the IDEAL online platform will also provide professional development training for instructors.

“We have already gone through one level of Canvas training,” Schneider said. “There will be other opportunities to help assist and train instructors on how to best use the online platform to reach students.”

The 15 Iowa community colleges are ready for IDEAL as campuses are already developing their own courses. In addition, community colleges have used separate Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds dedicated to online and rural adult education and literacy to purchase laptops and hotspots that can be loaned to students.

IDEAL is currently adding courses and features to the online platform. The first roll out of courses will begin this spring. Full implementation of the project will be completed by December 2022.