How designers-by-assignment in community colleges apply Universal Design principles to online course designs to accommodate aging learners
Gail M. Essmaker, Capella University, United States
Capella University . Awarded
Enrollments of online learners in community colleges are predicted to rise through 2020, and enrollments of learners over age 40 are expected to be a substantial part of those rising enrollments. Learners over age 40 typically contend with age-related declines in visual and auditory acuity, in motor skill speed, and in cognitive processing speed. In addition, most community college online courses are designed by instructors, called designers-by-assignment, who are less likely to be familiar with Universal Design (UD) principles for online course designs. This qualitative case study explored how community college online designers-by-assignment apply UD principles to their online course designs to accommodate learners over the age of 40. In this study, 33 designers-by-assignment from six different Midwestern community colleges answered an e-questionnaire to describe how they currently accommodate the age-related needs of learners over 40 when applying UD principles to their online course designs, and to explain their design decisions related to the application or non-application of those principles. Participants were also invited to volunteer for follow-up interviews or online course observations, and six agreed. These six participants provided illustrative examples of their course designs. Questionnaire data revealed that about two-thirds of community college designers-by-assignment had minimal or no familiarity with UD. Examples cited of UD applications in their courses were simple, related to design elements like menus or font changes. True applications of UD principles connected to age-related needs of learners over age 40 were lacking. Recommendations for future research include studies on online learners over 40, on postsecondary designers-by-assignment, and on the presence of UD principles in postsecondary course designs.
Essmaker, G.M. How designers-by-assignment in community colleges apply Universal Design principles to online course designs to accommodate aging learners. Ph.D. thesis, Capella University.
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