All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2011: The Challenge for Graduates in a Changed World

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Distance Learning for Post-Experience Students
Ellen Fowler

Last modified: 2011-11-18


Distance Learning for Post-Experience Students

Lifelong learning is a touchstone of an economy based on knowledge work and innovation – the kind of economy Ireland aspires to be. Learning options for adult and post-experience students are in increasing demand: mature student entries to higher education increased by 18% between 2005 and 2006 (the last years for which the HEA has published this information), and interest in flexible/distance learning options has seen a striking increase.

Adult and post-experience learners are faced with a host of challenges not encountered by traditional students, including scheduling, skills development, isolation, and work/study/life balance. Distance learning and e-learning resolve some difficulties but add others, such as creating active engagement with teachers and fellow-learners – the sort of engagement that leads to deep and integrated learning.

The Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), located in the University of Limerick (UL), conducts applied research with some of the best companies in the world.  ULearning, a branch of the ERC, currently provides research-based education to over 900 individuals employed in a wide range of industries and professions, including engineering, pharmaceutical, health care, government, manufacturing & service.

A 2010-2011 NAIRTL-funded project has examined ULearning’s expertise in providing distance learning. In brief, effective distance learning leverages technology to support the same activities that engage students in classroom-based learning, including feedback, relflective learning and teamwork. This presentation will summarise the findings of the project and provide practical recommendations to institutions interested in using technology-assisted learning to communicate complex, non-linear content and/or build learning communities/ networks among geographically dispersed post-experience learners. 


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