Remote Resilience: Mississippi’s Quest for a Mindset Makeover
Written by: Courtney Casabella
In March 2020, the world collectively held its breath. The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands into quarantine, job insecurity, and financial uncertainty. It also greatly affected the area of adult education. A year and a half later, society is rushing to return to the “status quo”.
But why – especially, in the realm of adult education?
Many adult learners must overcome a myriad of obstacles including financial difficulties, low literacy levels, incarceration, or complicated family situations. Adult education is designed to give these students an opportunity to advance their careers and improve their situations.
In addition to the adversities listed previously, the pandemic brought to light the vast disparities related to internet access. Many programs offered virtual resources to students taking adult education courses. Now, it seems that many programs are transitioning back to in-person courses. Without even digging into the problem of internet access, or addressing the benefits of virtual learning, why were we not adamantly insisting that digital education become a norm for adult learners?
Prior to last year, online learning had a bit of a reputation as being inferior to face-to-face instruction, and without the shove of the pandemic, would probably still not be a standardized developmental need or priority. Furthermore, despite how essential online learning resources have become, there are still skeptics. Perhaps the most pervasive of negative ideas is that there are too many limitations to online learning and that students (particularly adult education students) are not prepared for those limitations. Both of those notions can and should be dismantled.
What if I told you that online learning is not as different as you think? Instead of viewing online learning under the lens of what it cannot do, take a moment to reflect on all it can:
- Online learning is flexible and customizable. It offers students with childcare constraints, busy work schedules, and hectic lives the opportunity to learn when and where they are able. Asynchronous models are particularly conducive to demanding schedules and allow students to learn at their own pace. Additionally, with various technologies available to educators to facilitate grading and deliver feedback, instructors can dedicate more time to creating personalized content and focus on what matters most.
- Online learning is interactive. Learners need to be involved and have agency when it comes to their education, and with so many educational technologies available the possibilities are endless. Students can get creative and submit assignments in new modalities, such as, video and audio submissions, and can also build e-portfolios that will grow with them. Additionally, platforms like online discussion boards and collaborative documents allow students to build a sense of community and participate in real-time and asynchronously.
- Online learning promotes skills such as time management, effective communication, and self-motivation. Juggling work, personal, and school calendars is not an easy task, and staying on a consistent schedule, proactively communicating, and meeting deadlines requires large amounts of intrinsic motivation. Students completing fully online programs successfully possess a discipline that would be attractive to any future employer or continuing education entity.
- Online learning fosters independence and develops critical thinking skills. Digital learning settings put students in the driver’s seat of their education and allow them to engage in productive struggle. Critical thinking is an integral part of education and online learning pushes students to hone this skill in ways that may not be accessed in an in-person setting.
Circling back to the premise that adult learners are not built for online learning – the change starts with us, as educators. Educators that demonstrate growth mindsets and who actively seek to enable students to believe in their potential are invaluable. Supporting our students’ wellbeing is arguably the most underrated tool in our collective tool belt. When a student is properly motivated, the educational gains that can be made are infinite. I see this point come to life in my practice daily—applying this knowledge has the power to change the way students view themselves and creates pathways for more opportunities.
Before COVID, there were plans to develop an online high school equivalency course to meet the needs of our students. State-level Adult Education administrators sought funding to the initiative which ultimately became the perfect solution when the pandemic began.
In January 2021, the Office of Adult Education in Mississippi was able to hire an Instructional Specialist whose primary role was to create – through research and partnerships – a robust Online HSE program. The program is titled, “E-Dult Online”. The course is built in Canvas – a popular Learning Management System (LMS) and is scheduled for its pilot to launch in July 2021.
Content courses have been developed at three levels: 100, 200, and 300. Each subject, math, science, social studies, and reading language arts has its own unique course but will follow a standard framework over the span of seven weeks.
One of the program’s key features is the e-Skills Success Series Course and learner portfolio. This course will serve as an orientation to become an online student and will also provide opportunities for students to build essential communications skills. Students will have the opportunity to interact with peers, coaches, and instructors in various synchronous and asynchronous formats while attaining their educational, personal, and professional goals.
In a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable. An intentional online classroom yields incredible power and can help students develop into highly effective critical thinkers, skilled employees, and empowered individuals. Initiatives in development, that are rooted in these tenants, have the potential to revolutionize adult education in the years to come.