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Get to Know Your Students
Non-traditional Student Stories
This video provides candid testimonials from non-traditional students about their reasons for attending post-secondary school and provides a game scenario where students answer true or false questions about non-traditional students. Students describe the benefits and challenges they face attending school while balancing their academic and personal lives. The overarching message is that it is critical to recognize non-traditional students and design courses that promote success and balance in their work and life.
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Identify Non-traditional Student Characteristics
Design Course to Accommodate Student Needs
If you are an instructional designer (ID), working with faculty to design an online course, you have early discussions about the course and the students that will take the course. This knowledge of the course and the students provides the instructor and designer with important information to assist the instructor when designing and developing courses for a diverse population with mindful learning paths to promote student success. For many years secondary education has classified student populations as traditional or non-traditional students. With these groupings came definitions for classifying. This digest article will discuss the change in the traditional and nontraditional online student population and stimulate the thought to design courses that meet the needs of this unique student body. Post-pandemic data, from recent studies (Ren, 2022), show that the non-traditional student has become the mainstream student in online higher education (Tarrant, 2023) with nontraditional students composing 74% of undergraduate enrollment (NCES 2015).
The early definition of a traditional student was basic. It was defined as a student under the age of 24 enrolled full-time in post-secondary education immediately following high school graduation (Dennis Carroll & Horn, 1996). Current data shows that non-traditional student enrollment in online higher education continues to grow (Bouchrika, 2023) and with this growth an alteration in the characteristics of the non-traditional online student. Today, a non-traditional student is identified by the presence of one or more of the following seven characteristics (NCES 2015).
NCES Non-traditional Student Characteristics
- Delayed enrollment into postsecondary education
- Attends part-time
- Works full-time while enrolled
- Has dependents other than a spouse
- Is a single parent, or
- Did not obtain a standard high school diploma
This knowledge of student characteristics can be used to make key decisions in course interactions, activities, and assessments.
Along with the characteristics mentioned above, use non-traditional learner needs along with the course design and development non-traditional student considerations to support discussions and implementation concepts with the course instructor/developer.
Online instructors have a responsibility for creating learning environments that promote success for all enrolled students (Columbia 2017). Instructors designing and developing online courses must approach this challenge with knowledge of students’ needs and offer design and development support from their institution. This support could be a Faculty Developer, Instructional Designer, Multimedia Specialist, Instructional Technologists, or online resources available at the institution.
Design for the Non-traditional Learner
Resources for Addressing the Non-traditional Learner
Recommended resources for addressing the needs of non-traditional students:
AI in Online Teaching and Learning
I am concerned! My colleagues are talking about the educational impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT. I see news articles pop up and am wondering how AI will influence the instructor and instructional designer roles. Some of my faculty are really freaking out! I really don’t know where to start.
Help! AI is melting my brain!
See ADDIE's response →
Bren Bedford, MNM, SFC®, Web Project Analyst, Center for Distributed Learning, University of Central Florida
Florence Williams, Ph.D., Associate Instructional Designer, Center for Distributed Learning, University of Central Florida
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