3 ways the right tech can encourage non-traditional student achievement

adult men using tech in workplace

As institutions analyze their student demographics, they’re seeing that 40% of today’s college students are at least 25 years old, 73% have jobs, and 21% work 20 hours a week or more. They’re not always present on campus — they’re digital learners, relying on online tools and tech more and more every year. Almost three million students enroll in online classes, and another three million have at least some online coursework.

They’re parents, veterans, and caretakers for older family members. Unlike “traditional” students, who only make up a fraction of the population of potential learners, many start their higher education much later than the age of 18. And as a growing force in the educational space, they’re a cause to rethink how we approach teaching. To that end, we’ve spoken to non-traditional students and their professors to find out how tech can support (and fail to support) their learning.

How edtech can support non-traditional students

1. Make lessons accessible to all

Alyssa Kropp, an integrated design instructor, discovered that using programs that bridged the gap between different types of students was a foundational step toward moving her lesson plans forward.

Because all of her students use laptops or smartphones to participate, her most successful materials involve visual, auditory, and closed captioning approaches that attune to diverse learning styles.

“A lot of students are new to design, and so I always encourage online materials — they are interested in being exposed to different methodologies.”

Kropp has taught many international students, ESL students, and students who have started their college careers later than average. Accessibility within digital learning tools is incredibly important to her: “My students come from India, Vietnam, Dubai, the UK — all over. They come from a variety of economic backgrounds and social classes, which brings a different style of diversity.”

Tip for admin: Engaging work can be assigned online, giving your faculty the leeway to develop interactive lessons during the classroom hours. If the tools that you are using for non-traditional students aren’t successful, give your faculty opportunities to incorporate digital learning materials and change their approach.

2. Allow for mobility and class access on the fly

Non-traditional students tend to take different approaches toward making headway in their courses. For Ryan Glassman, a computer science student, his coursework and online class schedule require him to study at unusual times.

“More and more of my lectures are being video recorded, which is nice when you have a huge computer science class. I can catch up on those lectures online, which is a lot better than asking another student for notes.”

Digital tools allow Glassman to manage his time more efficiently while living in a hectic city landscape, “I’m cognizant of how much time I spend commuting each day, which is about an hour and a half each way. I try and relegate classes that have a ton of reading, and I restrict my reading to my commutes.”

He believes the future of education is moving to online self-teach resources where students learn at their own pace and then meet up in the classroom to do work and ask questions about the materials. And he’s not the only one: In a Pearson Global Learner Survey, 81% of people believed that learning will become more DIY the older you get.

“It’s harder for me than most to make use of physical resources like TA hours or review sessions on weekends because I don’t live on campus. So I try to make as much use of the remote stuff as I possibly can.”

Tip for admin: Hold training sessions for faculty on how to provide online course forums that allow students to ask questions remotely. Other students, TAs, or professors can respond with answers. The online forums provide an easy way for non-traditional students to speak up without feeling embarrassed.

3. Engage at your own pace

More than anything, smart tech opens up opportunities to improve a student’s higher education experience, no matter what else they’re juggling. Brianna Maldonado, a United States Marine Corp veteran and student of mental health counseling, is a visual learner who seeks out online videos in addition to her studies.

Maldonado’s unique style of learning leads her to watch educational videos online that supplement her clinical studies: “We’re learning a lot about psychology theorists right now, and online videos can condense materials that are easy to understand. I can pause on keywords that will be useful for midterms.”

Tip for admin: Visual learners thrive with supplemental video materials and in-person engagement. Remind faculty how meaningful one-on-one interactions with non-traditional students can be. Often, digital learning materials provide instructors with data and insights into student learning and study habits they can use to help provide personalized support to these students during office hours.

When you ask the right questions of your non-traditional classroom, you become a step closer toward a pathway to student achievement. For more strategies for enhancing learning for this demographic with digital tools, visit Pearson’s website on institutional leadership.