To implement the effective practice in an online classroom, the course developer and instructor need to consider all students in the same way. This includes applying Knowles characteristics to all students. Knowles characteristics are shown in italics followed by an example implement that practice (Knowles, 1984, p. 12).
Self-concept: As a person matures, self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
Most online environments require students to be self-directed. Offering time management skills in the orientation course and providing students with direct access to the instructor benefits those, regardless of age, with the skill set needed to continue to be self-directed.
Experience: Maturity brings about a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
The online environment should be tailored to allow all students the opportunity to share their experiences. Even traditionally aged students who are attending online classes have outside responsibilities that can be used to support their learning. In addition, the accessibility of information on the Internet can provide a wealth of information all students can use as a resource. Most online students are also working students and many are paying their own way, giving them additional resources.
Readiness to learn: As a person matures the readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of social roles.
Online students who are not ready to learn will not survive the course online. It is extremely difficult to survive the complexity and self-directed nature of online courses, so students, regardless of age must be committed to learning and to contributing to the social environment of the classroom.
Orientation to learning: As a person matures time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly the orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
In general, our society has become an immediate society. The availability of information and the changing economy has created immediacy in many respects, including getting an education. Most students, regardless of age, are problem focused as many do not have the time or money to focus on the pursuit of a subject for the sake of knowledge. Students in an online class enjoy solving problems, a skill they will carry with them when they graduate. By providing problem solving and critical thinking exercises in an online class, students learn to be critical thinkers.
Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal
Students who attend online education do so from an internal motivation. Online classwork is done, for the most part, in isolation so without internal motivation to complete the class, the student may drop out. Recognizing and allowing students to give a voice to their motivation often results in the same responses, regardless of age: I have always wanted a degree, I need it for my current job (or better job), or I want to change fields.