Traditional Learner

Collage of 3 photos. 1. Group of students working on individual laptops. 2. Male with headphones looking at a laptop. 3. Female writing in a book on a table.

Key Characteristics

  • 18-24 years old
  • Attending post-secondary full-time
  • Enrolled in post-secondary directly after high school, or maybe after taking a gap year
  • Do not have major life or work responsibilities, such as a full-time job or dependents

The traditional learner and online learning

For many traditional learners, taking an online course in college or university may be the first time they engage with online learning in a meaningful way. These learners have grown up in a digital world, having used digital tools at some point throughout K-12, and likely use digital tools daily to communicate with their social group. This has allowed them to develop some digital literacy, although many skills are often still lacking.

Traditional learners often have good ICT literacy. Since they grew up using technology and navigating the internet, they have familiarity with basic educational technologies such as word processing software, computers, and the internet. Moreover, their general familiarity with technology often means that they are able to pick up new technologies easily, and know how to problem-solve using internet searches. Traditional learners are likely also familiar with communicating with their social group online, through social media and messaging apps. However, they may not always be aware of professional communication standards, or know how to articulate academic reasoning and critical thinking. They may also struggle with communicating for the purpose of collaboration, although this may be attributed to a lack of collaboration skills rather than the ability to collaborate online.

According to the MOOC, the online learner must learn independently: learners need to be able to organize their own schedules, decide how much time they will spend on course work, identify the information that they need and ensure its validity, and find ways to engage with others and establish connections. For a traditional learner who is used to a face-to-face system, these are all new skills. Previously, school schedules, teachers, and parents determined when they would learn and how much time they would spend on different topics. All information came straight from the instructor; there was no need to find outside resources on your own to clarify or further explore concepts, because the teacher was always readily available to answer quick questions. It wasn’t difficult to engage with others, because peers were in the same room. Many traditional learners may be unfamiliar with effective study strategies in general, and this becomes amplified when learning in an online environment. They may simply passively consume course content (text-based content, videos, etc.) without employing strategies that will help them understand and remember and connect the dots. Traditional learners may also have not yet developed the self-regulation skills that are so important for online learning, and may struggle to make time to engage in course content and complete assignments.

The traditional learner and Learning to Learn Online

In many ways, the MOOC is well-suited for a traditional learner. While it doesn’t go in-depth into every digital literacy a traditional learner may need support with, the content of the MOOC could help the traditional learner understand what to expect with online learning. In particular, the MOOC delivers much of its content through a lens of self-development, asking learners to think about what kind of learner they are, and what adjustments they may have to make in order to learn successfully online. Through reading about common attributes of online learning, differences between online and face-to-face learning, common tools of online learning, important habits and practices, and necessary communication skills, the learner can gain knowledge while also gaining a sense of which areas may need further development.

In many areas, the MOOC may not deliver everything that a learner needs in order to develop the digital literacy needed for online learning, but it is certainly a good place for learners to start.

Image credit: Photos by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash, Wes Hicks on Unsplash and Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash


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Learning To Learn Online Copyright © by Nicole Crozier and Joanna Lake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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