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Adults Prefer Physical Classrooms to Virtual

by on May 24, 2016

While many may attest to the idea that online leaning is a wave that future generations will ride, today’s adults prefer learning the old-fashioned way: in a classroom with other students and a teacher at the front of the room. For many, this continued education takes place at their local libraries. According to the Pew Research Center, most adults feel libraries are successful at serving the educational needs of its patrons.

Pew looked at approximately three thousand people aged eighteen and older and researched how and where these adults learned after leaving formal education. What they found is that the Internet is secondary in most respects to physical classroom learning: “For the 75 percent of adults who identified as personal learners, only a third turned to the Internet for most or all of their learning. The study also found differences when it comes to education and income level. For those with a bachelor’s degree, technology is helping. But for those with just a high school diploma, it’s not playing a big role.”[1] Some of this may be accredited to home access: Lower education and lower income households may not have access to broadband and/or are unacquainted with online learning tools like Kahn Academy.

“As a rule, libraries’ performance in learning gets better marks from women, blacks, Hispanics, those in lower income housing, and those ages 30 and older.”[2] Pew Research Center also found that 74 percent of adults have taken “personal learning” programs over the past year, and that 63 percent of full or part-time workers have taken courses or job training programs to inprove their professional skills. Additionally, they found that recent library users are more likely to take courses related to personal interests and or attend learning related events than those who do not use the library.

Pew reports that 62 percent of local libraries offer online career and job related resources, 35 percent offer GED prep courses and materials, and 33 percent offer programs on starting a new business.[3] Libraries provide the perfect opportunities for their patrons to become life-long learners. They provide the location and the instructors for these classes, as well as additional information via books, magazines, or Internet access if a student wants to explore the topic further.

As an adult who went back to school via an online master’s program, I have a first-hand approach to discussing this. I must admit that navigating the world of online education was daunting and was a learning process in and of itself. I made the choice to go online for my education for several reasons, but mainly because of the time and travel commitment of campus life. I felt a sense of dread when I thought about having to drive to campus, find parking, locate buildings and classrooms—not to mention inclement weather. Walking across campus in the middle of a snowstorm cannot compare to the option of attending class on my laptop in my living room, next to a fireplace while drinking a hot beverage.

That said, there were definitely times I wished that I was in a classroom, learning with others. Although online courses allow the option  to interact and ask questions to the class and teacher, I still felt that my learning abilities made human interaction necessary when I struggled with a concept. I do not think I am unique in this regard. Many adults prefer classroom leaning because it is familiar and comfortable because this is the way they were taught to learn in the first place. Similarly, libraries are, for many, a familiar and comfortable source of education and research. Whether you are learning how to file your taxes, taking a coding class, or even attending a jewelry-making or knitting seminar, your local library is a wonderful resource for continuing your lifelong learning experience.

Some adult oriented classes that are offered at my local library are:

  • Extreme Couponing: includes tips, tricks, and time-saving methods for maximum couponing.
  • Computer Basics: a hands-on class that is an introduction to the computer and includes a mouse tutorial.
  • Internet Basics: learn basic Internet terms, as well as how to browse and search using a search engine.
  • Compost Workshop: how to make compost and make your own garden fertilizer.
  • Cake decorating: learn how to decorate a cake with fondant and gumpaste flowers.
  • First Aid: learn skills such as how to treat bleeding, sprains, broken bones, shock, and other first aid emergencies.

Please share with us the classes your local library offers!

[1] Elissa Nadworthy, “For Adults, Lifelong Learning Happens The Old Fashioned Way,” nprED, March 22, 2016.
[2] John B. Horrigan, “Lifelong Learning and Technology,” Pew Research Center, March 22, 2016.
[3] Ibid.

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