Q&A: Adult Online Learning: Tackling the Technology

A: No. Actually, being older can be an advantage for you most of the time.

When you're taking online classes, you're not trying to become an expert on the computer, or even to master the wide range of options for electronic/online interaction. You're trying to learn specific subject matter. The computer is just the tool.

Far too often, extensive online experience works against students, rather than for them. They've gotten used to the informality of texting and discussion forums, and to using the abbreviations and slang that are far too common. They've also gotten used to the social norms of online communities.

If you are new to online, you might not even realize that online communities have norms, but they do. Once people have acquired certain habits, they're very hard to break. As an older student, you would (ideally) not dream of submitting a paper that says "IMHO, i'm rite." If you're used to discussion boards, that seems fine.

These social norms extend beyond differences in how words are spelled. You are probably familiar with the concept of file sharing. Well, the mindset that sees nothing wrong with downloading music for free is close to the mindset that sees nothing wrong with copying other people's written work. And you can even follow the logic. Sites like Wikipedia don't list a specific author. They freely give away their work to everyone. How can it be wrong to copy that work? That's a question worth debating, but in practice, it often means that the students most at home on the computer are most likely to accidentally plagiarize.

So, as an older student, you should be fine online. The one area you might run into challenges is dealing with the actual software, but be patient and call your school's help desk.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.