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Are adult learners the future of Singapore’s EdTech?

Convenience and flexibility are the main reasons why adult learners in Singapore lean towards online learning.

In a report by the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL), prior to the Circuit Breaker — what Singapore referred to as the nearly two-month COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 — only 6.9% of adult learners chose full online learning as their preferred mode of learning. However, post-Circuit Breaker, the number rose to 26.4%.

Preferred mode of learning (Source: Institute for Adult Learning)

A learner shared that “… the journey going there and coming back home is three hours, and actually that’s three hours lesson. So, the good thing is I save the time, instead of traveling, I can relook at the lecture and then do my own self-study.”

“Our lives are quite busy now. At least if it’s asynchronous, I can choose when, where,” added another learner.

Indeed, the thriving EdTech industry has made quality education easily available to those with access to a computer and the Internet. It has also shifted our perception of ‘learning’.

Now adults can re-skill and upskill themselves, whenever and wherever.

That said, IAL also highlighted three main challenges adult learners have with the online learning platform.

Adult Learners’ General Concerns with Online Learning (Source: Institute of Adult Learning)

The ‘humanness’ element

Most adult learners are familiar with the face-to-face interaction of a traditional classroom setting. Hence, it is unsurprising that the learners voiced their issue with the lack of social interaction amongst themselves and with their facilitators.

Despite the many virtues of the digital universe, “the element of ‘humanness’ (is) missing from the online environment, the possibility of building friendships and the value of such interaction to their learning,” said Mr. Sheng Yee Zher, IAL principal researcher.

As online learning becomes the learning norm even in the post-pandemic world, education institutions including learning and development (L&D) facilities must invest in platforms that will encourage better human interaction such as Blackboard, Open Learning, and Google Classroom.

Unfamiliarity with the tech world

Consistent with the COVID-19 Educators Survey, the IAL research emphasized the need for trainers, facilitators, and lecturers to re-skill and upskill their digital skills. This is necessary to raise the quality of online learning.

However, teachers are not the only ones unfamiliar with the technological skills required for a hybrid and online learning environment.

Top 3 Technological Challenges by Age Group (Source: Institute for Adult Learning)

Adult learners ages 40 and above also shared their personal discomfort with the necessary technology to fully experience the benefits of online learning.

“I will look silly … do something wrong and then you miss out on the learning and people get frustrated,” shared a learner. 

As such, “when designing an online learning program… support needs to be provided to learners prior to the online learning programs for them to familiarize themselves with the functions and use of learning platforms; and online learning systems should be intuitive i.e. simple to understand, use and navigate,” said researchers Tan Bao Zhen and Sheng Yee Zher.

IAL hopes that its research encourages training providers and institutions to stay a step ahead of the transformation in adult learning, “especially as our learners become more tech-savvy, they might prefer going for online classes, if they see equal benefits to attending face-to-face, if not more,” added Dr. Chen Zan.

Michelle Low
Michelle Low is a Malaysia-based writer and educator, with experience in interactive learning and archaeogaming.