Adults Using Technology to Learn Basic Skills -- as a Work Benefit


This is a new discussion thread focusing on adult learners' online, distance or blended learning using a computer or portable digital device. Its focus is opportunities and online tools especially suited to adults who need opportunities for basic skills learning but who, because of their work hours, or for other reasons, may not be able to attend regular classes.

The focus of the learning in this discussion includes adult basic skills, English language learning, secondary education leading to a high school equivalency, preparation for/transition to post-secondary education, workforce preparation, work-related basic skills, and especially basic skills as a work benefit.

Basic Skills as a Work Benefit

For many of us, this may be a new concept, or name for a familiar concept. Some might ask, "Isn't this just workplace basic skills education?" Not really. Although it is education that is sponsored by an employer or work contractor, it is not -- as workplace education has been -- work-related basic skills offered fully or partly on paid work time, usually at the workplace or in a union hall. Workplace basic skills is usually contextualized to a particular company or industry. Although it is often paid for by the company, it is sometimes also supported by state or federal public funding.

Basic Skills as a Work Benefit is usually not classes, and not offered on paid work time. It is an education benefit for eligible employees. Although it may offer tuition reduction or reimbursement for classes, for example at a two-year or four-year college, increasingly it is tuition for employees who need basic skills, including English language instruction, offered online or through a blended learning model.

Here are three examples of Basic Skills as a Work Benefit:

1. Archways to Opportunity online high school. For several years the McDonald's Corporation has offered a workplace English language program for minimum wage workers who restaurant managers identify as good candidates for a training program and work-contextualized English language instruction. This workplace English program, English Under the Arches, is offered free, entirely on work time, usually in the afternoon when business is slow, and from a computer in the back of the restaurant. In April, 2015, the Corporation offered a new initiative, Archways to Opportunity, that includes English Under the Arches, but also added two new education benefits available to all eligible McDonald's employees. One of these is an online high school diploma program. Employees who choose this pursue it on their own time, on their own device. McDonald's corporation makes it available to them tuition-free. The other is a free education advising program.

2. Cell-Ed English language learning program. Cell-Ed offers adults who want to learn or improve English skills a way to do that with an online or blended learning model where the online instruction is provided by cell phone. This could be plain feature phone or a smartphone. Often the learners are employees and their use of Cell-Ed is paid for by their employer or union as a work benefit. Learners use the program on their own time from their own devices.

3. Lyft Drivers' Continuing Education Discount. This new benefit for Lyft drivers -- who are contractors, not employees, so while it is a work benefit, technically it is not an employee benefit -- includes "access to personalized college advising and tuition discounts for thousands of classes, certificates and degrees from more than 80 online non-profit universities and learning providers. Programs include Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, certificates in subjects such as Data Science and HTML, and other skills such as GED, vocational courses, and English-as-a-second-language."

Are you aware of other examples of "Basic Skills as a Work Benefit" that are not workplace basic skills programs?

Do you see this as growing trend in your state?

Are you involved as a teacher or advisor in offering a basic skills as a work benefit program? If so, tell us about your experience.

Do you know adults who are taking advantage of these benefits? What has their experience been like?

How do you see Basic Skills as a Work Benefit programs fitting with Career Pathways?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group







It's interesting to see more and more employers working to support employees (part-time and full-time) in continuing their education.  Similar to McDonald's, Starbucks has a partnership with Arizona State University (ASU Online) to help employees earn a post-secondary education.  What's unique about Lyft's announcement is that their program works with both learners who have a secondary credential, and those who do not yet have one.  Both Starbucks and Lyft's education benefits are available to employees early in their career.  Starbucks says there is no delay in accessing this benefit.  Lyft requires only 10 rides to be completed before accessing its educational benefit.  Both state that there is no 'pay off period' that employees must work after they have completed their education.  Furthermore, both also provide academic advising and coaching services to their employees through these programs.  Based on this level of support from these for-profit businesses, it's clear that their investment is not only doing good by their employees, but it must also make good business sense for their bottom line. 

It will be interesting to see their longitudinal outcomes in terms of educational gains for employees, and how these compare with non-employer-supported programs.  If it turns out that we - employers and adult educators - are supporting learner gains at equal levels, it may change the landscape of adult education, for the better.  What do others think?  Is the role of big business in adult and post-secondary education something that you're welcoming, or something that you're cautiously watching?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 



It would be interesting to see if the employees of the said companies were able to access the FREE adult education and literacy opportunities in their said area.  It would also be interesting to see is how many of those employees have "stop-out" of their educational benefits and if they have consequences.  In our area, the "role of big business" is trying to make partners in their educational experiences for their employees.  Our goal is to offer the FREE benefit to the company like selling ourselves or should we find ways to "market" our program better and in our eleven county area?

Thanks for the opportunity to reply,

Tiffany Lee

David et al, please add my pumarosa program which now includes lessons on Pumarosa is available on disc and I am now in the process of putting all my other lessons on CDs and DVDs. These lessons include texts and video. And if students do not own computers, they can find a used computer for less than $50 or less. There is a program called Computers for Families that provides low-cost or free computers to low-income families. Soon I hope to have access to funds to start a similar program.

If you think that your Spanish speaking students could benefit from my program, please email me and I will send some CDs and DVDs at cost.

Paul Rogers


Hello Paul,

Of course I am aware of Pumarosa.  However, do you have agreements with employers to support its use with their employees or contract workers as a work benefit? If this discussion does eventually produce a list of online distance and blended learning basic skills education opportunities, it will include only those whose costs are supported by employers as a work benefit. I believe that Pumarosa is available free (correct?), but  I wonder if employers would support its use with employees who need to learn English by providing access to computers at work or paying for the purchase or long-term loans of portable digital devices such as smartphones, chromebooks or tablets, and by picking up the ISP costs of employees to access the Internet at home. Are you already working with employers to do that?

David J. Rosen




David J. Rosen




David, Pumarosa is not only free but there is no registation and it is very easy to navigate. Thousands of people study Pumarosa daily, and a large percentage are adults who work in the service industry, My whole program now includes lessons on video. One of the students who is a member of my library class works as a gardener and he told me he was listening to one of my videos while he was mowing the grass - his employer is Oprah Winfrey! But - I have no direct agreement or contact with employers or businesses, although I guess I should. It is reasonable to assume that if anyone were to set up a program at a work-site, that pumarosa would be included. 

I'm struggling to understand how much of what has been described is "blended learning".  I see nothing of face-to-face instruction that is coordinated with the students' progress through the online curriculum.  These appear to be fine examples of distance learning or stand-alone online learning unconnected to a live instructor in person or online.  Please correct me if I'm missing something.

Hello Julie, and others,

The three examples I gave are not always done as blended learning. There are examples of Cell-Ed used as a blended learning (Integrated face-to-face and online learning) model. For example, a labor union of school janitors/custodians in public schools in Central Texas partnered with a local adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) program that used Cell-Ed for English language learning. Learners met face-to-face each week with an English teacher on Saturday and used Cell-Ed the rest of the week at a distance. Cell-Ed, incidentally is highly interactive. As I understand it, an adult English language learner interacts with an ESL/ESOL teacher by text message, or by voice, through a cellphone, sometimes in real time not only asynchronously.

I don't know exactly how the McDonald's Archways to Opportunity high school diploma program works. It may be all online or, perhaps now that it has been available for a couple of years there is some face-to-face time included, for example through local employee study groups. The Lyft  HSE (GED?), vocational courses, and English-as-a-second-language courses might be face-to-face, blended or at a distance. Does anyone know?

Mike Cruse, do you know if any of the Starbucks opportunities are blended learning models? 

Perhaps someone from Cell-Ed could tell us more about how it has been used as a blended learning English Skills as a Work Benefit model?

Does anyone know of good examples of Basic Skills as a Work benefit opportunities that you think are a good model of blended learning? If so, please share them with us.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

David et al, you are correct that not all solutions out there are used in a blended learning model. Another example of one that is used that way is Xenos, from Learning Games Studios (disclaimer - my company). We work with employers by giving them access to a live instruction curriculum that has both on-screen and off-screen activities,  PD for their educators, and access to the learning game for their employees. We strongly recommend two hours (or more) of live instruction and interaction per week so that workers can get exposed to the curriculum as well as time for educators to make directed interventions with learners based on the information contained in our data dashboard about the learners' own activities. While Xenos can be used as a supplemental tool for existing classes and curricula to extend learning time, or as a self-directed learning tool, we encourage the use of a blended learning model for greatest success.

Thanks Ira for reminding us about Xenos that, along with Cell-Ed, is one of the eight XPRIZE Adult Literacy Prize semi-finalist apps. Glad to learn that Xenos is used in a blended learning model.

Do the employers you work with provide the ESL/ESOL face-to-face instruction free to their employees?  On paid work time, or outside of work hours? At the workplace or elsewhere? Is it being used more in certain industry sectors such as hotels and hospitality, healthcare, or retail sales? Is it sometimes used in a partnership between adult English language providing programs, employers and, where relevant, labor unions? What do you think are some of the reasons that employers provide Xenos as a work benefit?

David J. Rosen. Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group



Hi David, Yes Cell-Ed is used both ways. Blended the way you described, or with employers purchasing it (standalone) to then be able to provide licenses free to employees. The best examples I have are from employer partnerships with SEIU or HERE labor unions to purchase them, or Kraft purchased Cell-Ed licenses so employees anywhere could study ESL just by calling the learning lines or accessing the app. 

Regarding education as an employer benefit, I see that at a lot where universities are the employer- e.g. janitors and other facilities staff (both subcontracted and direct employees) who work at Harvard or Stanford qualify for tuition reimbursement to various educational institutions. But Walmart also offers that, various hotel/hospitality and restaurant employers through the American Hotel & Lodging Industry Association's Foundation, well as do AFSCME and other labor unions. 

I just haven't researched any of these to know much about the usage/completion rates, etc.




It would be great to know the completion rate of the American Hotel and Lodging Industry Association Foundation.  The provide professional development scholarships for employees in the hospitality industry to further their education by accessing distance learning education for certificate completion.  In my area, we have a demand occupation is the hotel industry.  It would be great to know more information about the exam's as well as notifying the hotels and restaurants of certification opportunities.  A couple of years ago we provided classes for the Food Protection Management Certification.  We had well over 15 individuals pass the certification.  It would be great to see if the state can approve that model again for our career pathways models.

Tiffany Lee

Are you aware of other examples of "Basic Skills as a Work Benefit" that are not workplace basic skills programs? Are you involved as a teacher or advisor in offering a basic skills as a work benefit program? If so, tell us about your experience.  Do you know adults who are taking advantage of these benefits? What has their experience been like?

  • Another example of a Basic Skills as a Work Benefit is Upward Academy with Tyson Skills.  Upward Academy is an Intensive English program that's located in Tyson Foods or on a site campus with partnership with Tyson Foods.  Currently, I am the distance learning lead instructor for an adult education program at an education service center in Wichita Falls, Texas.  Two years, we started with an initial meeting with Tyson Foods needs in educational opportunities for their English Language learners.  They informed us that they need more workplace skills and communication skills with their supervisory staff and their orientation packet.  They provided their orientation packet information and we developed a workplace literacy curriculum for their English language learners.  During the two years, we have trained 30 ELL employees in workplace skills using an adaptation of their orientation packet, Burlington English curriculum, and more.  

Do you see this as growing trend in your state? How do you see Basic Skills as a Work Benefit programs fitting with Career Pathways?

  • Yes, in Texas it is a growing trend.  We are increasing partner relationship with employers of demand occupations in our area.  As we see our area's demand occupations of healthcare, hospitality, and food service grow, we have been consistent in developing curriculum to present to employers to provide instructional classes and to increase their ELLs workplace skills content.  Basic Skills in the Workplace will provide us with developing curriculum for the career pathways sections of our performance and for our community.


Tiffany Lee ( 


Walmart recently announced plans to offer subsidized college tuition for its 1.4 million workers in the U.S.  Walmart will pay tuition for its workers to enroll in college courses — online or on campus — towards degrees in supply chain management, or business.  Full- and part-time workers can take courses at the University of Florida; Brandman University in Irvine, Calif.; and Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb.

These universities were chosen because of their high graduation rates among part-time students, and their experience with working adults. The employees will not be required to continue working for Walmart after they earn their degrees, and must contribute just $1 a day toward their enrollment.

Do people think that this is an example of ‘blended learning’, given the program of study options, and Walmart’s needs for people with these skill sets?  It would be interesting to hear more about how much the curriculum for these workers will include ‘on the job’ learning, that will benefit Walmart, even if only during their employment/enrollment period.

In any event, it’s another example of a major U.S. employer working to join forces with higher education to support working adult’s access to post-secondary degrees.  It’s worth keeping an eye on this trend in the months and years ahead.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Thanks, Mike, for adding Walmart to this discussion.

You asked: "Do people think that this is an example of ‘blended learning’, given the program of study options, and Walmart’s needs for people with these skill sets?  It would be interesting to hear more about how much the curriculum for these workers will include ‘on the job’ learning, that will benefit Walmart, even if only during their employment/enrollment period."

I'm not sure if  the Walmart model is blended learning (a combination of face-to-face classes or tutorials with online learning, ideally integrated with the face-to-face learning) but it certainly is an education work benefit. We will see a lot more companies offering education (post-secondary, high school diploma and HSE prep, and ESOL/ESL) in part because unemployment is down, employees have other job choices, and because for companies with low-wage employees it is often less expensive to pay for education benefits if they reduce attrition costs. Employee turnover is often more expensive for a company than paying for education benefits, especially online courses. Nevertheless, this can be a good opportunity for low-literate adults who work for companies/corporations that offer these education benefits.

Regarding how much workplace basic skills curricula include on-the-job learning, it depends on the workplace basic skills program. What I am seeing, for example with the McDonald's Corporation's free-to-employees Archways to Opportunity program that offers an online high school diploma preparation course, is that the online high school diploma is not integrated with McDonald's work. However, McDonald's blended learning English Under the Arches ESL instruction program is completely work-contextualized, part of an on-the-job training program for promoting selected minimum-wage line employees to shift managers, or helping shift managers to become restaurant managers. Each week, for example, participants are given assignments to practice what they have learned in a real-time online English lesson that week with their customers, supervisors or co-workers, and all of the English lessons are work-related.

Everyone, please share other examples of adults using technology to learn basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) as a work benefit. What companies are doing this in your area? Are you involved in in these workplace education programs? What trends are you seeing?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Recently, Lowe's Home Improvement entered the work benefit marketplace, with a highlight of pre-apprenticeship-based learning.  Read more about their announcement here.  Does the pre-apprenticeship model signal a new phase in the evolution of adult education as a work benefit?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator