Nelson Baker shares skills that help adult students succeed online

Graphic of digital technology experience

Adult learners are no different than undergraduates: they need services and guidance that allow them to succeed throughout their careers. Or, as Dr. Nelson Baker thinks about it, universities need to meet the needs of learners over their entire lifetime.

Baker is the dean of professional education at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He will explore this topic at the University of WisconsinMadison’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, August 6-8. He considers the DT&L conference to be a training ground and a future thinking ground all in one.

His talk, “Deliberate Innovation for Tomorrow’s Lifetime Learners,” will emphasize the role of higher education in teaching learners throughout their lives, rather than the traditional focus on young adults. He’ll also participate in panel discussions on artificial intelligence and the digital revolution’s impact on universities.

In the following interview, Baker shares his vision for universities’ role in lifelong learning.

Drl Nelson Baker, dean at Georgia Institute for Technology
Baker will investigate how universities can best meet the needs of adult learners through their lifetime

How do you hope conference attendees will translate what you talk about into practical action?

I aim to motivate them to think about holistic programming from “K to forever” and the role higher education can play in the lives of learners throughout their lifetimes. I also hope to get them to think about ways we can provide nontraditional services, act as advisors to learners, and help learners navigate their education throughout their lives and careers.

What are effective approaches to offering affordable online degrees at scale? What is their value to students? To an institution?

Delivering value to the learner is always first and foremost. That means offering the same rigorous, high-quality education online as we offer on campus and making it affordable. Market research and employer input is essential to ensure that we’re offering education that addresses challenges in the workforce. At Georgia Tech, offering online degrees at-scale enables us to serve greater needs, such as addressing industry skills gaps and providing opportunities learners would not otherwise have had. The degrees have also increased our visibility as an institution.

What are some effective strategies that educators can use to help students succeed in an online environment?

Students need to make sure they’re prepared to take on the challenge of an online degree. In addition to being prepared academically, it means making sure they’ve organized their lives to accommodate the degree. It also means having the stamina and the motivation to take on a challenging graduate degree while working and having a personal life.

As for the educators, they can provide a clear syllabus at the beginning of the program. It’s essential to for learners to be able to know course prerequisites so that they can plan ahead and know how much time various aspects the program will take. Also, setting clear expectations, learning goals, and outcomes for students at the start of the program is important. At Georgia Tech, we have a learning design team that works closely with faculty members as they develop their online courses to ensure optimal content delivery to learners.

What questions would you like to address with fellow conference-goers?

Is it time for higher education leaders to argue for a new type of policy, act, or bill? In 1862, the Morrill Act that created the land grant for colleges sent a strong message that education is important. Then after World War II, the GI Bill was passed, which reinforced this message. Is it time, today, for another act or bill that enables people to retool in their current jobs or careers or to build the skills necessary to switch careers? I’m excited to hear from our peers on this topic.

The Distance Teaching & Learning Conference offers a glimpse of the future for nearly 800 higher education faculty members, staff, instructional designers, and workforce trainers at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Internationally recognized experts from UW–Madison and other institutions across North America will explore strategies for giving students more control over where, when, and how they pursue an education.

To learn more or register for the Aug. 6-8 event, see the conference website