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Adult Learners: Do You Practice What You Preach?

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As a parent, do you ever say to your children, “Do as I say, not as a I do”?  I was curious if my own suggestions for online learning could be categorized under that adage.

I recently wrote a blog titled “What Makes a Gold-Star Online Student.” In this blog, I discussed behaviors that lead to successful outcomes for middle or high school students. As an online student myself, I was wondering if I followed my own advice and whether it could be applied to adult learners.

This week, I took a moment to self-assess. I’ve recapped my advice to online students and included my thoughts on how I followed these tips as an adult online learner. These reflections may help you in your professional development opportunities.


Introducing Myself to My Teacher

In each of my online courses, we are required to post a brief personal introduction to the discussion board. I have found this practice to be a great way to learn about my peers.

By taking the time to read through these introductions and begin online conversations, I formed professional connections and personal friendships. In addition, I found that the tidbits I learned about my professors make great conversation starters for when I speak with them during their office hours.

Responding to Teachers’ Emails

Email is the primary form of communication in my online program, so prompt and clear email responses are key.  Currently, I am working with a professor who only communicates through email. She sends one email with important information and expects us to read it and respond promptly.  If I ignore an email or don’t respond, then I may not be included in a meeting, or, worse, I may lose points on an assignment.

Submitting Original Work

Plagiarism is cause for dismissal from the program. Enough said.

Reading and Following Directions

In my online program, there may only be three or four assignments for an entire course. If I don’t follow the directions, I could easily lose enough points to drop one or more letter grades in the course. I make certain that I follow the directions, and if I need clarification on a concept or assignment, I will ask my professor for additional details.

I recall instances where peers did not follow directions, which resulted in an unrecoverable score. Subsequently, they needed to repeat the course.

Advocating for Myself

Advocating for myself has real consequences. For example, I found an error with my scholarship and contacted the Financial Aid Office to correct this error. If I hadn’t advocated for myself, the Financial Aid Office may not have found the error, and I may have lost a significant amount of money.

In another example, the total points in a class were not calculating correctly. I asked my professor to investigate, and she was grateful that I noticed and shared the miscalculation.

Using Standard English

At the university level, standard English is expected. I’m rather confident that I would earn a zero on a paper if I submitted it using texting language rather than academic language.

Attending Office Hours

My professors have been quite generous with their time. I’ve spoken with many of them on the phone or through video conferencing, and they have answered my questions or clarified a concept. I’ve learned a great deal from my professors during these conversations. 

In one instance, for example, I had a question about a paper, so I attended my professor’s office hours. Not only did I receive clarification about the requirements for the paper, I also received suggestions for authors whose scholarly articles were relevant to my topic. The professor also gave me a few suggestions for completing an upcoming project.

Asking Questions

I routinely ask my professors questions. I’ve asked for clarification on assignments and on their feedback. For example, I submitted a paper and earned a lower grade than I expected. In addition, I did not understand the professor’s comments on this paper, so I asked her if we could talk.

I learned more about academic writing in that one 15-minute conversation than I did in any other course. When I am writing a paper today, years later, I still think about and implement the advice and feedback she shared during our phone call.


As I reflect on my advice, I would like to share one additional suggestion: find peers who are also academically motivated and become one another’s support.

Help each other to stay motivated, work hard, and make good decisions. I have a wonderful group of friends in my online program, and these friends have made my online learning experience more meaningful and enjoyable.

It seems as if I am following my own advice for online learning, but I would like your thoughts. Are you an adult in an online learning environment?  If so, what advice would you share with other adult online students?  How well do you practice what you preach?