Online Discussion Boards

Online Discussion Boards: The Practice of Building Community for Adult Learners

For full text: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis The Journal of Continuing Higher Education in 2017, available online: DOI: 10.1080/07377363.2017.1274616.


“Online education continues to grow, and the application of theory to practice becomes increasingly important as practitioners examine the impact technology has on e-classroom interaction. Adult students, in particular, look for interaction that is collaborative and student-centered. A common area for dialogue within the online classroom is the discussion board or forum, yet despite the large amount of research that has been conducted on the use of discussion boards, many online classrooms fail to effectively use the board to encourage social interaction and learning. This review of literature summarizes the research around best practices and strategies within the practice of online learning, specific to the roles of the instructor, the student, and the course design of the discussion board. Constructivist techniques used to foster communication and a sense of community help administrators and educators build environments for active user engagement. This literature review assists the practitioner to apply research-based techniques to improve the online discussion board.”

Keywords: online learningadult studentsonline discussion boardsconstructivist theoryinstructional design

Covelli, B. (2017). Online discussion boards: The practice of building community for adult learners. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 65(2), 139-145. Taylor & Francis. DOI: 10.1080/07377363.2017.1274616


Guest post: What is nano-learning?

This post is provided by guest blogger, N. Heidi Hess, current student in the MS Training and Development program

Earlier this year I was introduced to the idea of nano-learning. One of the biggest challenges we face in learning is simply time. How do we find time or even make time for learning? How do we sell stakeholders on investing time into training? Nano-learning may offer some solutions.

While most training modules start at about fifteen minutes in length, nano-learning refers to shortening training to about two minutes. An expert in adult learning, Malcolm Knowles explained “the perfect teachable moment as the intersection of a small question with a great small answer” (Masie, 2006). In these moments, we are ready to learn and be receptive to that learning. These moments need not be buried in hours of tedious highly technical training, but very simple, short, and direct to the point training that can be delivered electronically when the learners are ready to receive it. Training of this sort might be in the form of a power point, an infographic, a white paper, a printable job aid, a youtube video, or an interactive activity. Two minutes may not be enough time, but it seems quite reasonable to ask retail employees to spend five minutes reviewing a quick course to help improve performance. Ideally, employees would even be able to learn on a computer on the sales floor between customers so that the training may immediately be put into use.

While any minimalists reading this may be celebrating, the rest of us may be struggling. How can we possibly fit complex information into short bursts? If we look at training in a modular format and focus on one learning objective per module, the idea becomes more achievable. We can still train complex topics by focusing in on one idea at a time. A more complex topic will just require more modules versus a less complex topic that may require something as simple as an infographic. Look for the greatest small answer you can find.


Masie, E. (2006, January). Nano-learning: Miniaturization of design. Chief Learning Officer, 5(1), 17.

Adult Learners

Excerpts from my keynote speech delivered at the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society for adult students at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL.  May 6, 2016

I am honored to be here to talk to you about one of my favorite topics – adult learning.

I have been teaching adults in one form or another for most of my career. I formally moved into what we refer to as “adult education” or the teaching of “nontraditional” students over a decade ago, and I never looked back. For me, teaching adults has become a passion, and I have found a home in furthering the agenda of adult education as a field.

You, on the other hand, might not think of yourself as an adult educator.  But in the next few minutes, I hope you’ll see why the principles of adult education have impacted you and can be used in your everyday life. No matter what field you currently work in or plan to enter, you will be working with adults, and inspiring and engaging adults can be a fun opportunity.

You may wonder why our field has an honors society for adult students.  It may seem confusing that we sometimes separate students into two groups – the “traditional” and the “non-traditional.”  After all, adults are students too, and they have many of the same struggles as a “traditional” student.

“Traditional” students stay up late to finish papers and projects. Adult students have probably done that a few times.

“Traditional” students stress over tests. I swear – no one likes to take tests.

“Traditional” students worry about meeting the expectations of their teachers. I think adults worry about this one even more so.

The difference of course is, “traditional” students don’t usually have children pulling at their attention, or bills to pay, or 40 hours of work to fit into their schedule. So, adult students – whether we call them “nontraditional” or “continuing students” or “degree completers” or some other educational lingo – they are different. You know this. You’re living it.

The theory of adult education – yes there is such a thing – outlines why these differences are significant.

  • Adult learners have life experiences and therefore approach learning with these experiences in tow. Makes sense. The experiences you have had to date help you relate to material in a different way than an 18 year old right out of high school.
  • Adult learners often have jobs and/or home responsibilities. This may seem obvious, but consider how your jobs and responsibilities affect your ability to work towards your degree. Education is often not at the top of an adult’s very long list of things to do.
  • Adult learners have needs. They get headaches. They have body aches. They get tired after long days. And the list goes on.

Hence, we in higher education have figured out that separating the “traditional” and “nontraditional” students is probably a good idea. It’s not that the two groups cannot learn from each other, but the adult’s approach may be unique.

And this honor society recognizes you for your unique accomplishments as adult students.

This leads me back to those aches and pains of being an adult student because it is within these aches that I find my work to be the most gratifying.

I think these aches and pains from life are how we find meaning.

In the 1970’s Malcolm Knowles coined a term to help us understand the meaning of adult education. Andragogy is the art of science of adult learning.

He noted five assumptions about how adults approach education.  You’ll likely connect with some of these assumptions.

  • The first is that adult students use their self-concept or self-direction to learn. You are here because something inside you pushed you to come back to school. You likely needed a lot of resources and the teachers and the support of your family, but it is your self-direction that helps you learn.
  • Another of Knowles assumptions is that an adult’s motivation to learn is internal, and the adult student must find this motivation to learn. I am sure you each have your own motivation for being in school and being here tonight.
  • Knowles other assumptions indicate that adults bring their experiences to learning, they bring a readiness to learn, and finally, they must be able to apply their knowledge.

In your own journey towards your degree and towards this honor you receive today, I am sure you have learned a lot about yourself and your personal approach to learning. This is what adults do naturally. It is the reason why so many adults – like yourself – who do find their way back to education find that it is different from when they were younger.

They amaze themselves that they can do it, and that it’s not as hard as they once thought it would be. They juggle all the responsibilities and “fit it in.”

I often tell prospective students that it’s like diving into a pool. You just have to jump, and make sure you start moving your arms and legs.
Adult students amaze and awe me. They push themselves almost greater than I push them. They use that self-direction and internal motivation to make it work. I sometimes find myself telling students, it is okay to get a B. It is okay to miss an assignment. We have life that gets in the way. But most of my students – probably like you – won’t let those obstacles and barriers get in the way.  They strive for excellence  – as I know you do.

One of my students recently wrote me a note that said:

“For me, this is truly a big accomplishment. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I could do this, I would have never believed it.”

This adult student, and each of you today, have found a pathway to achieve your goal and to do it with honors!  You have worked through your aches and pains to arrive here and we celebrate you.

Be proud of yourself. You have proven you can do it. Keep going and never give up.

And my final charge to you is this:

Go out and teach others that they can do it too.

You have recognized your aches and pains – whatever they are –

and you have turned them into the bug of lifelong learning.


Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development, 7th ed. New York: Routledge. [Kindle paperwhite].

Instructor Satisfaction & Online Learning

This post is provided by guest blogger, Randy Canale, graduate student University of St. Francis, MS Training and Development program

With the explosion in popularity of online learning, more institutions and learners are taking advantage of the convenience and other benefits of this type of training. However, are instructors satisfied in this environment? In a recent article, Dr. Dietrich discusses the Online Instructor Satisfaction Model (OISM), the five factors this model uses to determine instructor satisfaction and suggests five ways to increase instructor satisfaction. In conclusion, the author points out that a satisfied instructor is more motivated and effective in delivery and this results in a more satisfied student. Online instructors should be proactive and use this model to increase their satisfaction with online teaching.

I recommend this article for anyone who conducts online training sessions. The OISM factors provide typical considerations that impact instructor satisfaction. I could sum them up as interaction, support and ownership. Dr. Dietrich (2015) makes it clear that these all impact instructor satisfaction. The suggested ways to increase instructor satisfaction are briefly described and would be a good source of self-help for anyone interested in improving the effectiveness of their delivery and their contentment level with teaching online. These suggestions enable a motivated online educator to increase and maintain their online teaching satisfaction level.


Dietrich, D. (2015, February). Why instructor satisfaction cannot be ignored. eLearn Magazine, 2015(2). Retrieved from

10 elearning trends

This post is provided by guest blogger, Trudy Sulita, graduate student University of St. Francis, MS Training and Development program

Ruby Spencer is the Director, Global Curriculum Development at PulseLearning. Passionate about all things training, she has designed, developed, and implemented synchronous and asynchronous training for a number of national and international clients, including CA Technologies, VMware, IHG and Bank of America. She states there are ten trends for elearning in the near future. These include: gamification (animation, narrative based games); corporate MOOCs or Massive Online Open Courses; personalized learning (puts the learners in control); M-learning (mobile-learning) and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device); augmented learning (augmented or virtual reality); API’s or Application Programming Interface (inbuilt instructions for applications to talk to each other); and wearable learning (smart watches) (Spencer, 2015).

I feel that the author’s assumptions of future learning forecasts are right on the target. With technologies changing minute by minute, learning should keep up with the changing climate. During the brief time I have been an online learner, technology has changed in leaps and bounds. I am looking forward to the learning methods and delivery techniques of the future.

Spencer, R. CTDP (2015, June 3). Top 10 elearning trends for 2015. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from:

Case Based Learning in Radiology Education

This post is provided by guest blogger, Nicole Fischer, CNMT, graduate student University of St. Francis, MS Training and Development program

There are many pathways that learners can take to fulfill knowledge gaps related to personal interests as well as professional endeavors. While much value is still placed on traditional face to face lectures, the implementation of innovative teaching strategies such as case based learning (CBL) has been implemented in medical curricula worldwide and shown great promise (Braeckman, Kint, Bekaert, Cobbaut & Janssens, 2014; Dolmans & Schmidt, 1996; Onyon, 2012).


The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers a number of Radiology certifications, however not all require a learner to participate in an accredited, structured learning program. According to their website, certification and registration of an individual is recognized after a set of standards have been achieved, typically through the demonstration of clinical competence and educational expertise as determined through a specific certification examination related to an area of study.

Typically, individuals interested in performing MR imaging first earn certification in Radiography through the ARRT. History has shown that these technologists then participate in on-the-job training to learn specific imaging procedures as well as face to face lectures with staff physicists to gain the didactic knowledge needed to pass the ARRT MRI Certification Examination. Therefore the purpose of this literature review is to review the use of CBL in health professions education programs and evaluate the perceived effectiveness with regards to the demonstration of clinical competence.

According to a review by Thistlewaite, Davies, Ekocha, Kidd, Macdougall, Matthews, Purkis & Clay (2012), CBL in health professional education was described as a form of inquiry based learning geared towards preparing learners for clinical practice. Furthermore, the authors discussed the importance of using authentic clinical cases to promote the application of learned theories to real life situations in an effort to assist with the integration of learning into practice.

Active Learning

            Active learning approaches have been shown to positively impact student performance (Braeckman et al., 2014; Thistlewaite et al., 2012). Learners must be challenged to acquire knowledge by means greater than attending face to face lectures in which they sit as a receptacle collecting information presented. Likewise, teaching strategies must be designed with learners in mind and focus on the need for learners to develop skills of inquiry, problem solving, critical thinking and clinical reasoning (Vittrup & Davey, 2010) as these skills are vital for all medical professionals including physicians, nurses and allied health staff.

Utilizing technology as a means to present learners with a clinical problem and provide time to consider the possible causes, effect and solutions, while utilizing a mentor’s guidance highlights ways in which CBL is effective and promotes learning (Thistlewaite et al., 2012). Likewise, opportunities for learning are enhanced when they challenge the basis of knowledge already established by the learner and encourage reflection of prior experiences (Vittrup & Davey 2010).


            A number of studies have demonstrated increased confidence and motivation to learn as a result of participation in CBL (Hege, Ropp, Adler, Radon, Masch, Lyon & Fischer, 2007; Maleck, Fischer, Kammer, Zeiler, Mangel, Schenk & Pfeifer, 2001). The use of CBL can be useful for learners of all abilities as a means to identify gaps that exist in knowledge and may spark the desire to acquire more knowledge when gaps are recognized (Williams, 2005). As learners become more familiar with the structure and expectations of CBL, evidence suggests that health professions students enjoy the experience and believe they learn better as a result of participation (Thistlewaite et al., 2012).

Hege et al., discussed a number of aspects that should be considered when developing cases for learning which include usability of software, accessibility of cases or content and the relevance of the content or cases to the learner. This theory can be demonstrated in a study performed by Maleck et al. (2001) who reported on a case based teaching study using Radiology images in which interactivity was highly utilized and valued by the learners to whom it was offered. This format of teaching image interpretation demonstrated clear advantages when compared to utilizing multiple choice questions to assess image interpretation. It is believed that these findings are reflective of the nature and necessity to identify imaging findings in radiology (Maleck et al., 2001).

In addition, CBL when offered in an electronic format, has the potential to provide learning opportunities to users when it is convenient. Learners can access the content or cases and participate in self-directed, self-paced learning (Mishra, Snow-Lisy, Ross, Goldfarb, Goldman & Campbell, 2013).

Perceived Effectiveness

As has been discussed previously in this review, the effectiveness of CBL is contingent on the ability of the learner to link theory to practice through real-life situations. In a rather substantial study, Thistlewaite et al. (2012), evaluated 104 papers comparing the number and type of students involved, research methods used and the level of evaluation according to Kirkpatrick’s hierarchy (Kirkpatrick, 1967). The results of this study show that there is an emphasis on evaluating students according to levels one and two of Kirkpatrick’s hierarchy, student reactions and changes in attitude and knowledge as a result of participating in CBL. Their research did not however evaluate the effectiveness of CBL to influence changes in behavior, such as the demonstration of clinical competence.

A study performed by Ramaekers, Van Keulen, Van Beukelen, Kremer & Pilot (2012), evaluated the perceived effectiveness of a CBL program with regards to student competence in solving clinical problems. As a result of participation, learners in this program demonstrated increased competence in solving clinical problems as well as the ability to solve more complex cases than their counterparts within the same amount of time and with a similar level of interaction. While this research is only evaluating the competence of learners to problem solve in clinical situations, this demonstrated ability could carry over to the evaluation of clinical competence in the performance of radiology imaging studies as well.


CBL can serve as a springboard for critical thinking and promote in depth thinking to engage the application of knowledge gained as a result of participation in learning activities. The benefits of CBL will not only benefit individual learners, but rather, the medical institutions for which learners practice in and the patients in which these specific learners care for. The teams that learners are a part of within individual workgroups as well as interprofessionally may experience increased collaboration and teamwork. Finally, the health care system as a whole may benefit from the integration of CBL as physicians, nurses and allied health staff will have a greater understanding for procedures, processes and the manner in which patient care is delivered using today’s complex, multidisciplinary care teams.


Braechman, L., Kint, L. T., Bekaert, M., Cobbaut, L. & Janssens, H. (2014) Comparison of two case-based learning conditions with real patients in teaching occupational medicine. Medical Teacher, 36, 340-346.

Dolmans, D. & Schmidt, H. (1996). The advantages of problem-based curricula. Postgrad Medical Journal, 72, 535-538.

Hege, I., Ropp, V., Adler, M., Radon, K., Masch, G., Lyon, H. & Fischer M. (2007). Experiences with different integration strategies of case-based e-learning. Medical Teacher29, 791-797.

Kirkpatrick D. (1967). Evaluation of training. In: Training and development handbook. R. Craig & L. Bittel (Eds.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill. pp 131–167.

Maleck, M., Fischer, M. R., Kammer, B., Zeiler, C., Mangel, E., Schenk, F. & Pfeifer, KJ. (2001). Do computers teach better? A media comparison study for case-based teaching in radiology. RadioGraphics 21, 1025-1032.

Mishra, K., Snow-Lisy, D. C., Ross, J., Goldfarb, D. A., Goldman H. & Campbell, S. C. (2013). Evaluation of a case-based urology learning program. Urology, 82 (6), 1207-1210.

Onyon, C. (2012). Problem-based learning: A review of the educational and psychological theory. The Clinical Teacher, 9, 22-26.

Ramaekers, S., Van Keulen, H., Van Beukelen, P., Kremer, W. & Pilot, A. (2012). Effectiveness of a programme design for the development of competence in solving clinical problems. Medical Teacher, 345, e309-e316.

Thistlewaite, J. E., Davies, D., Ekocha, S., Kidd, J. M., Macdougall, C., Matthews, P., Purkis, J. & Clay, D. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education. A BEME systematic review: BEME guide No. 23. Medical Teacher, 34, e421-e444.

Vittrup, AC. & Davey, A. (2010). Problem based learning – ‘Bringing everything together’ – A strategy for graduate nurse programs. Nurse Education in Practice, 10 (2), 88-95.

Williams, B. (2005). Case based learning – a review of the literature: Is there scope for this education paradigm in prehospital education? Emergency Medicine Journal 22, 577-581.

Online Teaching Tools for the Adult Learner

Check out my session from the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE) 2015 national annual conference held this year in St. Louis, MO. Thank you to all who attended the session!


Adult learners have unique needs, and the e-learning or online environment presents additional challenges.  Adult students seek return on their investment of time and money for education.  How do we meet these realities?  This workshop presents the unique learning needs of the adult student through the lens of adult learning theory. It addresses using adults’ experiences in a highly applied and meaningful way with e-learning tools to fulfill adult learner’s goals and desired outcomes.

Online Teaching Tools for the Adult Learner ( presentation)

Webinar (free) Trends in Talent Development in Industry and Academia

Friday September 25, 2015, 10am-11am CT, please join us for this free webinar.

The link to join the webinar is:


Introductions by:
Dr. Orlando Griego, Dean College of Business and Health Administration
Dr. Bonnie J. Covelli, Director School of Professional Studies


Joseph Ferrallo, Instructor
University of St. Francis (moderator)

David Freiberg, Director
CS Programs and Technology, Adobe

Dr. Donna Gardner Liljegren, Director
Elmhurst College Online Center

Maribeth Hearn
Director, Career Success Center
University of St. Francis

Latoya Bailey, Talent Development Administrator
Alexian Brothers Health

Are You An Authentic Leader?

This post is co-written by Bonnie J. Covelli and Iyana Mason.

Are You An Authentic Leader?

Businessman and author Bill George popularized the theory, authentic leadership, by reflecting on his success in the business world spanning 30 years with his publications, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value and True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, published in 2003 and 2007 respectively. According to George (2003), the five dimensions of authentic leadership include passion, values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. Authentic leaders embody the following characteristics: 1) understanding their purpose, 2) practicing solid values, 3) leading with heart, 4) establishing connected relationships, and 5) demonstrating self-discipline (George, 2010). Rather than completing these characteristics in a sequential process, authentic leaders develop these qualities over the course of their lifetime because authentic leaders are not born that way (George, 2010).

George (2010) believed that authentic leaders lead with their hearts and learn from their own and other people’s experiences but strive to be authentic with their values and convictions. A central tenet of George’s authentic leadership model is the importance of the leader’s life story in his or her development. A study of more than 125 leaders of various ages, racial/ethnic, religious, etc. backgrounds to learn how people develop their leadership abilities conducted by George, Sims, McLean and Mayer (2007) found that there were no universal traits, styles, or skills of successful, authentic leaders. Rather, in this study, the authors found that for respondents, being authentic made them more effective as leaders. Furthermore, George asserts that the authenticity of the leader, rather than his or her style, is most important (George, 2010).

As you reflect on your own leadership characteristics, can you point to a spirit of authenticity?


George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [Kindle paperwhite version]. Retrieved from

George, B. (2010). Authentic Leadership. In J. T. McMahon (Ed.), Leadership Classics (pp. 574-583). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A., & Mayer, D. (2007). Discovering your authentic leadership. Harvard Business Review, 129-138.