Is the Digital Divide now Widening, no longer Narrowing?


A new Pew Research Center Report, Home Broadband 2015, by John B. Horrigan and Maeve Duggan, finds that "The share of Americans with broadband at home has plateaued, and more rely on their smartphones for online access.... It now stands at 67% of Americans, down slightly from 70% in 2013, a small but statistically significant difference which could represent a blip or might be a more prolonged reality. This change moves home broadband adoption to where it was in 2012."

Why the decline in broadband adoption? Primarily the cost of broadband access, but also that smartphones provide much of what people need (e.g. communication, information searching, shopping) and they can often get Internet access for free or for the cost of a cup of coffee or tea.

What are the implications of the two trends -- a plateau or decline in broadband access and increase in smartphone access -- for online and blended adult basic skills learning? What does this mean for HSE preparation? Will adult learners who can only access the Internet through their smartphone be able to learn the keyboarding and other technology skills needed to succeed at computer-based tests? If so, will they have to learn these skills at adult basic education programs and in libraries? What are the implications for people with learning disabilities? Does a widening gap in access to the Internet by broadband raise a social justice concern? If so, what should be done?  What are your thoughts?

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning, and Program Management CoPs



One question is, What are people buying when they buy a smart phone? Are they buying functionality or are they buying the status it confers? If it’s the first, a TracFone or other budget service might be adequate, leaving the money saved available for other uses. If it’s for status, status often comes at a hefty price.

In other words, in regions where there are multiple high-speed and mobile plans available, I think it’s more a question of financial literacy than it is of raw costs of the different options. First, based on how people are likely to use the internet, the fastest and most expensive high-speed plans are probably much more than most people will ever need, and should be able to get along fine with a lowe-speed, lower-priced plan. Second, budget computers are cheap, and if you know how to comparison shop over the Internet, savings on a couple of mid-range purchases can quickly pay back the cost of the computer and monthly Internet service, again leaving the subsequent money saved available for other things.

Robert, I think there are many economic factors that go into which device a person might be able to get working in their situation and I agree with your implied point that no one tool/system is going to be THE fix for all. I would like to add in a thought about a different avenue of access that needs to be considered. 

When my father was in his late 50's he came to me and said, "OK squirt, you're supposed to be this hot shot tech teacher, I got the biggest challenge you will ever face... teach me to use a computer to process my pictures and write my book" With a groan we got a cheap laptop (as I figured power would not be a need of his, at least for the book). Like a trooper, he really did put in effort, but things were just not working for him. He figured it must be the type of system so a few years later he got another cheap computer but this was a different operating system.. same lack of success over a really solid effort in a six month period. Then he heard that those "apple things" are the bee's knees so he tried one of those .. there was much more cursing and frustration that ensued. Through all of this I was really studying his efforts, what little success seemed consistent an what challenges seemed to always pop up. It dawned on me that the interface used on almost every laptop/desktop was not intuitive for him no matter which company or operating system he tried. It was one of his exclamations during one of our sessions that lit the lightbulb for me, "Can't I just talk to the damn thing?" I pulled out my phone, (a first generation MotoX which touted one of the first voice activated Android phones for commands) and after just 5 minutes he was off and running. He composed multiple pages of his book on google docs and there was no turning back. He is in his 70s now and manages to use up most of his 2gig/month allowance on his phone. More than that he is constantly sharing with others how liberating it is to finally be able to participate in this whole "Internet Thing". Of course, in the next breath he goes on to rant about how the world is going to go to hell because of the Internet... go figure. Maybe it's just cranky old man syndrome or a generational shift similar to how every generation feels the next in line is screwing up and doomed to die quickly.Image removed.

I share this to illustrate that we educators may mean well in offering any tool or set of tools and no matter how wonderful those tools are, they just might not meet the needs of some of our learners. It is only by having as many options available to help learners engage that we will have a hope of helping as many learners taste success as possible. It took my father over a decade to finally vent in such a way as to open my eyes to a solution that worked for him. It was a valuable lesson for me and helped me have a different perspective in my technology integration roles. 

“It dawned on me that the interface used on almost every laptop/desktop was not intuitive for him no matter which company or operating system he tried.” Exactly! For those with a certain educational and experiental background, the laptop/desktop interface makes perfect sense. For those without that background, it can be absolute anarchy!

Today’s budget desktops/laptops have as much or more processing power than top-of-the-line one’s from only a few years ago. In fact, many smart phones and tablets have more processing power than desktops/laptops from only a few years ago. Good budget devices in both categories offer more than most people need in their corresponding niches. The issues are not the devices (and the marketing surrounding them). The issues are the user interfaces, the prerequisite background knowledge required of the user, and an understanding on the part of the user as to how the device integrates with all the other parts of their lives. Technology is now an integral part of our cultural ecosystem, and the more people who understand this relationship, the better.

Several of us in the CoP seem to be paraphrasing one another. My thoughts of various topics are my thoughts on those topics, based on my experience. They are not me. Comments, criticisms, and challenges of them help me refine and clarify them, so they are welcome.

Thanks for raising this issue, David. I've often wondered about this very thing since it's become quite obvious from surveys conducted with adult learners that a majority has a smart phone, but not everyone has a computer with internet access at home. Keyboarding skills are clearly necessary for accessing certain jobs as well as for completing various online HSE and other online assessments, as well as for many, if not most, postsecondary training and education programs. Many adults do not currently have these skills, so I believe that adult literacy programs should be offering classes to help students acquire keyboarding skills.

As Robert points out, providing guidance on affordable ways to acquire computers and broadband access, i.e., Everyone On--which has been promoted here on LINCS, is also a great service for adult literacy programs to offer.

I know many programs are offering keyboarding. What are some of the ways keyboarding is being integrated into program offerings?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL, Assessment & College and Career Standards CoPs


In the past, I've successfully paired a Bluetooth keyboard with tablets (Android and Fire) and an iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone. There are also typing apps and websites which could be supplemented with printed materials if they're not sufficient on their own. I've seen Bluetooth keyboards for as little as $15, so although learning to type on a smart phone screen is not ideal, it is technically feasible.

David and all,

I read this post on my smartphone and was tempted to switch to my laptop to type out a response. But my laptop was not easily available so then I thought, I would try to be in solidarity with many of our students who do not have the luxury of a laptop with broadband access but do have mobile broadband through their 3/4G phone. Poverty often limits the amount of options.

So should our students have home broadband access? Sure. I, as many others, have been advocating for that. But there are a lot of "buts" to go into. The big one for me is... but our students need to find ways to afford their own computer and home broadband. Or if not, find ways to use the mobile device and data plan most already have. In my teaching experience many families tried with limited success to share a computer or were forced to pay out for a number of devices so all the students in the family, young and old, got to do their homework. (Ready access like this is crucial if we want to close what is now termed the homework gap, where those without access fall behind academically whether or not we are talking about blended or distance learning.)

I think it is often wise, if possible, to *start* by using the technology that is already being used and folks are comfortable with. Teachers who have students use their phones say that now most students are much more comfortable with their phones than computers. ( I know some of us still insist screens are too small but many, like me, have read books and watched movies on their phones. Sure it is nice to have other options; I have the luxury of options, while many just do not. )

I think we need to begin to give some serious thought to having students use their phones as the principal device for study. And as Robert talks about, attaching keyboards, if need be. However, I'll be willing to bet that most students want to type on phones rather than use attachable keyboards. ( FYI, I just used speech to text for the last sentence and did not have to edit at all. Google has really improved a lot recently. I think this needs to be yet another tool and skill teachers need to integrate when they can. I know Ed Latham and others have already been advocating this. )

So, David and others, I know many have already begun, but I think our field may need to consider a major shift and focus on phones. Yes we should still continue to work to get folks home broadband. (As some of you know I have been working through LINCS to try and get "Everyone On" and have also drafted a document on ways organizations can start up a hotspot loan program.) But here is one more "but": We need a two prong attack and cannot wait to win the war of getting our students connected. The PEW report seems to be indicating a plateau we might not get beyond. So yes, our learners benefit from and may need computers and home broadband to learn all the skills for college and career. And yes some programs might not work as well or as easily on mobile devices. So yes, ideally I would have liked to have typed this on my laptop but like our work with students, if there is no better option available perhaps we can make do.

I know this is not so simple for many, many teachers and I might be missing something. Yet, I am also seeing the challenge and long haul of getting folks home broadband. And at the same time what we hear from teachers like Susan Gaer, who have been using phones with students for years, is that mobile is possible and perhaps may be more likely to be the future.

What do others think? I know there is a lot more to this but is it still too early to think about and start moving more seriously in the direction? What ideas do you have or what things you have done that would help us see the way?

Steve Quann

I agree completely that “it is often wise, if possible, to *start* by using the technology that is already being used and folks are comfortable with. ” In my environment (where EveryoneOn* and functioning donated/second-hand computers are not options), that is usually the only option.

Rather than saying that mobile is the way of the future, I think it would be more accurate to say they will play an increasing but never complete part of the future.

The key question is: What kind of content are you creating?

Are you writing a quick response to an e-mail? A first draft? Taking notes? Recording impressions? Participating in an online discussion? Here, it makes no difference whether you use a mobile device or desktop/laptop.

But are you writing your resume? A letter of recommendation? An important report? Copying and pasting quotes from other sources? Verifying sources? Will you need to do a lot of editing and rewriting?  Are you in a cubicle where using speech to text for all the world to hear to include sensitive customer/client/student information into a report is not a good option? Here, traditional keyboard entry makes more sense.

The future is going to be a mix of a broad range of computing platforms, each appropriate for some tasks, but not for others. To paraphrase Mark Twain: If the only tool you have is a desktop/laptop, everything looks like a PC/Mac problem. We’ve moved away from, and continue to move away from  a one-size-fits-all personal-computing solution to things we haven’t even imagined. In agreement with Steve, I think the best strategy is to begin with where you are and what have and move toward your best educated guess about what things will look like in the forseeable future. Doing nothing is not an option.

*I’ve discovered that in my area, where EveryoneOn delivers mostly 0G performance, that WalMart’s Straight Talk hotspot delivers roughtly 2G speeds. It’s not wonderful, but it’s equivalent to dial up, which is workable for many things. And, it’s a pay-as-you go service. If you don’t need it for a few months, you can let it lapse and recharge your account when needed.

Hello colleagues,

Steve, I have to say that I am impressed that you made the effort to post your long message using your smartphone. Maybe lots of members are doing this all the time. Keyboarding is easier for me, but that is definitely not the case for many people, including a lot of learners we serve. As for keyboarding, my husband uses a computer all the time, but he never really learned to type. Hunt and peck has served him just fine. While things are surely changing fast and furious and voice activation is amazing, today students still need to type essays and short answers on a computer to complete the online HSEs. Is learning keyboarding skills worth the time and effort? Should we be devoting programming to this skill?

Bring on the changes!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL, Assessment and CCS Communities of Practice

Susan and all, I have been finding that if learners can hunt and peck their way to 20 wpm with no errors, they do fine when they have to type a paper or take a typed test. There are tons of free typing tutors that learners use and those are all free. Some even work offline so learners with computers but no internet can still be practicing in game-like environments. 

I am not sure what more could be offered in the field with all the free resources available. Most have a tons of practice options and I have seen all of the learners I work with find success (some take more time of course) with available resources.

What have others had for experiences?



I agree that 20wpm would be fine for many adult basic skills purposes, but I don't think it's good enough for timed, high-stakes tests on a computer, such as the GED® exam. In that environment, I would argue, the typing has to be fast and free enough from errors that it doesn't interfere with the thinking, drafting, and editing required, for example, for effective extended response writing. I'm not sure what a proven wpm number is, as there hasn't been any research on this that I am aware of, but I have been recommending at least 40 wpm and so far have not seen any disagreement. Anyone reading this disagree, and, if so, based on what evidence?

David J. Rosen


Some typing practice software allows you to import your own text as practice exercises. I see no reason why practice questions for high-stakes types of tests couldn't be used to help learners increase their typing speeds while simultaneously mastering the subject matter and develop a level of confidence that might help alleviate any test anxiety.

Just wanted to share that although the sample size I have is very small (less than 100 students) the adult ed programs are finding that learners with 20wpm on online typing test sites (they need to reach 20wpm on at least two different sites as each does differ a bit), are all passing their writing on the HiSET (Maine is a HiSET state). 

David, you mention concerns about typing speed hindering the composition process and that got me thinking about a factor that may play a part in the successes our programs have had. Technology is integrated in every class, every day in these programs. All papers and work submitted for review to teachers are typed. I suspect this constant expectation of typing in the learner's preparation removes some of that disconnect that a slower typing speed might negatively impact other learners that have not had technology integrated as consistently. What do you think? Perhaps levels of 40wpm in environments that are lower in technology integration down to 20wpm for environments with high levels of technology integration? 


Hi Ed, and others,

Thanks for this additional information, Ed. I would guess that having students type (keyboard) all their assignments might explain the success they have had on HiSET writing tasks with only 20 wpm, but it may also make a difference what HSE one takes -- and when. The GED® exam came out of the gate in 2014 aligned to the CCR standards. The HiSET® and TASC® exam makers decided not to do that, but instead to ratchet up their standards over several (three?) years. So it is possible that the 2016 HiSET writing requirements will be as difficult as the GED® writing requirements, and that 20 wpm will no longer be enough. Let us know what you find this year.

Graduate Students -- looking for an experimental design study topic for an M.A. or doctoral degree? Please consider studying this important question: What is the relationship of test takers' typing speed (wpm) to their performance on any or all of the High School Equivalency exams? Of course, other variables would need to be controlled for, but I don't think that this would be as difficult as many other experimental design studies in our field are.

David J. Rosen

This is one of my favorite photos on the planet -- Hemingway hunting and pecking at a typewriter. I will add to this image a quote by the same: “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”

Many an administrative assistant finds that large portion of her (and I am using “her” instead of “their” because the majority of competent ones are women) job is to translate the incomprehensible muck her boss (a “they”) spoke into a microphone into something the rest of the world can understand.

The last thing wanted by  the Department of Defense, Secret Service, FBI, CIA, Google, Facebook, or any other institution worried about security is to have one of its agents/employees speaking sensitive government/corporate into a microphone in any place where it might be overheard. At an even lower level, think of the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

I’ve been in and out of the computer industry for the past 36 years, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that technology has the capacity to to become addictive and completely shut down people’s higher reasoning powers.

Without Gutenberg’s movable type and associated technologies, we probably would not have had the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, photography, movies, computers, and pretty much everything we consider a part of our everyday reality.

All types of modern technology -- and I do think smart phones and their apps are one of the biggest -- are having as big an impact as Gutenberg’s press. And as with Gutenberg’s press, we are already seeing some horrific negative elements such as ISIS’ use of smart phones to coordinate their atrocities.

Technology is not just another buzzword. Educators, government, and a number of other are key players in seeing that this technology is used positively and not perversely (as with ISIS), but to do so, they need to fully understand its strenghts and weaknesses, applicabilities and inaplicabilities, and how it fits within an ever-changing bigger picture.

Because this has focused the spotlight on the educational system (educators are “supposed to know everything”) any major failures in teaching how to use new technology can result in irreprable damage to the credibility and reputation of the formal education system in the same way it causes irreperable damage to businesses.

Do a little homework on why most software projects fail. Introducing technology into education is no different than introducing technology into a business.

There is a very big world outside the classroom.

Any informed thoughts on this? 

I've seen examples of speech to text where although the speakers spoke very good English, they had moderately heavy Spanish and Chinese accents. The resulting text bizarre at times. One of the participants in a circle Leech is trying to start brought up reading and writing in an occupational environment. In a world where a misplaced comma that turns a restrictive clause into a nonrestrictive one can cause a multimillion dollar lawsuit that drags on for years, this technology might be a good idea in all situations, even after it's had a chance to mature a bit.

Believe me, Susan,  I was aching for a keyboard. Typing on a smartphone is not, as you say the most efficient way to type a long missive such as that. So it is nice to have both devices and as I and others said, most will need both skills.  So pivot (or as I mistakenly typed on my phone as "pibot") might not have been the best choice of words since, as I said, I do not mean we should turn our backs on computers. I have, however, thanks to this conversation, added Bluetooth Keyboards to the Adult Ed Tech Lending Guide, in progress. I would like to encourage our programs to consider lending keyboard out to students who just own smartphones, particularly those who need to type long essays and such. Some can purchased for as little as $30-40. Please contact me if you are doing this or share your thoughts and experience here. 


Steve Quann



The latest Tech Tips for Teachers article, "Mobile Writing with Google Docs" by Susan Gaer, is a practical, step-by-step blog article on how adult learners and their teachers or tutors can use Google Docs for writing on portable digital devioces. Smartphones, for example, paired with inexpensive portable keyboards, as Steve Quann has suggested, together with this Tech Tips for Teachers article could greatly help teachers whose students have smartphones to transform a reading and writing classroom into a real time "blended writing" environment, and to extend the learning and writing practice beyond the classroom.

David J. Rosen

David and all, I have some thoughts to share but I fear I may have too much to put all down in one post. As some may have noted, I like to post in depth thoughts Image removed.that may be a bit longer than some want to plow through. I offer the following thoughts/ideas with an invitation for further discussion on any of these points. Please offer comments, thoughts, questions or counter proposals to any of these and I can embellish what I was thinking.   1. Access to the Internet, including by adult learners, is increasing not narrowing, because of increased availability of student smartphones and other devices that add on to existing broadband access options. We need to be able to utilize as many options as possible as effectively as possible to increase our chances of helping learners find success.    2. We need to change the focus of education, including adult education, from teaching to tests -- some of which are sorely outdated -- and teaching from curriculum that have not changed significantly in decades to teaching important skills that adult learners need to know for their own and their family’s success. If we really explore what these "real life" skills are, we might find a significant variance from what our curriculum suggest as "must learn" topics.   3. Although more adult learners now have smartphones, they don’t necessarily know how to use all their features, and especially how to use them for learning, and this is an area that our field needs to improve in — teachers themselves need to know how to use smartphone features for learning (such as voice to text commands, composition options, information searching and verifying strategies), and to help their students learn how to use them. Just because people have technology available, we can not assume they know how to effectively use it (this applies to learners, teachers and administrators)   4. As long as adult basic skills education is so underfunded (and teachers are in economic survival mode, with teaching schedules that are so demanding that there is no time for professional development in which to learn and practice new technology skills, including smartphone skills) the digital divide for teachers as well as students will increase exponentially. Additionally the lack of significant changes in teaching practice in order to keep up with today's real world processes threaten to create such a divide as to render education a pointless and irrelevant process from our learners' perspectives. The divide(s) we face are not just in digital, if our learning goals don't easily apply to learners' options our effectiveness plummets.  


As always, I look forward to discussion and dialog with the many people out there that are lurking and just soaking things in (yes, I am looking right at you right now Image removed.) Remember, we are all just sharing our thoughts and experiences and we would all love to hear yours. 

Hello Ed,

Could you say a bit more about this: 2. We need to change the focus of education, including adult education, from teaching to tests -- some of which are sorely outdated -- and teaching from curriculum that have not changed significantly in decades to teaching important skills that adult learners need to know for their own and their family’s success. If we really explore what these "real life" skills are, we might find a significant variance from what our curriculum suggest as "must learn" topics.

Can you give us some examples of "real life" skills that you think we should be teaching that are not now in most ABE or ASE curricula or in the Adult  Education Content Standards that states now use?  In the 1970's at the University of Texas Austin, there was an extensive study funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Bureau of Adult, Vocational, and Technical Education (an earlier version of today's OCTAE) called the Adult Performance Level Study. It tried to define adult "real life" skills and spawned an extensive competency-based life skills curriculum development effort in many states, especially in adult schools and community colleges in California. Then, in the 1990's, the National Institute for Literacy sponsored research and development for a new set of adult education content standards known as Equipped for the Future (EFF) that also attempted to discover what adult learners and others thought were the important skills and knowledge adults needed. I wonder if you think either of these efforts address what you mean by "real life" skills. In particular, since the EFF content standards, as I understand them, attempt to include both life skills and academic skills, knowledge and dispositions, I wonder if you think they better reflect what adult learners need than, for example, the College and Career Readiness standards. In any case, tell us more about what you think our field needs by way of "real life" content standards and the curricula that are based on them.

I would also be interested in your thoughts about how this connects with the narrowing or widening of the digital divide.

David J. Rosen


David and all, this is a big topic and I view it through two lenses. One lens concentrates on "fixing" what exists now while the other lens contemplates that a different model might be needed to "keep up". 

Fixing: You cite two efforts to identify adult learner needs and of the two, I believe the EFF to be more relevant. Of course it was drafted almost 2 decades after the first, but even EFF is over a decade old now. Think of all that has happened and changed in our real lives in the last 10 years! Heck, even the last 5 years we have seen innovations and shifts in our society and workplace that would have been fictional thoughts just 20 years ago. Because of the due diligence that goes into projects like you share, it is almost impossible for us to have an up to date "list" of key skills to focus on. For many this has resulted in a "Well, it is the best we have so far so we might as well use it..." mentality. This has me aghast and I work hard to hide my shock as I hear this often in discussions with state officials and administrators. We can do so much better than that with the talented and caring educators we have in the field! I can't even approach how out of touch standardized tests are, so I will leave those thoughts for another discussion. 

If we can't create or find a current, valid list of key topics, what then do we concentrate on? This is where my thinking shifts gears a bit to a second lens of "what could be". Most of our focus on what to teach has come from studies and from what publishers choose to sell us. Those two sources have not even agreed over the last three decades. Add in state standards and we now have another set of suggestions to juggle around. I personally feel the College and Career Readiness Standards are the best set of standards that have been developed from the perspective of how mathematical thinking can be easily built upon throughout a learner's development. So the standard would be part of the equation, but I would use them as a sort of "What thinking do we wish to develop and see" list. As to what we teach, I would turn our focus to College and Career Readiness efforts. I am consistently finding more educational success when I start with helping learners explore their passions and goals (short and long) and use those passions and goals as the medium of our work together. I use the standards as a sort of check list (very loosely at this time as I develop better recording tools) as the learner and I explore their passions/goals more and more.

Here is an example: one learner wanted to be a bull rider in a professional rodeo. The fact that this kid (he was a late teen at the time) wanted to pursue such a job while living in far northern Maine was very perplexing but we ran with it. In his writing work, we concentrated on communicating with real professionals, reading reports from the sport field and medical fields as well as economic fields. In math we concentrated on the finances of how those workers get paid in relation to how the sport generates revenu, how are benefit packages compare to some other jobs like truck driving or secretarial. We processed not only ratios/percents as one might expect, but the student started using graphs, statistics and other related math standards to help him compare and contrast how money and benefits in his chosen work compares to other options. In science, physics (riding of the bull) and biology (caring for the bull and human health) were easy tie ins. For history he explored the legal aspects of the sport and tried to relate those laws to what was happening in our country at the time when those laws were established. Eventually, the learner decide riding the bulls was not in his best interest, but that hauling the bulls from rodeo to rodeo was much more lucrative and safer for him Image removed.. All of his work had many steps  and mini projects that were used to evaluate his progress. He had a final performance in which he shared his learning with peers, parents and staff and the confidence and skills demonstrated in that performance was powerful. 

You know this kid would probably never be able to identify a quadratic equation if it bit him in the face, but if we are all honest, outside of a college setting, where the heck would any of our adults every even need to know what a quadratic is; never mind use one. Yes, I know many applications of quadratics but unless the learner is specializing in those fields the knowledge is mostly just mental gymnastics. One could argue that the flexibility of thinking involved in many of the abstract maths is worth doing, but I would counter that the same flexibility of thinking could be increased through frequent exposure to many different game experiences (board game, card game, miniatures, social games ...)

In short, our concentration needs to shift from what subset of skills we must teach to what set of skills would best help this learner find success in life. I don't think any research can ever keep up with how we humans continue to change our lives.We need to look at each person and work with that person as a professional guide to offer them the options and the guidance to learn, reflect, and communicate their passions an goals in a way that leverages their opportunities for success in life.

Our students are our curriculum, we just need to learn more about how we can read them, adapt to them and offer options for them within each curriculum to create successes for our learners. 


I see the gap between our traditional educational curriculum goals and the goals of our learners is widening.

In a similar vein, I see the gap between our published resources (reports, standards, texts, tests) and the real life environments we live in today.

Ironically, I feel the access to technology gap is getting more narrow. The tech industry is increasing access in so many ways with wearable technologies, technologies that simply plug into your TV to get access and all the devices that continue to plummet in cost.

Another related gap continues to expand and that is our ability to support our educators with the time and resources to keep up with the constant changes. Infrequent and disjointed professional development sessions can in no way keep up with the many changes going on today. Survival mode kicks in for most and our ability to adapt and explore diminishes. 

The net result is that our ability to effectively educate individuals to help them find success is diminishing as our field struggles to address those expanding gaps of curriculum, resources and support that are all increasingly falling behind the exponential changes we see each day. 

Ed, I agree with you 100%. Let me try to reply to your points:

1. Smart phones are becoming more and more popular and useful for education.

I began to “convert” my ESL lessons on a free WIX page to a smart phone format 3 months ago, so that along with lessons on Facebook and YouTube, I can provide texts, audios, videos, chat and video or voice chat to students - all on smart phone .

One year ago I only had a “plain” cell phone and used it to send my students in a “live” class notes to tell them I had arrived at the class, for example, and also I sent a few 2-minute audios.

Just about all of the 20 or so adults kind of laughed at me, because they had smart phones! And they told me they wanted me to make videos of the lessons that they could view on their phones, so I had to hurry up and get one!

My students used their smart phones to communicate with their families in Mexico or other Latin American countries via Facebook, which now has video and audio call – for free, of course. The difference in the costs of regular phone calls and calls via Skype or Facebook pays for the cost of the device. 

So I think it is safe to assume that smart phones and androids are a necessary and welcome tool in any adult ed class, and are becoming more and more popular.

2.  Teaching “real-life skills” – First, I would say that we can prioritize these skills in an order of importance or urgency. We could make a list of a basic vocabulary and then add to it other topics like getting a library card, taking the driving test, going to the doctor or dentist, etc. These lessons can all be put on Facebook or a free website like WIX and adapted for smart phone use so that students can go to them, especially when they really need to. 

3. Knowing how to use the smart phone and learning computer skills in general - for students and teachers. Yes, this is very important, and I say this from personal experience! So we could include using a smart phone along with computer basics in our classes as one of the “real-life skills”.

4. The issue of under-funding and relevancy of instruction is now more important than ever and should be combined as you have done. Students drop out due to …boredom! Especially if classes are not made more interesting via technology and real-life relevancy.

So I would put professional development in with relevant curriculum development and program development up to and including fund-raising.

If your job can be cut next month due to lack of funds, then devoting some time to creative fund-raising is in your interest.

5. I would add to the list my concern that there is also a divide between the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’ adult education sectors, between affluent students and low-income immigrants, and between young adults and us older folks.

I think the above problems are all solvable, and I look forward to reading others’ opinions.

Si se puede! Yes we can!





Paul some thoughts as I read your comments...

1. I love that student pressure. I am running into that all the time when students approach me and ask if I have tried X or if I have seen Y yet. My response is often, "No, but can you share why I might be interested in it?" and poof they fill me in. It is like social networking but face to face! he he he Amazing how the "social disconnect" of technology comes around full circle when we get to meet with our students face to face.

2. Although I like the idea of a fluid list that the field could edit, comment, and suggest changes (think a wikipedia type curriculum for educators), I feel this would be an improvement, but we still need to look at our individuals more. Each person is going to have different needs, experiences, goals, passions and challenges. I am unsure if any list can best address all of those variables and I would suggest we have technology available today for us to build tools to help us better meet individuals' needs. 

3. Time and mentoring is needed for teachers to really become comfortable and competent with technology integration that is meaningful. Without the time and some mentoring system in place, we will continue to struggle with the constant changes.

4. Your point about boredom (and I would add a feeling of irrelevance) is spot on. I share the following graphic with individuals to help illustrate:
A link to the screen shot is here.  Keep in mind that every second our learners are playing they are doing the following:

  1. My character's life and status (top left)
  2. The effects that are currently on me (top left)
  3. My party members status and effects on them (side left)
  4. Chats including world chat, party chat, system chats and private chats sent to me( bottom left)
  5. My pallet of skills, many of which have down times I need to track to know when my combinations are next available (bottom)
  6. I need to monitor how much attention my actions are getting me because I may have a role that really needs me to not gain attention or I may need to be pulling all the attention away from my team mates. (bottom right)
  7. The group effects in play an how much longer each effect will last so I can better throw my skills into the mix and create efficiency( side right)
  8. A map of where we are, where we are going, and escape routes I may need to use if things go bad (top right)
  9. The status of my target and the effects on my target currently (center top)
  10. All of the 3d action going on in the middle of the screen including where the targets are, where my team mates are and where any nasty pools of lava or other obstacles may be in relation to where I am (middle of screen)

All 10 input streams are constant and relevant during game play. Is it any wonder that learners come in, early in the morning and find our one or two forms of input slow, boring and as stimulating as watching rain fall? Likewise, when I do a live demo with teachers (pulling up the game to see it in real time) almost all educators have a headache after only a minute or two of watching, never mind playing Image removed.

5. The divides you added ones that have existed in every generation it seems. I wonder of you think those gaps are increasing, decreasing or maintaining? Could you clarify what you meant by "formal" vs "informal" adult education sectors?

What do others think about these 5 thoughts Paul has shared?

The graphic throws everything off the page so I can't actually read all the thoughts.  I struggled with the sentence "The divides you added ones that have existed in every generation it seems."   ??   

IT's a complex scenario -- there's a lot of research out there about learning complex things.   Learning that game would be a little like learning to drive; overwhelming at first, but with lot s and lots of practice things get automatic.


I had to copy and paste the text into a word processor to read it.

Off the top of my head, there are three ways to get a large graphic into a post without throwing off the text and every comment that follows it.

The first is to upload the graphic to Picasa or some other photo sharing service and including the link in the post. 

The second is to rotate it 90 degrees and insert the rotated image in the post. Readers would have to then download the image and rotate it back. I tried rotating it and then rotating it back with Windows Photo Viewer and it worked fine.

The third is to shrink it with photo editing software (PhotoScape is easy to use and free) and then upload the shrunken image.

I realized as soon as I posted that image it was too big and either needed to be re-sized or linked out, but I was unable to find an edit option. I have since had the time to poke around for it and there should be a link to the image now. Please advise if the image is not available from that link. Sorry for the inconvenience.


I clicked on the link for the image and also tried to access it directly by extracting the URL from the post. Both times, I got a 404 error: The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.

Of course, when you click on it, it will suddenly work and make me look stupid, but computers do that to you.

Did you set the correct permissions on the image? I forget the exact wording, but with Google you need to make the image available to anyone with the link.

ED, very briefly on your points, by Formal adult education programs I mean those that are funded by the government, and by Informal I mean those programs offered by Community based, non-profit agencies or NGOs. I believe that all of these gaps should be eliminated. And I am happy to say that it looks as if Mobile Learning will serve as the matrix to do just that.  




Hi all, There is so much great discussion here that I'm not sure where to start - but I'll just jump in.

I agree that smart phones are rapidly closing the tech gap, but there has not been the investment in the technology and curriculum in mobile to make the digital promise real for lower-skill adult learners. One HUGE problem is that our adult ed system focuses on who can come to brick and mortar schools, thereby practically ignoring and definitely not funding to scale mobile learning opportunities for the hardest to reach - who can be reached by smart phone!  And there is example after example in the US (mostly through worker centers/movements) and abroad of the ROI on mobile learning for low-skill adults and how mobiles dis-intermediate access to information, thereby increasing learner agency, and also on the opportunity increase learner motivation through the fact that cell phones are addictive, prestigious and social. Just look at the success of Eneza in East and West Africa and Janala in Bangladesh (bringing English instruction to 7.7 million learners). And though Cell-Ed has struggled with scaling in the US (primarily due to funding restraints), we have proven its ability to effectively reach and train the hardest to reach immigrants in our country in basic ESL (such as migrant farm workers, day laborers, low-income service workers, etc).  And yes, while I still prefer to type and use applications on a computer, we have to remember when it is that low-income service workers (who often work multiple jobs & have childcare or other responsibilities) often have the time to study - on breaks at work, on public transportation, etc.- when their only access is by phone/tablet. And nowadays you can buy attachable or bluetooth keyboards and mouses to work with phones/tablets at the point that is necessary.

And, for training adults to use the internet and email for the very first time, we at Building Skills Partnership found it MUCH easier to train workers on tablets as the interface and navigation was easier and more intuitive to learners. We were training janitors at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other high tech co's that gave us access to computer labs, but we had greater success and learner interest on tablets and phones. And of course our students could then more easily practice their new skills regularly outside of class and on the job (Google facilities has the janitors start reporting problems and stocking issues by email).

We must push for our traditional education systems to invest more in mobile solutions -both for better blended and extended learning opportunities for those in classes and also to reach the millions our system fails to serve. It's great to virtually meet more of you working on this- and let's stay in touch! I'm constantly trying to stay up on who's trying what and what are the most promising practices in mobile learning for lower skills adults here and abroad- perhaps we should make a special group just on this..







Right now, people generally think of smart phones as stand-alone devices, but this is not completely true. As you mentioned, you can pair them with bluetooth keyboards and mice. It is also possible to expand its storage with a wireless flash drive and stream content to a TV.

I think the real potential of smart phones is not what you are able to do with them today, but what you will be able to do with them in a few years as they and related technologies mature.  Rather than being stand-alone devices, they will become modules that can be mixed and matched with other components to create whatever functionality is needed at the moment.

Forget being online for the moment. You need to work on a long document or create a multimedia presentation? Wirelessly connect your smart phone to any available 4K TV (better resolution than HD) and work with the multimedia materials you’ve stored on your wireless flash drive. You will be able to do the same for distance-learning/blended courses, video conferencing, and so on.  For high-end, resource-greedy applications, desktops will still be needed, but their overall footprint will be even smaller than it is today.

You need to do things while in transit? Untether your phone from the 4K TV and use it as a stand-alone device, again with more capabilities we have today.

As you suggested, the biggest challenge is not the technology. The biggest challenge is rethinking how we use our brick-and-morter and brick-and-morter-related (e.g., work rules, PD, benefits packages) infrastructures and repurpose them in ways that fully realize the benefits that can be derived from continually-evolving technology instead of sabotaging their effectiveness. As with traditional desktops and laptops, they will still fill an important role, but they wiil have a smaller footprint, and their roles will be more specialized than general purpose.


I'm interested in your comments about working with the Building Skills Partnership and learners' preference for using mobile technology.  You say that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others gave you access to labs, but that there was greater success when using mobile devices.  I'm wondering if you had the opportunity to speak with anyone at one of the organizations about your success with the mobile devices, and what their response may have been?  

Perhaps there's a way to show measurable learning gains using mobile devices that would help these tech companies support their use in employee training?  If that's possible, it might also follow that you could use results to demonstrate the need beyond one organization, and look at how mobile devices can be used across different career pathways for low-skilled employees to develop mid-skill competencies.  

It's organizations like the Building Skills Partnership that we need more of, in order to help employers adapt to the learning needs of many adult learners in the workplace.  I'm curious what you see as the role of organizations like yours in advocating for resources (ie. mobile devices for ALL employees) and funding to support employee training and education, at all levels, from custodial to management?  

As many K-12 systems are working to provide 1:1 access to mobile devices for students, should our goal also be advocating for the same access for adult learners in the workplace? 


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Hi Mike, You asked exactly the right questions. In this case we were able to get donate to donate 500 Chrome tablets to BSP for use in the training of their subcontracted janitors (and other low-wage service workers across California) in basic digital literacy. The results spoke for themselves- after 4 BSP one hour workshops  (4 hrs total ) funded by Google & the janitorial company, all participants were able to open and use email and half were able to complete an online work order request and completion notice on their own. Now I get that not every company is Google, but please believe me that it was not altruism driving this investment from the Facilities Department (NOTE: the investment was not from corporate philanthropy). They saw real cost savings in moving their work request system online and off radio (walkie talkies). And there is even greater potential for cost savings if janitors can learn to navigate their employers HR systems online.

Below are the lessons learned and an impact story we shared in requesting the tablets from Google:


 Tablets drastically reduce time needed to open email account and teach basic email functions particularly for literacy students.

 Tablet interface is much more intuitive than a laptop or desktop computer and once knowing the basics; students are much more inclined to explore functions on their own.

 Because tablets are so similar to smart phones, there is much less fear around using them than a computer.

 Once a curriculum is developed, Digital Literacy Training on tablets can primarily be volunteer run, making it individualized to a students’ particular need and cost-effective.

 While tablets are ideal for basic users, employees who wish to advance in their careers (e.g. as supervisors in building maintenance) need further computer skills.

 Training felt rushed at times so training sessions should be longer than an hour if possible


IMPACT STORY ”Before the trainings I didn't think that I would ever be able to use a tablet or a computer because I only went to school through the fourth grade. When I came to the first training, I didn't know how to use email or even turn a tablet or computer on. Now that I have learned the basics from the training sessions, and I can process a work order on the tablet. I also use Email and Facebook to communicate with family in Mexico. And I've learned how to use GooglePlay, Youtube and Google Maps. I also am able to access my children's grades through their school website. Now you can't separate me from my tablet." - Elena, Night janitor at Google 


You commented that “Once a curriculum is developed, Digital Literacy Training on tablets can primarily be volunteer run, making it individualized to a students’ particular need and cost-effective.” Have you had, or know of anyone who has had, esperience with using volunteers to implement this type of training?

Your list of lessons learned is right on target, but even though the tablet/smartphone UI may seem like a no brainer to someone with experience in fighting with a desktop UI (which actually is intuitive after you’ve had time to digest the logic behind them), I’ve seen even these “intuitive” interfaces boggle the minds of a few highly-educated people.

And although the smartphone/tablet interfaces are much more transparent than their desktop counterparts, the real purpose of both is gaining access to what lies behind the interface. Productively using this content -- be it a website, online course, social network, or something else -- or even the apps themselves, often requires higher-level cognitive skills than simply knowing how to tap on an icon. Some of these skills relate directly to using technology; others are more general CCR-type skills. The key concept is being able to use the technology and content productively.

This also raises the bar on the kinds of volunteers programs need to recruit and the level of commitment required of these volunteers. To make a productive (that word again) contribution, volunteers need either a somewhat sophisticated level of experience with using technology or the willingness and desire to gain this experience “on the job” (x-ref my earlier post on what’s in it for me). This is also not something they can just dabble in. Volunteers need to be able to make the same kind of commitment they would make to a paying job. I cannot speak for urban environments, but in an impoverished, rural demographic, finding these kinds of volunteers is a lot easier said than done, no matter how positive or optimistic one's attitude.


You bring up another good point which I think can be explored further in this forum: “While tablets are ideal for basic users, employees who wish to advance in their careers (e.g. as supervisors in building maintenance) need further computer skills.”

Although janitorial jobs are for the time being probably safe from being from being rendered obsolete by technology, many other unskilled and low-skilled jobs are not. And even if some low-skilled jobs are safe, competition for these jobs will become more stiff as more people find themselves automated out of work. This imposes the need for higher-level skills to qualify for the new jobs that technology creates. Whether they want to or not, they will need to pick up not only additional computer skills, but also all the soft skills associated with these additional computer skills.

Let’s take writing for example. For short communications, mobile devices are great and I think there’s much more that we can do with them. But the quality of writing required by professional environments, including academia, requires a platform that allows for extensive rewriting, researching, double-checking sources and facts, keeping archives of previous drafts, rich content, and supporting documentation, and so on. You can do a lot of this if you’re fortunate enough to have a tablet with a reliable Internet connection and mouse/keyboard combo, but you’ll run into difficulties with creating rich content or need to compare different versions of a document side-by-side.

I’ve read and tried to read a number of self-published books. Ones that are written by former English majors or technical writers, who are able to do perform the job of an editor themselves, are generally pretty good. Other’s, on the other hand, appear to be unedited first drafts, and suffer from all the shortcomings of an unedited first draft. With the new jobs created by technology, comes the need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. (I am paraphrasing a number of studies and reports here.) Based on my experience, phones and tablets can provide tremendous support to the writing process (e.g., you can do shorter first drafts, isolated research and take notes while on the train to work), but the level of writing that will be required by the new jobs requires more powerful tools.

And there are also different levels of engagement. As an example, another tutor and I just started a beginner ESOL class. During the last half-hour, we paired learners on Rosetta Stone. Those that were productively engaged were repeating what they heard and writing down new words and phrases in their notebooks. The quality of engagement was good. A couple of others, were just listening. Even though they were immersed the software, the quality of engagement was low and we need to get them more involved. 

Robert,  you made a very important point  - ‘active engagement” increases learning and is even necessary in ESL classes in order for the students to advance. Rosetta Stone is a good site but students have trouble with pronunciation, especially with the British accent. on the other hand, teaches phonetics with my voice and with the words spelled ‘phonetically’ to view at the same time. It takes a while for people to realize that it is ok to repeat out loud in class, even though it can cause a din. Students whose first language is not Spanish are also able to use it to learn and then improve pronunciation.

This kind of method disrupts the idea of the “silent period”, but I think the research report below will answer any doubts.


-In other words, to develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out "C-A-T" sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word "cat.-



An Ed Surge article, Federal Study Finds Computers Widen Testing Gaps in Writing, raises this concern:

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE In 2012, the Department of Education gave laptops to 10,000 fourth-graders for two 30-minute writing assignments. Officials were hopeful: the majority of students could complete the writing assignments on the computer. Not so fast: a recent report from the Department compared 2012's results with 2010's pencil and paper results from the same tests. The top 20 percent of students scored better on the computer than on paper, but the lowest 20 percent of students fared worse. Researchers found that the high-performing students were more likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

This has potentially huge implications for America's standardized testing: In 2015, more than half of U.S. states administered writing tests on computers to students in the third grade and upward.

What are the implications of this study for students preparing for an HSE exam on a computer?

Do students who have daily access to a computer, who do homework assignments on computers, who regularly write on computers, and who have good keyboard skills outperform students with the same level of skills but who lack computer comfort, confidence and competency? What does your experience in the classroom tell you? Is there any research on this about HSE test takers?

David J. Rosen