Harnessing the Potential of Adult Learning Methodologies
The study by Burge (1990) and Plummer (2000) have shown that the different learning styles for men and women determines the teaching learning approaches to be adopted. Being adult learners who appreciate participatory approaches to learning and come to the teaching learning situation with some level of experience, special teaching-learning approaches should be utilized in the process. Burge (1990) and Wallace (1996) have found the andragogical principles and assumptions regarding adult learners useful, and outlined the roles of the course leader as follows:
Ø plays facilitative roles, respects learner experience, and gives rapid feedback;
Ø enables learners to exercise real freedom, choices, and responsibilities;
Ø promotes experiential learning;
Ø articulates and distinguishes between her/his own and learners' responsibilities;
Ø involves the cognitive and the affective elements of learning;
Ø encourages learners to ask questions and share concerns with others;
Ø acknowledges that learners will not always be self-directed;
Ø maintains academic rigor in content and process.
Building on Malcom Knowles’ (1980; 1990) principle of andragogy, Maehl (2000; 2004) confirms that the characteristics of adult learners invite the following recommendations for those charged with establishing formal educational programs for adults:
Ø Incorporate problem-centred learning and directly address the life experiences of adult learners.
Ø Provide opportunity for adults to play a role in the design, direction, and implementation of learning experience.
Ø Offer flexibility in time, place, mode, and pacing to accommodate changing circumstances.
Ø Recognise that the relationship between learner and teacher must be filled with mutual respect, emphasizing cooperation rather than control.
Ø Provide a positive learning environment including regular and constructive feedback.
Female distance students have specific learning needs that are most effectively met by these woman-centred as well as learner-centred approaches. It is crucial to adopt learner-centred approaches both in the development of instructional materials and course delivery to facilitate the learning. Women engage differently in class and it helps to use the adult learning methodologies to harness their participation in class discussions. Burge concludes in her study that whether or not the content of the course is explicitly feminist, gender analysis of that content, along with the recognition and validation of female learners' specific life situations and experiences, need to be integrated into the teaching and learning process.
In Ghana and for that matter Africa, communal living and support from relatives is the norm. Since the use of household equipments like clothe and dish washing machines, micro waves, mowers, vacuum cleaners etc to support house work is limited, women could seek support from relatives to help them manage their homes while they study. Even in recent times where as a result of urbanization and modernisation it is becoming increasingly difficult to get relatives to help in one’s home, commercial house help or domestic help services are rapidly emerging. Agencies for domestic help services are sprouting out at a fast rate. Their services are not too expensive for the career woman to afford. Labour in Africa is relatively cheap. High level of professionalism is being injected into the service. Though this affects the fees charged by the agencies, one gets quality service that could support women as they work and study.
Meanwhile some women and families frown on the services of domestic helps. Some women have the attitude of doing their domestic chores - washing, cooking, cleaning all by themselves. They find it difficult to trust other people for quality service or just simply enjoy doing it all by themselves and for themselves. Society and some husbands also frown on a wife going for domestic help. It is flagged as laziness on the part of the women. Some men just simply enjoy only the food and services of their wives. This puts much stress on professional women and affects their studies as well. Society is changing, and both men and women need to wake up to the realities that modernisation brings and adjust their way of life to create space for women and provide both traditional and modernized support systems to enable them enhance themselves professionally.
The Potential of ICTs
DE has evolved into a viable and innovative delivery system for higher education. It is playing a key role in university outreach and training. As the field has developed, its distinguishing characteristic of “distance” has grown virtually obsolete. Oclot (1996) has observed that education in the 21st century will simply be considered education, regardless of where, when, and how it is delivered.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been identified as a tool for bridging the gaps in various divides in society. Notions about a global village and the information age are rapidly becoming a reality as more individuals, organizations, and institutions communicate together or access various data bases through large electronic networks like Internet (Darkwa and Mazibuko 2000). Computer based instruction is one of several important DE approaches. Computer mediated conferencing gives opportunities for individualizing instruction, offering education to learners in various locations, and even providing learning opportunities to people who ordinarily would have difficulty participating in educational programs. The use of personal computers for home, business, and education has increased tremendously in the past decades. Just as technology has already blurred the distinction between home and work via the Internet, the web, and remote access to the workplace, technology also has the potential of transforming the home into a learning community where students, parents, teachers and employers could participate in education as part of a vast distributed learning system (Hiemstra 1994; (Leary 2007). These are the potentials that modern information technology presents and provides opportunities for learning at a distance most especially for women.
The use of ICTs for DE has special usefulness for women due to uniqueness of their multiple roles and its impact on their learning styles. Scholars have done studies on the interface between ICTs, DE and women. While some argue that due to the learning styles of women and their multiple tasks, ICTs could be a supportive facility for their studies at a distance, others are of the view that the inherent technological challenges of women will not help the use of ICTs for DE for women. These diverse views are evident in the studies of Evans (1995); Apt and Grieco (1998); and Davenport, (2004) for instance. Apt and Grieco (1998) have discussed that there are certain benefits to the DE mode in seeking to improve women's access to education most particularly in its electronic form. For women, electronic DE can greatly reduce their time costs in education and allow them to overcome the obstacle that fragmented time usually presents in undertaking education. To manage their range of tasks, women frequently handle their task overloads by multi-tasking. They undertake many tasks at the same time: child care, income-generation activity or food preparation. It therefore makes great sense to enable education to be undertaken within the routine scheduling of the day of a woman. Davenport (2004) remarks that technology brings a degree within sight for adults who couldn't pursue one otherwise. Online education opens college doors for adult women, who often are tied to non standard schedules by children and employers. The academic third shift starts at the computer after the kids go to bed. Internet connectivity on cellular phones, PDAs and laptops like the $100 laptop initiative by MIT could be devices that could support women in their studies at a distance.
It is obvious that if ICTs have so much potential for promoting learning at a distance most especially for women, then there is the need for the State and development partners to make it a priority.
The Government of Ghana has not been silent on the use of ICTs to support education in the country. Several proposals have been made for the use of ICTs to facilitate learning and widen access.
In a report on the President’s Committee on Review of Education Reforms in Ghana (2002), it has been highlighted that Ghana cannot be left out in this global economy of using ICT for development. A well planned and effective training programme in ICT will provide the country with a pool of ICT manpower and skilled labour with ICT knowledge necessary to meet the demands of industrialized education.