As you begin designing a new course and at the beginning of every semester find out who your students really are. Ask questions such as:
What are the learners' ages? What background do they bring to this course? Are they married with jobs, spouses and children? Have others in their family attended college? What disabilities are potential issues for students taking this course? Are there diversity issues that may need to be addressed? Are all students native English-speakers? What is their major?
Have they ever had a course in this area of study? When did they take it? What kind of grade do they realistically expect from this course? What is their reason for thinking this?
Students as Learners
What are their strengths as a learner? What barriers to learning do they encounter? Do they have access to a computer of their own or will they use one of the labs on campus? Are they familiar with the computer tools and software that may be used? Are they interested in this course or is it taken to 'check the box'? Have they worked in groups in other courses? Are they familiar with the teaching style used in this course? Are students likely to be open to adding the information in this course to their intellectual repertoire or will they resist that change?
Most likely each question will elicit a range of possible characteristics. This range is important to keep in mind when creating the course goals, activities and assessments. Plan for the likely (and not-so-likely) contingencies and the pieces can be implemented easily when/if the need arises. For example, creating a range of possible classroom activities instead of using the same format each week can give a wider framework for learning. Can students pick from a range of assessment types in your course? Perhaps having the option of a presentation, a paper or teaching a skill to others might prove they have learned the material. Students can capitalize on their strengths and be more invested in the product.
Next Step :: Instructional Design
Knowing your students is the first step in the multi-step process of Designing Student Learning. Now check out step two: Instructional Design
Know Your Students :: Resources
Characteristics of the Millennials and Student Learning - Click Here to view video
You are often teaching Millennial students in your courses. Join Ireta Ekstrom in this five-minute video for the top three characteristics that set this group apart and some ideas for using these characteristics to improve student learning.
These students have a number of names, often called Gen Y, Echo Boomers, Millennium Generation, Millennials, iGeneration, Einstein Generation, or the Google Generation. This article describes the group that is typically in college now, and gives insight into what has shaped them and what makes them unique.
This site contains a chart that compares and contrasts adults and children as learners. According to its website, the America Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) is the nation’s premiere adult education organization. AAACE publishes two of the nation’s leading periodicals in adult education and learning.
This site offers a great deal of information with respect to diversity in teaching and learning. It also includes quotes from students regarding the concepts covered, including “what teachers can do.”
Project IDEAL is a consortium of states working to develop effective distance education programs for adult learners. The Project IDEAL Support Center at the University of Michigan helps consortium states by developing training materials and web-based tools.
Articles & Books
Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment: a guide to facilitating learning in higher education
. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Terry's book moves an educator from a content-driven plan of instruction to a learner-centered one. He focuses on creating relevance, improving communication skills, employing brain research, utlizing groups and providing effective feedback. The clincher is that he also focuses on getting the students on board by showing how to share these best practices with students so they know why the course is designed to include these features and how they contribute to increased learning.