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«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»

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In contrast to children, adults need to understand why they are learning, learn from errors, take responsibility for their own learning, learn in ways which will help them personally, focus on problem solving, and be motivated internally (Cranton, 1992; Knowles et al., 1998). Further, Cantor (1992) made several assumptions based on this theory that includes the notions that: (a) adults need to be shown respect; (b) adults are autonomous and self-directed; (c) adults are goal-oriented; (d) adults are relevancy oriented (problem centered) —they need to know why they are learning something; (e) adults are practical and problem-solvers; and (f) adults have accumulated life experiences and knowledge from their work. In other words, “andragogy means that instruction for adults needs to focus more on the process and less on the content being taught (Kearsley, n.d). Moreover, when andragogy is applied culturally, race, class, and gender are important factors in academics (Imel, 2001). When ethnic and gender minority adult students learn, it is important for them to share their life experiences with the class, be sensitive to individual differences, learn in culturally relevant ways, and form relationships with their peers (Imel, 2001).

Kolb (1984) is well-known for his learning style theory as related to adults.

According to Kolb, learning styles can be seen on a continuum that falls within a fourstage learning cycle. In Stage One, one has to have a concrete experience or be involved in a new experience. In Stage Two, through the concrete experience one has reflective observations through watching others or developing observations about the experience. In Stage Three, the Stage Two observations are assimilated into



In other words, one begins to create theories to explain observations and produce implications for action. In Stage Four, through active experimentation, one actively tests out their theories to solve problems and thus make decisions. Kolb’s learning styles were made more concrete for instructional use by Hartman (1995). Instructional strategies that respond to the concrete experiencer are laboratories, field work, observations or trigger films. For the reflective observer, use of logs, journals or brainstorming are most appropriate. Providing for the abstract conceptualizer, lectures, papers, and analogies are great sources to encourage maximum participation. The active experimenter responds well to simulations, case studies, and homework.

Brookfield (1995) explored four major adult learning processes. First of all, adult learners desire to take control of their learning; it is self-directed. They do so by setting up their own goals, by searching for resources that will assist them in meeting their goals, by deciding on learning styles that will best suite them in completing their tasks, and by evaluating their process. Secondly, critical reflection is a process of learning how adults think contextually and critically. Third, experiential learning can be maximized by adult teachers using their adult students’ experiences within their teaching. Finally, learning to learn is not just for the present; it is for the purpose of lifelong learning.

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Culture is the communication patterns, values, beliefs, and aesthetic standards passed from one generation to the next (Parillo, 2003, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005); it influences how its members see the world (Adler, 2001, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005).

Therefore, if culture has such an impact on how members view the world around them, it can also be surmised that culture can be an influential factor in how one learns (Shade, 1989). It is important, however, to recognize that not all scholars give credence to culture’s impact on learning. Many researchers believe that culture has nothing to do with learning and performance (Rovai et al., 2005). Further, these researchers believe that students have their own individual ways of learning that have nothing to do with culture.

Scholars who subscribe to this school of thought posit that students, regardless of culture, must meet the demands set by the instructor if they desire to succeed.

In contrast, scholars who study cultural relevance in teaching have different opinions about the importance of culture and learning. Theorists like Geneva Gay (2006) and Gloria Ladson-Billings (2009) believe that culture influences how one communicates in the classroom and has an important impact on how members of a culture may perform academically. In fact, scholars like Ogbu (1999) demonstrated how every culture has its own language and code. Singer (1987) agreed when he said, “Language is the manifestation-verbal or otherwise of the perceptions, attitudes, values, beliefs and disbelief systems that the group holds” (as cited in Gay, 2006, p. 5). Therefore culture, due to its influences on communication, is significant to teaching and learning (Collis, 1999).

Further, studies demonstrated that communication patterns could be a key contributor to the disparities in achievement between Black and White students (Johnson, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Rovai et al., 2005). These disparities exist not only in K-12 education, but also all the way to graduate schools (Rovai et al., 2005) and in online learning as well (Korgen, Odell, & Schumacher, 2001). When students do not speak the language of the dominant culture, they can be left behind academically.

African American Speech and Dialogue Generally speaking, Black speech is emotionally intense, expressive, dynamic and demonstrative in comparison to Europeans’ (Holtgraves & Duline, 1994; Kochman & Neuliep, 2002, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005; Walker, 2003). African Americans need teacher immediacy, signs that the teacher shows attentiveness, liking, closeness and engagement (Boykin, 1983). In other words, they prefer for their teachers to speak directly to them when in a classroom situation. Boykin (1983) stated that they also need nonverbal immediacy like smiles, eye contact, and movement around the classroom.

Most HBCU professors’ teaching styles include dominating the classroom with challenging, yet nurturing highly rhetorical communication and using analogies to create realistic situations (Boykin, 1986), perhaps another way in responding to the need of their students for teacher immediacy In addition, African Americans have unique speech patterns. One speech pattern used by African Americans is call and response. It is an important speech pattern found in African American dialogue (Daniel & Smitherman, 1989; Foster, 2002). Call and response is the “African derived communication process of spontaneous verbal and nonverbal interaction between speaker and listener in that all of the speakers “calls” are punctuated by expressive ‘responses’ from the listener” (Boone, 2003, p. 104). Further, call and response functions as an encouragement to the speaker and fosters community.

More specifically, famous educators like Marva Collins use call and response to produce high performing African American students (Boone, 2003). In addition, call and response is also used in college settings with African American professors where the majority of students are African American. When used in the classroom, it is used to demonstrate students’ understanding that the classroom is a community. It helps students unite in the classroom community (Kochman, 1983, as cited in Boone, 2003). Thus, the student becomes a part of the class by showing his unique view and connections to the group.

African American Learning Styles Generally speaking, Litzinger and Osif (1992) define learning styles as “the different ways in which children and adults think and learn” (1992, p. 73). Each person develops a preferred and consistent set of behaviors or approaches to learning. Cognition, or how one acquires knowledge must be considered. Additionally, conceptualization or how one processes information is equally as important. People’s motivation, the way they make decisions, the values they have, as well as their emotional preferences also influence and help to define their learning styles. In addition, according to Cassidy (2004), how one learns is improved if one is taught based on one’s learning style.

According to White (1992), African Americans in general are high context learners who are field-dependent, meaning they prefer the teacher to disseminate knowledge. The cultural learning style of many African American students requires collaborative learning. In other words, African Americans like to work in groups as opposed to working individually. In addition, African Americans prefer to learn concepts that are “real” as opposed to abstract (White, 1992). They need to know how a concept or situation has real impact in one’s life. In contrast, people from European backgrounds tend to be field independent learners who prefer cognitive styles that allow them to construct their own knowledge (Morse, 2003). European Americans tend to prefer to learn through individual achievement in competitive atmospheres that are self-regulated, a factor that contributes to their field independence (Shealey, Lue, Brooks, & McCray, 2005; White, 1992).

Boykin (1983) reiterated that African Americans learn more in environments that not only have affect, but in ones that are harmonious, involve cooperation, and include a strong sense of community. In fact, African Americans learn less in competitive, highly stratified environments (Boykin, 1983). Other confirmations of the importance of the social component to African American learning come from Gallien and Peterson (2004) who reported how African American learners take on personable approaches to learning rather than independent and analytical means. Further, Anderson and Adams (1992) echoed similar findings as they reported how African American students have “competence in cooperation, performance, visual perception, symbolic expression, narrative, and are less comfortable when they must complete tasks which require independence, or verbal skills” (p. 21). In contrast, European Americans tend to prefer to learn through individual achievement in competitive atmospheres that are self-regulated, a factor that contributes to their field independence (Shealey et al., 2005; White, 1992).

Adding to the body of research about African American learning styles, Ibarra (2001) shared how African Americans are global learners who find it difficult to separate parts from the whole. Instead, African Americans flourish in learning environments which have defined goals and reinforcement, allow for observational approaches like a reliance on examples, and avoid negative criticisms which often negatively affect African American learners. Too, the importance of the learning styles or preferences among African American learners is further corroborated in the Duncan and Barber-Freeman (2008) study. While studying the learning preferences of graduate students attending an HBCU, the researchers discovered how learning communities were key to the educational success of African American students. When African American students in their study learned in communities, they earned higher grades, improved writing skills, increased communication skills, and formed life-long friendships with peers (Duncan & BarberFreeman, 2008).

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Digital inequality is unequal usage of computer technology which can be related to such factors as course content, language usage, educational background, literacy proficiency, community agency, and availability of social resources. It is not just one’s ability to access technology. Causes of digital inequality are further complicated and often intertwined between ways of access, race, education, gender, and age (DiMaggio et al., 2001). Additionally, Digital inequality is a complex issue which includes ways of access, time of usage, locations of exposure, education and economic status, and age of use. Often these subtopics of the issue are intertwined making the digital puzzle difficult to solve.

Ways of Access Studies revealed that how one accesses the Internet may influence how one benefits from Internet usage. For instance, Broadband users report broader uses and reap more advantages than dial-up users (Horrigan & Rainie, 2002). According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s The Broadband Difference (2002), broadband users are more likely to be creators and managers of content online, satisfy their queries online, complete job searches, product research, and get news online. John Horrigan’s (2009) study revealed how 63 percent of adult users access the Internet through Broadband, despite price increases in Broadband connections and the recession. The largest growth was reported among senior citizens and low income Americans. Unlike other groups, African Americans had their second year of below average growth. In 2008, 43 percent of African Americans reported use of Broadband compared to a mere 46 percent in 2009.

Only 7 percent of Americans do not use Broadband. Factors affecting their non-use included price, need of use, and availability in their area. The Pew Internet Survey (Jones & Fox, 2009) and Horrigan (2009) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), revealed how household education levels and economic statuses are key factors of Internet usage in American households. For example, older African American households with higher levels of education and income are more likely to have Broadband access (Jones & Fox, Survey, 2009) Time of Use Though users of Broadband may report more advanced uses of the Internet, neither access through Broadband nor dial-up negate digital inequality. Gant, Turner-Lee, Li, and Miller (2010) remind the public that use does not necessarily equate to equal use.

In fact, one factor that Gant et al. (2010) wanted the public to take into consideration is time of use. They found that groups who have used the Internet longer have been able to maximize more benefits from it such as social networking and online banking. Since African Americans who use the Internet tend to be younger, Whites have at least a tenyear advantage of use and are able to enjoy more complex usage. Hargiatti (2010) echoed the similar findings, reporting that Whites use the Internet in more advanced ways.

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