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Technology has changed the classroom, but it doesn’t always change the student experience.

More schools are using digital resources than ever, but too often these advances are simply used to make procedures more efficient for the instructor — while students are stuck in the same routine they’ve known for decades. A routine that, for many, is not tremendously engaging.

Student engagement is key at any level, but it is all the more critical with adult learners. Time is scarce for adult learners, so instructors need to provide relevant experiences learners cannot obtain elsewhere. Innovative use of technology gives us the opportunity to do this in an engaging manner.

Helping Learners Become Powerful Users

To make a lesson engaging with technology, it’s important to focus on the technology skills that have practical use to adult learners. Adult learning theory tells us that adult learners learn best when the material and tasks pertain to their goals and everyday lives.

But the real power of integrating relevant technology is that it achieves much more than engagement. It helps adult learners become confident users of the technology that powers the world.

Many jobs, services, and even cars now use touchscreen interfaces, so technology skills learned on a smartphone or tablet are particularly transferable to all manner of everyday situations. This matches the reality for adult learners: most often, their only connection to the internet is a smartphone.

It then becomes the instructor’s responsibility to provide lessons that teach and use this real-world mobile technology. Instructors can plan lessons that incorporate mobile devices for completing real-world tasks, such as applying for jobs, engaging in online discussions, and creating documents. The result: engaging learning that creates confident users.

Responsive Design: A Tool for Technology and Instruction

A critical step in this path of transforming adult learners into confident users is designing and using software for any device the adult learner might have. This is where responsive design comes in. Through responsive design, a product is designed to respond to the user’s behavior. The software changes its display and features to perform well on whatever device the user has, while still offering the same functionality across all platforms. Ed-tech products designed responsively allow adult learners to learn anywhere on whatever devices they use.

Responsive design then loops back to the classroom, helping instructors create interactive lessons that develop confident technology use. Rather than displaying material on a projector—or even having students practice rote repetition on apps–instructors should have students interacting with course material on their devices while collaborating with fellow learners.
As an example, instructors in Kentucky are using Google Drive with their students. Available on almost any device, these tools allow students to create and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations without a PC or computer lab. When students link their Google accounts to college and career-appropriate email addresses, these interactive activities put into use real-world technology skills.

Powerful Use = Real World Use

As instructors, it is our responsibility to make sure our learners are confident users of the technology necessary for success in modern society. If instruction is planned for this goal, adult learners will likewise be engaged with the material they are learning in class. Such an approach ensures success not just on certification and high school equivalency exams but, most importantly, in future jobs and everyday lives.

While this philosophy has the opportunity to drastically change the outcomes of our classrooms, it is not difficult to get started. Rather than thinking about how we can use technology during a lesson, we should be thinking of how the learners can use technology in the real world.

Here are two ways to learn more about helping adult learners become confident technology users:

  • Watch our recorded webinar with Rudy, the author of this blog, as he shares Kentucky Adult Education’s story of effectively integrating technology across their programs.
  • Read about how to successfully integrate technology into your program through the process of experimenting and iterating.

About Rudy Rhoades

Rudy Rhoades is the Kentucky Adult Education Instructional Technology Consultant, Kentucky Educational Television.

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