Is it ever too early to begin leadership training? Uncovering the Hidden Why of Career-Focused Adult Learners

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

What if you could engage more students by approaching learning through a different lens? For Adult Learners, career goals are often immediate and tangible, which necessitates a different approach to instruction. Interweaving leadership principles and key takeaways into established content and topics adds depth, leverages personal experience, and enhances learning.


Will Brooke-deBock, Associate Dean of Faculty for Undergraduate Healthcare Administration at SNHU.

Extended Abstract

With the number of students taking online coursework increasing consistently for over a decade and the latest data indicating that over a quarter of higher education students are enrolled in at least one online course, the need for specialized approaches addressing unique populations has become apparent (Smith, 2016). We know that not all learners are the same, and the focus on a student-centered approach in online learning has been gaining traction as additional higher education institutions broaden their offerings. Understanding the needs of unique learner populations is a key component to making the student-centered learning experience both engaging and effective.

Adult Learners are one such population that have embraced online education. These students are often grouped under the umbrella of “non-traditional” students simply because they attend school remotely. When examined more closely, however, one recognizes rather quickly that they are truly a category of their own bringing with them rich life experiences, tangible and immediate goals, and a desire to succeed not only for themselves but for their families. This understanding led to reframing our approach to these learners. What do Adult Learners value and need? How can we support them in the online environment to meet those needs? Reframing our approach with the “end in mind” enabled us to consider an enhanced learning experience for Adult Learners, which extends beyond the basic classroom. Integrating leadership principles and valuable takeaways in alignment with course outcomes and real world application engages these learners on a new level.

In the beginning of 2017, the presenters began critically looking at our First Year Experience gateway course. They examined the course closely considering content in totality (text, course, and support materials and learner feedback). What did student feedback indicate? What were student opinions about the course? Did they have questions, and what were their concerns? Was there a gap between content and learner? If so, how could that gap be bridged? What the presenters determined was that while the content of the course was built on foundational skills for success that hold value for all learners there was a disconnect between expressed value in content and perceived value by adult learners. Further review revealed there was extra “hidden” value within course content that was not being fully explored. Those “hidden extras” were pieces of the bridge needed to help connect adult learners to course content successfully. For our course, that bridge was comprised of leadership skills and principles, and their real world application and value – the hidden whys. Ultimately, adult learners want to know how course topics and outcomes are relevant to them and their goals. They also want to know they can put course skills to use immediately and propel themselves forward in their career.

In this presentation attendees will learn how to unlock the “hidden why” in established course content to illustrate the ultimate real world relevance adult learners crave.

Attendees of this session can expect to:

  • Explore the critical thought processes and guiding questions used to analyze current course material to unveil the “hidden whys” for students.
    • These critical though processes and guiding questions will help establish a framework for course analysis that can be applied to various formats.
  • Examine usable and manageable strategies for integrating “hidden value” into current course content without major overhaul.
    • These strategies keep course content intact while integrating scalable innovation that delivers additional value for the adult learner.
  • Traverse (Tour) the “hidden why” learning approach from initial idea inception through final learning object and everything in between.

Activities integrated within presentation:

  • Short paired discussion:  Provides session attendees the opportunity to further explore and exchange ideas about adult learners and their hidden whys, course analysis, and strategies.
  • Guided brainstorming: Participants will work through a structured brainstorming process to examine possibilities within their own institutions and course offerings.
  • Review of curricular materials: Participants will review curricular materials provided and integrated into the presentation.



Smith, D. (2016, February 25). Report: One in Four Students Enrolled in Online Courses. Retrieved May 05, 2017, from