It seems too obvious to need saying, but there are differences between kids and adult learners that need to be considered when designing online learning experiences. Although children mature and eventually reach a level of self-direction and motivation, not all kids mature at the same rate. Generally speaking, child and adult learners differ in the following ways:
Depend on the instructor for Are responsible for his or her own
all learning learning
Come with little experience Bring a greater volume and quality
that could be tapped as a resource of experience
Are told what they have to learn Are motivated by the need to
in order to advance to the next know in order to perform more
level of mastery effectively in some aspect of
Learning is a process of Learning must have real-life
acquiring prescribed subject tasks and is organized around
matter with content units life/work situations rather than
sequenced for them subject matter units
Are primarily motivated by Internal motivators; self-esteem,
external pressures, competition recognition, better quality of life,
for grades, and consequences self-confidence, self-actualization
The goal is to turn child learners into adult life-long learners. This is a continuum, in which individuals move forward at their own pace. If you are designing a learning experience for adults, you will want to approach them in a different way than if you are designing for children - even if those children are of high school age.
For advice on designing for adult learners, check out these ideas on Shift's eLearning blog.
If you are designing online learning for children, be sure to keep in mind their reading level. Including the option to hear text read aloud is great, but not a fix-all. When designing for grades 5-12, consider the following:
Very few 5-12th graders really enjoy reading miles of text followed by a quiz of multiple guess questions. While some multiple choice activities are fine, online courses that rely on True/False, Matching, Fill-in-the-blank, and Multiple choice are missing the boat when it comes to engaging students in deep thinking and in helping them really understand the content.
The book Making Thinking Visible is a great resource for K-12 teachers who want to take kids beyond facts and into deep thinking. You might also like to read Teaching Students to Think, an article from Educational Leadership (2008).
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Veteran teacher qualified in educational instructional design.