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Adapting the Process to Nontraditional and Informal Settings

Robert Givens was preparing for a well deserved sabbatical leave from his university. He planned to investigate how academic courses could be delivered at a distance. Robert's plans involved a trip to England for a first-hand look at the British Open University, best known for its efforts in learning at a distance. He also planned visits to several respected American universities to see how they used technology to deliver academic instruction off-campus.

Part of Robert's motivation to study distance education was related to his own experience. While stationed in West Germany as a military officer, he had been able to continue his own education through correspondence study. Later, he directed an overseas program for an American university which used a variety of instructional formats. More recently as an adult education professor, he had been teaching courses on weekends at various sites throughout his state.

Robert felt strongly about was the importance of paying personal attention to individual learner needs regardless of location or proximity to instruction. He thought that this could be accomplished

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handled by using teleconferencing techniques, assigning faculty to receive telephone calls or electronic messages during certain hours, and using fax machines. Although he had some ideas about how learning could be maximized at a distance, he looked forward to his sabbatical for new ideas that could be used in his instruction at home and off-campus.

Although much of our discussion to date has focussed on more formal settings, it has been our experience that the individualizing process can be adapted to most instructional settings. Hopefully, Robert will discover many ways to adapt his own instruction to distance settings during his sabbatical. In prior chapters we have provided examples of changes we make when using the process in short-term training sessions or intensive workshops. However, this chapter's purpose is to discuss the potential of individualizing instruction (a) in the growing number of non-traditional and distance learning forms that are emanating from technological developments, and (b) in reaching learners in other than more formal classrooms. In addition, an innovative effort underway at Syracuse University to use computer technology for some non-traditional learning efforts similar to what Robert was interested in will be described.

Technology's Impact on Learning

There are many forces at work which drive the ways people learn. Not the least of these are various technological developments. The heavy use of computers for personal as well as institutional activities, satellite transmission of communications, and various workplace electronic innovations are some of the obvious changes that have taken place. The recent introduction (and expected rapid expansion) of material stored via images or in digitized formats (CD-ROMs, optical disks, interactive videos, etc.) also requires new thinking about the way we access massive amounts of information.

The number and type of resources available to learners and educators alike also are growing at an astounding rate, primarily because technological developments have speeded up the process of accumulating and disseminating information. Books, journal articles,

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conference proceedings, newsletters, monographs, films, video tapes, slides, and numerous electronic resources are only some of these information sources. This ever-expanding amount of knowledge affects all of us as learners in many ways and has prompted the development of various means for the acquisition of new knowledge. Consequently, a multitude of learning opportunities in formal settings, short-term settings, and non-traditional settings have resulted.

1. There has been a continuous increase in the number of learning opportunities in various non-traditional settings.

There are various reasons for this increase:

Gross (1979) interviewed a person who describes why he prefers participating in a course delivered via a tele-conferencing method: "I can stay home and study at my own pace, at my own desk, in my pajamas with a good cup of coffee." When he is called away to work, he doesn't worry about missing any lessons: "I am able to tape entire programs, which is a great advantage because I can then replay them as many times as I want" (p. 5).

Teleconferencing, correspondence study, internships, apprenticeships, and a multitude of distance or open learning programs are only some of the non-traditional experiences in which adults throughout the world are engaged. In fact, as will be described the rapid advance of electronic communication technology suggests that an ever-increasing number of adults will be involved with learning in non-traditional settings.

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2. Administratively, non-traditional learning programs are characterized by being open learning systems that are used to overcome primarily spatial or distance barriers.

Gross (1979) in talking about non-traditional programs sponsored by higher education believes that open learning refers "to systems that reach out beyond the campus, often by using television and other mass media to bring instructors to learners wherever they are" (p. 3). From our experience, we would add that a variety of learning resources and instructional modes should be made available in addition to providing some kind of input from instructors if a truly individualized system is to be developed, or as Gross (1979) notes, ". . . if a system of `open learning` . . . is to be successful, it must link together a variety of instructional modes, allowing students to move from one form to another when circumstances require it" (p. 16).

Morrison (1989, p. 10) builds on such ideas of stressing competence and performance by suggesting that there are five features which best characterize an open-learning system: (a) the absence of a discriminatory entrance requirement, (b) a results-driven concept of equality, (c) a success-based concept of programme [sic] and service design, (d) a multiple strategy and matching model approach to programme [sic] delivery, and (e) a developmental concept of quality. Morrison believes that not all non-traditional programs can yet be evaluated against such features and urges that educators and administrators work toward satisfying such criteria if they are to become more readily accepted.

3. Preserving the autonomy of the learner is an important feature of nontraditional programs.

Chene (1983) provides a philosophical discussion of the concept of autonomy that is helpful in understanding the importance of this feature: ". . . autonomy refers to one's ability to choose what has value, that is to say, to make choices in harmony with self-realization" (p. 39). For many of us who have worked with self-directed learners, this has come to be associated with terms or concepts like independence, self-responsibility, helping learners assume responsibility for their own learning, and self-determination based on some perception of needs or interests. Brookfield (1984a) suggests some care is needed when thinking about autonomous learning, because although autonomy carries with it a sense of learner control, it also implies "separateness from fellow learners, as well as from institutional recognition."

4. Non-traditional study typically involves some form of independent, individualized study on the part of learners, as well as the incorporation of various learning resources.

It certainly has been

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our experience that individualizing the involvement by learners promotes increased self-direction and the assumption of personal responsibility for learning (Hiemstra, 1975; Leean & Sisco, 1981; Sisco, 1988). This carries over to learning in non-traditional settings, since as Moore (1973) notes: "Because . . . [of being alone] the learner is compelled to accept a comparatively high degree of responsibility for the conduct of a learning programme [sic] (p. 666).

Dressel and Thompson (1973) suggest that taking personal responsibility involves deemphasizing any of those practices, means, or resources which diminish autonomy and emphasizing those which increase it. Thus, learning contracts, study guides, lists of resources, involvement in networks, the educative use of institutions like libraries, museums, and galleries (Hiemstra, 1981a), and various mediated instructional materials are some of the available means. Smith (1982) also discusses other alternative ways of learning through various community or everyday experiences, including such resources or aids as study guides, diaries, journals, and mentoring experiences.

The enhancement of independent learning skills generally requires that instructors learn how to turn over control of many learning decisions: "Properly used, individualization fosters self-discovery and the development of motivation for independent efforts, but as that independence develops, the obligations and privileges of adaptation must be transferred from the teacher to the student. Rather than the professor drawing on . . . [personal] expertise to formulate an individual project, the student gradually takes over responsibility for planning and carrying out . . . [personal] intents" (Dressel & Thompson, 1973, pp. 5-6).

Some Design Issues

5. A number of crucial design issues arise in implementing non-traditional learning opportunities.

The participation of learners from a distance, flexibility in terms of normal institutional expectations, and success for those involved are some of the general expectations underlying any design effort. There also are more specific issues with which a design or content specialist needs to be concerned, including issues such as incentives, quality, resources, and

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availability of appropriate learning resources. The following summarizes some of these issues (Gross, 1979).

Such design considerations generally point out the need for careful planning, obtaining various cooperative agreements, and working to build learning opportunities that will have high quality. The fact that efforts like open university courses require the work of large teams of design and content specialists over fairly long periods of time indicates how important issues like planning, cooperation, and quality control are in enabling non-traditional programs to stand up to the scrutiny of more traditional educators and those officials who eventually must provide some sort of institutional or governmental approval.

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6. Various learner-specific needs also must be considered in designing non-traditional program.

For example, as Niemi and Gooler (1987) point out, the training and involvement of learners with any hardware required for participation can be an important consideration: "If technology is to be effectively used for learning outside the classroom, careful thought must be given to how to prepare people to use such technologies. . . . empowering people to understand and use information resources and technology is one of the major challenges confronting instructional designers and distance educators" (p. 107).

It also is important in non-traditional settings, as in any more formal settings, that learners be involved in the needs assessment process. In addition to individual or personalized needs assessment instruments that can be used, in many instances it will be possible to involve small groups of learners who live in close proximity to discuss each other's needs and subsequently provide guidance to a designer or facilitator responsible for building or prioritizing the contents of future learning activities. Group discussion via the mail, by phone conferencing, or even by computer conferencing can be used if learners are separated by long distances.

The type of assistance or resources provided to learners is another issue to examine. Cabell (1986) describes how learning contracts can be used in non-traditional settings to reduce ambiguities and confusions between the instructor and learner because of the specificity of goals, resources, and time lines that is possible. McKinley (1983) describes how important it is to provide adequate training for learners in using various learning resources. Loewenthal, Blackwelder, and Broomall (1980) encourage the development of well-designed study guides: "The study guide is the means by which you will give the student instructions on the mechanics of the course--how to submit assignments, make examination arrangements, and so forth--and, more importantly, guidance on mastery of the subject matter" (p. 37).

The Future of Nontraditional Learning

Predicting the future of any activity often can be risky and certainly has the potential of being in error. However, some ideas about the future are possible just by extrapolating current developments, making some assumptions about the ability of world leaders to

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continually solve problems that often seem catastrophic in nature, and finding an acceptable path between various options: "It is believed we will continue to find a middle ground, although there certainly are various options still open to people throughout the world. Finding such a central path depends, perhaps optimistically, on rational uses of technological development, wise expenditures of available resources, control of population expansion, and finding peaceful solutions to tensions existing between today's superpowers. "(Hiemstra, 1987a, p. 4).

7. The continual advance of personal computers will have a major impact on both the hardware and software developed for non-traditional learning situations.

Davis and Marlowe (1986) believe that the use of computers and tele-communication networks have enabled learners in remote locations to feel a part of larger groups: "Computers, through teleconferencing and electronic mail, can readily serve groups of interested learners as well as they serve individuals in an office or at home. . . . The computer reduces isolation, enabling colleagues and learners to make contact and keep in touch with one another. Networking with computers promotes the development of special-interest groups and expands one's circle of professional contacts and friends" (p. 94).

Networking with computer and teleconferencing technology generally is referred to as computer conferencing. As Florini (1989) and Harasim (1988) note it provides for interaction among learners who can be geographically dispersed and is based on asynchronous and mediated communication.

Davis and Marlowe (1986) also point out that computers can be used to access a variety of data bases by learners, customize various communication channels, and participate in public bulletin boards. Sheckley (1986), too, describes how personal computers can be used by learners for networking, but also believes they have value as individualized teaching tools for drill and practice activities and as learning tools in such activities as word processing, computations, and decision-making simulations. Rachal (1984) values the privacy of personal computers and their value "to individualize instruction. This allows the student to work at . . . [an individual] pace and to focus the learning effort where it is most needed" (p. 93).

8. A variety of future roles for educators of adults are emerging because of the many technological changes taking place.

Hiemstra (1987a) suggests what some of these roles that may be:

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Nontraditional Learning in Action

Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, is unique in many ways as an institution devoting a portion of its resources to the education of adults. An active graduate program in adult education, a large university extension division, an active off-campus program in adult education and other educational disciplines sponsored through the School of Education, and an extensive collection of resources for educators of adults are some of these efforts. In addition, the city of Syracuse has numerous adult education resources, including national headquarters for Laubach Literacy Incorporated and Literacy Volunteers of America, prompting one person to refer to it as "the Mecca of adult education" (Brightman, 1984, p. 2).

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9. The Kellogg Project at Syracuse University builds on such resources using computer technology in finding ways to individualize how adult educators use information and knowledge.

[Note: The Project ended in 1992. To read the final report go to /kelrpt1.html.]

To explore how technology could be used in non-traditional and individualized ways to assist learners and adult educators in retrieving and using information, Syracuse University and the Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, initiated in 1986 a partnership designed to create a system for adult education knowledge dissemination through advanced computer technology. The result has been a multi-million dollar project whose central purpose is to process, research, and provide broad access to the University's outstanding collection of adult education materials. Greater access to this information and the various ancillary activities that have evolved as a result of project activities are creating a center of scholars and practitioners devoted to enhancing the field of adult education.

Formally known as Syracuse University Resources for Educators of Adults (SUREA), the world's largest repository of English-language adult education materials is housed in the university's libraries. This collection was developed during the past three decades under the leadership of various individuals. At the start of the project, the collection contained nearly 900 linear feet of manuscripts, including personal and organizational records of current and historical importance to the field of adult education. In addition, a large collection of films, audio tapes, slides, and photographs was included. Currently, the collection is being expanded in various ways.

The project has two major features. One feature centers on the electronic transmission of information. This feature is built around a process of optically scanning and storing the printed materials so that the information is recorded either in image or ASCII (character codes for standard computer communication) form for later retrieval. A large computer, several optical workstations, laser printers, optical scanners, optical storage units, and connections for various electronic exchange media make up the main hardware configuration. Another set of equipment provides capabilities for future optical work with the collection's color slides, photographs, and audio taped information.

In addition, project personnel can communicate readily with each other via an internal LAN (Local Area Network) that has connected all the

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project's personal computers together electronically. Project staff also are creating ways for people in other cities and countries to communicate together or to access the data from our collection while sitting at a personal computer or a main-frame computer terminal. The project's initial computer-mediated network (referred to as AEDNET - Adult EDucator's NETwork) is used for the communication effort. AEDNET operates on BITNET, an international computer network currently joining universities and a few other institutions in much of North America, Europe, and in several other locations.  [Note: AEDNET is now managed by Nova-Southeastern University. To join the list and receive mailings from AEDNET send a message to: (no subject necessary) saying: subscribe aednet your_name]. It features electronic messaging, electronic conferencing, cooperative publishing, and an electronic journal entitled, New Horizons in Adult Education [click here for more information.]

The second feature centers on a number of educational components. To begin with, research on the historically-rich adult education collection at Syracuse University by faculty, students, and visiting scholars from throughout the world is strengthening the field's self-knowledge and identity. It also is helping to ground future practice in adult education. In addition, the project holds periodic meetings or conferences designed to stimulate new ideas, sponsors several visiting scholars coming to Syracuse each year, and disseminates a variety of annual publications. Project personnel also are developing and delivering credit courses via a computer conferencing system to be described in the next section.

Although the project has considerable computer technology as a foundational base, involved personnel are concerned that the individual learner does not get lost within the glamor and interesting uses of hardware that surround the effort. Internal discussions among staff, advice from members of both internal and external advisory councils, recommendations from various outside consultants, and interdisciplinary conversations with people from across the Syracuse University campus are helping to keep the individual learner or user of the project's electronic system as a central focus of the total effort. The long-term result should be some major inputs to the adult education field and a better understanding of how to individualize learning efforts.

10. On-line computer conferencing is a technique that uses mainframe computers, personal computers and modems or computer terminals, a sophisticated electronic communication tool, study materials, and the guidance of a facilitator to individualize instruction on any given subject.

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The Syracuse University Kellogg Project also has as one of its features a special effort to individualize instruction through the delivery of graduate credit courses in adult education for learners in non-traditional settings. After examining several alternatives, a decision was made to use on-line computer conferencing as the primary distance education medium. With on-line conferencing, learners can participate in small or large group discussions, submit assignments, interact with other learners and with faculty, and exchange information via computer mediated electronic communication. The medium facilitates participation around a learner's schedule, rapid responses from instructors and fellow students, and access to various resources as needed.

The courses are facilitated via an on-line computer conferencing software program entitled "Participate" (Parti is the nickname used to refer to it) that resides on the university's VAX mainframe computer. Learners currently access courses in three ways: (a) utilizing on-campus terminals, (b) connecting personal computers to the mainframe with modems, telecommunication software, and telephone lines, or (c) connecting personal computers via internet, a high speed fiber optic network that is joining an ever-increasing number of higher education and governmental institutions.

The general design of courses taught via Parti includes the following:

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Although still in its infancy as a distance education medium and with various problems still to be solved, on-line computer conferencing shows considerable promise. It has potential as a means for individualizing instruction, providing education to learners in various locations, and even providing learning opportunities to people who ordinarily would have difficulty participating in educational programs. As Roberts (1988) notes, "The computer is active. Unlike television which can only present to the student, the computer can only work with the student. It is individualized, interactive and diagnostic. And through networking and conferencing the computer is out reaching" (p. 38).

There also are some issues directly related to individualizing instruction that need to be better understood. For example, the whole notion of being able to retrieve considerable information by yourself at a workstation and being able to access a wide variety of data has many connections to individualizing approaches and the use of learning resources. In the very near future it will be possible for an individual to have access to more information than can ever be processed or understood by a single human mind. An important question that must be answered is how do adult educators help such people understand the learning requirements associated with processing and using appropriate information.

There also is now a very chaotic proliferation of information and information resources. Various commercial groups offering networks or data bases are springing up quite steadily. Each may well have a slightly different protocol than the other such that a person has to learn slightly different ways of even getting access to the information that is available. Adult educators thus need to communicate such concerns to system developers, software

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programmers, and hardware manufacturers. Perhaps educators also should insist upon more standardization in terms of what is happening with information dissemination and resources.

Individualizing instruction in non-traditional settings has tremendous potential for meeting the needs of many learners, especially if the facilitator can find ways of empowering the learner to take personal responsibility for much of the learning that occurs. It has been our experience that such empowerment is possible, but it takes patience and perseverance on the part of both learners and facilitators. Fortunately, the payoff for learners is the realization that they can make decisions that result in real personal benefits.


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