Make Online Learning Easy for Parents and Meet a Real Higher Education Need
Online learning is becoming more attractive than ever as an option for parents having a hard time securing childcare coverage. Schools that make this option available are meeting a real need.
It’s time for higher-education institutions to awaken to the need for opening online learning to parents. Online learning used to be the almost exclusive preserve of younger students who were less likely to be encumbered by children and the obligations that come with them. Now, higher education is welcoming a large cohort of older individuals with growing children.
According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), 20% of undergrads have at least one dependent child. That’s 3.8 million people, almost half of which are single mothers.
Returning to college as a parent can be challenging, single parent or not. Balancing the demands of school, work, and childcare is heroic on the best days. However, with the right policies and a clear understanding of the peculiar needs of these students, schools can do a lot to make their second stint at education easier.
What is driving parents back to college?
Parents decide to return to universities for a number of reasons. Among the most important reasons is the fact that there are more than a few well-paying job opportunities that lie out of reach without a relevant degree.
The numbers show that bachelor’s degrees command significantly higher salaries than high-school degrees. For example, statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that people who graduated from a four-year college earn $20,000 to $25,000 more per year than those who earned only a high school diploma.
To make up for the gap, parents without a college degree often have to hold down more than one job. Single parents have to work especially hard just to make ends meet.
Having better job prospects is not the only reason parents are flocking back to college, though. Some parents, especially those enthusiastic about their careers, are simply looking to improve their level of education and acquire new skills. For this group, the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns served as an opportunity to explore long-harbored ambitions to further their education.
Some parents are going back to school to set the right example for their kids and change precedent. Studies have shown that children whose parents had higher education are more likely to do the same themselves. Returning to college in this situation provides a sense of personal achievement and fulfillment for these parents.
No matter what their reasons are, parents benefit from policies and options that make the journey easier. Specifically, colleges that refine online learning for parents stand a much better chance of attracting this growing student demographic.
3 tips to make online learning more accessible to parents
The following research-backed tips can make online learning much more engaging for students in general and parents returning to college in particular:
1. Choose assignments that create interaction and connection among students
Studies indicate that a social connection between students and between students and their instructor is essential for online engagement. Focusing on interaction also requires students to share their understanding of certain topics respectfully and thoughtfully while backing their ideas with research.
There are many ways this can be implemented:
Discussion forums: You can incorporate a discussion forum into your online learning platform, use shared documents, or make use of third-party online discussion platforms. Questions of the week: Through the online class forum, instructors can craft a weekly question that requires students to apply the concepts learned from that week’s lesson. Social media: Instructors can ask students to make private or public videos on social media platforms and invite their classmates to attend and offer feedback. Being available: Instructors simply making themselves available via video conferencing creates avenues for students to ask questions and hang out with coursemates. This could quickly evolve into study groups where students can get much-needed support and clarification.
2. Different modes of learning for different learning styles
Embracing a variety of learning methods enables students to retain information better and enjoy their coursework more. It usually leads to greater engagement and a better online learning experience for everyone involved.
This tip is easy to implement:
Leverage creativity: When working with students who are visual learners or kinesthetically inclined, encourage them to draw their own schematics of difficult concepts as a way to study. For example, they could draw out their own “muscle man” before labeling the primary muscle groups. Encourage collaboration: Auditory and verbal learners will benefit from a study group environment that allows them to ask and answer questions among peers. Instructors can speed up the formation of said groups by asking for contact information in a shared doc, then emailing the group to enable them to connect for the first time, after which they can take things from there.
3. Promote problem-based learning
Case studies, for example, have been shown to improve comprehension. Problem-based learning like this is essential for creating graduates who are ready for their future roles.
Instructors can implement this by assigning each student (or asking them to create) a “client” to work with for the duration of the course. This could be a fictional character or a classmate. Instructors then create challenging scenarios based on these “clients” that require students to use the concepts learned in class.
Offer an enjoyable online learning experience for adult learners
Your higher-ed institution could meet a need for many adult learners by implementing the research-backed tips above. Having the right digital infrastructure will also go a long way towards making your university stand out as a haven for adult learning and parents returning to college.
That’s where KWALL can help. We have the experience and expertise to empower your university to create powerful web experiences for the benefit of your students and the university community at large. Contact KWALL to learn more.