Professional Development in Your Pajamas: Adult Learning Online

by Cheryl Fuentes 

“I’ve been in Adult ESL for almost 10 years—is there anything new out there that I should know?”

If you have any experience as a teacher, then you’ve probably used computers as an instructional resource in your classroom, as part of a lesson, or to search the web for teaching tips or lesson plans. But have you ever had the student experience of an online course? 

When the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center announced the Adult Learner Online class last spring, I decided it was finally time to take the plunge and see what it was all about. Many questions went through my mind. “Are you crazy?” “You really don’t know very much about computers.” “How will you ever find time to fit this into an already hectic schedule?” “You’re a trainer who values learner-centered instruction, interaction, and peer learning; how can an online course promote such exchanges?” And finally, “I’ve been in Adult ESL for almost 10 years—is there anything new out there that I should know?” 

Even with these doubts, I decided to give it a try. I thought this would be a good way to get the information without having to really show up for it—or at least I could show up in my pajamas, no makeup, at any hour of the day, with my two-year-old son Victor in tow. And what a wonderful, interactive, resourceful class it was! The technology was no big deal as we had lots of support. One of the first things I did was print out the Participant Guide which promised to solve any problem. Kate Silc was the technology facilitator and was readily available to hold my hand during any tricky tech stuff. (There wasn’t much!) We learned how to develop a web page and to post completed assignments in personal folders. Finding time to participate in the class was seldom an issue. I could log onto the class from any computer (home, work, the library, etc.), and could access it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If I got behind on assignments, I was always able to go back and review discussion items or peer work and still contribute to discussions—unlike a “real” class where you miss the discussion if you’re absent. 

Jane Swing, the course facilitator, encouraged us to share our own stories as they related to course assignments. This was a wonderful way to learn about real situations from real teachers in real classrooms throughout Virginia. Each assignment linked us to excellent reading resources, including some of the most up-to-date research and agendas in the field. In addition, new and useful websites were a part of almost every assignment. 

The only disappointment I had with the course was that some participants never “showed up” or “dropped out” before the course ended. Overall, it was a great experience and much easier (tech and time wise) to participate than I ever imagined. Give it a try! 

Cheryl Fuentes is a full-time mom of Victor and works part-time as an ESL Coordinator with the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP). She also conducts ESL training workshops throughout Virginia for the Resource Center. 

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