Working students. Aren't they a character? Interrupting classes because they arrive late, skipping classes altogether and affecting everyone in their learning group by not being totally prepared for the latest course, or turning in late assignments and begging for them to be taken into consideration. And they have the best excuse: they have jobs.
Sometimes they seem to forget that a future well-paid job settles above a university degree.
Challenges working students usually face
Of course, not all working students are like the ones I pictured above, but there are very very very few of them who juggle a full time or part time job, study well and have friends, without cutting on their hours of sleep or being close to injecting caffeine directly in their veins in order to keep up with their challenging lifestyles.
Today's economy is not the friendliest with young people. On top of that, they get stuck in a vicious circle when confronted with the employment world, since even low, entry-level jobs demand some work experience. Basically, they need to have some work experience before having any work experience.
So they try to break out of this circle. Some get involved in volunteering and all sorts of other extracurricular activities. Others are happy when they land an unpaid internship. The ones who actually get paid are having the best chances of building a career in their early 20s and develop professionally faster than their less fortunate fellows.
The last thing these students need is to be held back by compulsory attendance and other inflexible rules some university professors still apply.
For example, it's nearly impossible for students working in shifts to be present in the classroom up to 80% of classes/lab seminars. Their working schedule probably allows them to come in 50% of the times and they need to change shifts (which is not always possible) to cover the remaining 30%.
Even when they don't work in shifts and have a 9 to 5 job, they may not be able to leave early each time they have to attend a course and they definitely can't teleport themselves to the classroom one minute after their working hours are over.
If only they could be more in charge of their own time and learn when it's most convenient for them...
Oh wait, they can! Technology saves the day! But only if the university and professors support it.
How e-learning benefits working students
Technology and e-learning are life saviors for all students who have to share their time and energy between the classroom and the workplace.
If all lectures go to the cloud, working students can be virtually present to all of them.
Professors can shoot videos of their classes or simply carry a voice recorder and then upload the files in the shared cloud. This way, all students can benefit from watching/ hearing the lecture and come back to it each time they need to in case they forget something.
If all learning materials can be accessed online, working students can study them at any time, while being anywhere.
They can access the e-learning courses at their point of need: when they have enough time to allocate to learning and when they feel they are not too tired to learn. If they are fast learners, they can go to the next lesson without having to wait for others. Likewise, if they need more time to absorb information from one lesson, others don't need to wait for them.
If all learning group partners can meet in a virtual chat-room, working students can participate more to all discussions, even though not always instantly.
Social interaction will never happen completely online, but actual physical participation becomes less important when the ideas shared by working (and missing) students help the entire group. And it's not like they don't see each other at all, to have to build an online persona from scratch.
If all assignments can be submitted online, working students can manage their time better and miss fewer deadlines.
This is strongly intertwined with accessing learning materials at their point of need, as they have to first prepare for the assignment. But if they can't skip work to go to class and hand in a printed copy of their assignment, it's definitely a relief to know that they can send it online the same day or even before the class begins.
An LMS can turn all of the above ifs — and more — into certainties. E-learning should not be used to replace traditional methods of teaching and learning in universities, but as a supporting means that meets everyone's needs. Working students will greatly benefit from it, as well as professors and universities. But the latter two are interesting and different subjects, so keep an eye on K-20 Blog for future posts addressing them.
Until then, I leave you a question: in what other ways you think working students can benefit from e-learning? Share your opinions in the comments section below.