Critical thinking and the online adult learner 

Online Learning: Why or Why Not?

Reasons for adult learners choosing online education include: time, flexibility, availability of programs not available in all locations, avoiding the commute to school, convenience, and the opportunity of career advancement while still working in the student’s current profession.  Most online programs are structured where students communicate via asynchronous means, but synchronous learning has become increasingly popular.

Online learning can be intimidating for those used to a traditional classroom environment.  Students with a tendency to procrastinate might have difficulties with the initiative required in adult online learning.  Submitting an assignment via an online file repository and studying for an online examination could be a significant adjustment for students not accustomed to the independence of online learning. Students must also consider whether meeting at a structured time and place at a brick and mortar college is more beneficial than policing themselves through online learning requirements.


Means of Online Learning

In terms of online learning, the student learning experience can be shaped via synchronous and asynchronous means.  Synchronous learning occurs via video teleconferencing, and asynchronous learning normally occurs via a discussion board embedded into a learning management system such as Canvas or Blackboard.

Hybrid synchronous and asynchronous instruction means include Adobe Connect, Skype, and Blackboard Collaborate.  This allows students to participate in live, synchronous sessions, where they can interact with not only their instructor, but also facilitate interaction and engagement with fellow students.  Some online learning programs utilize a hybrid approach, with synchronous webinars, online discussion boards, and even synchronous “office hours” where the instructor is available via synchronous means during a scheduled time period.

Critical Thinking

According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, defines critical thinking as “that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.”  When looking at the critical thinking definition, one might question what encompasses imposing intellectual standards into our thought process.  For example, is the adult learner already applying critical thinking concepts when committing to online learning delivery?   Does the adult learner exhibit means of critical thinking when scheduling time for both in-class and online education?

My Experience

Online learning was beneficial in my situation.  As an Enlisted Air Force member, my BS and MS degrees were completed in five states and four countries.  Balancing work, family, and school allowed for opportunities such as becoming an Air Force Officer.  My online Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership paved the way for a Civil Service teaching job upon military retirement.  Looking back, critical thinking was absolutely involved in setting myself up for career advancement.  The problem posed to me was wanting to enjoy time with my family, coach the sports teams of my children, advance my professional career, and not feel overwhelmed.  Online learning was instrumental in my personal and professional development.  As I just completed online Air Command and Staff College and prepare for online Naval War College, I am still utilizing critical thinking concepts in an effort to further both personal and professional development.