Adult Literacy XPRIZE Apps Discussion

Colleagues,

Welcome to our discussion this week about the Adult Literacy XPRIZE. Our panelists include

  • Dr. Shlomy Kattan, Senior Director, Learning and Human Potential Impact Architecture of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Senior Director of the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation,

and representatives from five of the eight semi-finalist app development teams:

  • AutoCognita team represented by Dana Rozier, Head of Content Development
  • Cell-Ed team, represented by Dr. Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, Team Leader
  • Learning Upgrade team represented by Vinod Lobo, Founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade  
  • People For Words team, developer of Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis, represented by Linda K. Johnson, President and CEO of Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), and
  • Xenos Isle team represented by Ira Sockowitz, JD, MPA, CEO and Founder of Learning Games Studios

I would like to begin the discussion by asking Shlomy Kattan to introduce himself and to describe the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, including where the competition stands now, what the next stage will be and how LINCS members, if they choose to, might get involved in the Community Competition.

I will then pose questions for Dr.Kattan, and welcome other LINCS members to ask him their questions.

Following this, I would like the other five panelists to introduce themselves, in no particular order. Then, early on Tuesday, I will begin to pose questions for the panelists, and I encourage LINCS members to ask them their own questions.

Let the discussion begin!

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

 

 

Comments

Thank you, David, and hello to everyone who is joining us for this discussion.

I want to start by giving my appreciation to David for being both a champion of this project and for always holding me and the XPRIZE team accountable. That’s the type of advocate you want. I remember having dinner with David, Daphne Greenberg, Sondra Stein, and Steve Reder about two and-a-half years ago, right after we launched the Adult Literacy XPRIZE. They asked pointed and incisive questions about our goals and plans, and their questions and feedback led to important improvements in the competition design.

That’s why I want to invite David and the rest of you in this discussion to continue to push and prod us to improve. We take your input seriously, and while not all of it makes it into the final cut of things, we never discard good suggestions out of hand. You can provide your input by signing up for our newsletter at https://adultliteracy.xprize.org/communities. After you do so, you'll get regular updates on how to be involved. 

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the semifinalist teams participating in this discussion. They are the heroes shaping the future of adult education in the U.S. and I am in constant admiration of their work and results. You can learn more about all eight semifinalists by visiting https://adultliteracy.xprize.org/teams.

As for me, I am a senior director at the XPRIZE Foundation, the global leader in designing and implementing large-scale competitions to address humanity's grand challenges. I lead the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE and also lead XPRIZE's Learning and Human Potential Domain, which seeks to shape the way we as a species respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution on a human scale. 

Now, back to your original question, David. The Adult Literacy XPRIZE is really about INEQUALITY. We’re living in a time when the gap between the affluent and the rest of the country is the widest it’s been in decades, and that is to a good extent driven by gaps in educational attainment. Simultaneously, the acceleration of automation and AI is going to displace the disadvantaged faster than it will displace those who are already better off. The goal of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, or ALXP, is to help narrow those gaps by catalyzing the market for accessible and scalable learning tools that address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

I’m sharing some data and analysis here on this issue, so those who want to skip ahead to a description of the prize itself can scroll down five paragraphs.

According to the CBO’s Trends in Family Wealth, 1989 to 2013 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/51846), the top 10% of families in the United States control 76% of all the wealth, while the bottom 50% control only 1%, and that is due to 155% growth in wealth of the top 10% over a 25-year period while the bottom 50% stagnated.

When you examine educational outcomes in that same report, the median family wealth of people with a bachelor’s degree is approximately 12X that of families with no high school degrees and the median family wealth of people with a graduate degree is approximately 25X that of those same families. Now, only about one-third of families fall into those higher educated categories. 65% of families have less than a college degree, and a full 11% of U.S. families do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. That’s TENS OF MILLIONS of people.

Given that more affluent families are more likely to send their children to college, and that those children are more likely to complete and then benefit from college ( see: https://nyti.ms/2pDiVEw), not to mention going into less debt in the process, the cycle of poverty continues and is perpetuated by gaps in educational attainment. Now, I’m not a Clinton- or Obama-esque educationalist who believes education solves all of the problems of inequality, but even if educational attainment is simply a manifestation of inequalities that are created elsewhere then narrowing those gaps is a good thing.

The truly frightening thing is that the acceleration of automation and artificial intelligence will widen these gaps. For example, Jason Furman, who served as Chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, contended a couple years ago that the less you make in hourly wages, the more likely your job will be replaced by automation (you can find that paper at https://goo.gl/ZUf7JE). Another report, from the McKinsey Global Institute (downloadable at https://goo.gl/JrvHu8) found that the sectors most susceptible to automation are 1) accommodation and food services, 2) manufacturing, 3) agriculture, and 4) transportation and warehousing, precisely those sectors that employ lower-skilled workers.

Now, when you’re trying to tackle a challenge as big as inequality (coupled with the challenges of the future of work), you need to start somewhere, and with the Adult Literacy XPRIZE we determined to start with those 36-million adult learners who are the most disadvantaged. We did so for a number of reasons, but most centrally because adult learners at the lowest levels of literacy receive the least investment from government, philanthropic, or private resources and because the challenges they face in improving their learning outcomes are the most intractable. In other words, you can’t help the disadvantaged if you leave behind 36-million low-literacy adults and their families.

So, what is the Adult Literacy XPRIZE? It’s a two-stage $7-million competition to both develop and deploy mobile learning technologies to improve the literacy skills of adult learners who start off reading at or below the equivalent of a third-grade reading level.

In the Stage 1, the $6-million Teams Competition, teams from around the world developed literacy apps designed for adults reading at or below the equivalent of a third-grade level.

In Stage 2, the Communities Competition, communities from around the United States will compete for a $1-million prize by recruiting adults to download and use the winning apps from the Teams Competition.

We launched the competition on June 8, 2015, Mrs. Barbara Bush’s 90th birthday (the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation are the benefactors who have made this competition possible). Competing teams had until March of 2017 to submit their apps.

In May 2017, the competition’s judges selected 8 semifinalist teams based on evaluations of the teams’ apps, product roadmaps, evidence in support of their solutions’ efficacy, and field data those teams had collected. To measure the effectiveness of these semifinalist teams’ apps, XPRIZE is conducting a large-scale trial with 7,000 adult learners in three major US metropolitan areas—Los Angeles, Dallas, and Philadelphia.

In this field test, which launched July 2017 and will conclude October 2018, low-literacy adults—those who test at or below the equivalent of a 3rd -grade reading level on a generally accepted standardized literacy assessment at the start of the trial—were given one of the available mobile learning applications to use on their own. After one year, up to 2,000 of these adult learners will be invited to take the same standardized assessment again to measure their learning gains.

The learners in this field test are native speakers of English or Spanish (it’s pretty evenly split, with slightly more English-speakers enrolled than ELL’s) who tested in at or below the equivalent of NRS EFL 1 and 2 for ABE and NRS EFL 1 through 4 for non-native speakers, what we colloquially refer to as at or below a third-grade equivalent. So, beginning ABE literacy and beginning basic education for English speakers and up to low-intermediate ESL for the Spanish-speaking group.

These learners needed to have regular access to an Android OS device, either a smartphone or a tablet, that they used on their own (i.e., not one they check out at the library). Learners could be, but did not have to be, concurrently enrolled in ABE and ESL programs. Participation is completely voluntary, and the learners are able to stop participating at any time.

Teams’ apps, however, work for a broad range of learner demographics and abilities and are available internationally through Google Play. That’s why when we launch the Communities Competition this coming June, the winning apps from the Teams Competition will be available to all learners.

Thanks, Shlomy for that great Introduction.  I have a couple of questions to begin, and encourage other members of the LINCS community to join in and ask you questions too.

  • I realize that the field test of the semi-finalists' apps is still in progress, but I wonder if there are any observations or findings that you can share at this point about how it's going.
  • I imagine that many of those who have joined this discussion are eager to learn more about the Communities Competition. Please share with us how you are defining a  "community," what the purpose is of the Communities Competition, how the competition will be organized, what the prizes are for communities that win the competition, when the competition will begin, and how a community can apply. (Of course, that's more than two questions.)

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

Thank you for those questions, David. 

While I can't share specific results from the field test (those are currently confidential), I can say that our judges are currently reviewing interim data and we will name up to five finalists together with the launch of the Communities Competition in late June. I'd say the biggest lessons we learned in the process of recruiting and testing 12,000 learners (7,000 of whom tested at the level we need) are: 

  1. Adult learners have smartphones and they know how to use them. Early on when we launched the competition, a lot of people told us targeting mobile phones was misguided. The adoption curve among low-skills adults has really accelerated in the last two years.
  2. Adult learners really want to use technology to learn. Even if they are enrolled in classes, they recognize that using an app outside of the classroom is beneficial. And that's an important piece of this competition. We want to complement and supplement existing programs to give learners more opportunities to learn. 

As for the Communities Competition. The goal of the $1-million Communities Competition of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE is to expand access to education for adults through the use of technology. Our mission is to empower millions of adult learners to acquire the skills they need to advance their education, find better work, or simply read a bedtime story to their children.

Competitors in the Communities Competition will recruit adults throughout the United States to download and use proven-effective mobile literacy apps.

We take a very expansive view of the term “community.” That is because XPRIZE believes that solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges can come from anyone. The Communities Competition is therefore open to any educational institution, non-profit, NGO, government agency, company, corporation, individual, person, or any other legal entity duly constituted in the United States regardless of size, locality, and whether or not the competitors have previously worked with or served adult learners. Communities can be virtual, local, regional, or national in scope and reach. Competing communities may recruit participants anywhere in the United States regardless of that community’s physical location.

The competition comprises two phases. In Phase 1, the “Proposal Phase,” launching June 2018, competitors will submit proposals demonstrating how they will use technology to increase access to education for adults. These proposals will be judged for their innovation, feasibility, scalability, and durability. Up to 50 competitors will win an equal share of a $500K milestone award.

In Phase 2, the “Deployment Phase,” beginning on April 1, 2019, competitors will recruit participants to download and use the mobile literacy apps. Winners will be selected based on performance in three tiers based on number of recruits.

Importantly, all competitors who meet the deadline for submitting their proposals and are deemed to have met the minimum eligibility requirements are eligible to compete in Phase 2, regardless of whether or not they were among Phase 1 milestone award recipients.

Eligible participants are residents of the United States who have access to a smartphone or tablet running Android OS. Competitors are not required to verify the literacy level of participants. XPRIZE will not test participants to determine their literacy level. Participants can be concurrently enrolled in adult basic or secondary education, CTE, or English-as-a-second language courses, but are not required or expected to do so.

To stay up-to-date on ways to get involved, sign up for our newsletter at https://adultliteracy.xprize.org/communities. If you want to compete, signing up for our mailing list will allow you to get the information you need. 

Shlomy,

I am very interested in these two initial findings about adult learners from the field test:

  1. Adult learners have smartphones and they know how to use them. Early on when we launched the competition, a lot of people told us targeting mobile phones was misguided. The adoption curve among low-skills adults has really accelerated in the last two years.
  2. Adult learners really want to use technology to learn. Even if they are enrolled in classes, they recognize that using an app outside of the classroom is beneficial. And that's an important piece of this competition. We want to complement and supplement existing programs to give learners more opportunities to learn. 

In many parts of the country they are congruent with what ESL/ESOL teachers and program managers are finding with immigrants who are learning English. Did you find that this was equally true for adults with low literacy skills who are native speakers of English?

And Shlomy, here are two more questions:

  1. In this discussion we will hear from five of the eight semi-finalist teams about their apps, but If participants want to learn about apps developed by the three semi-finalist teams that are not joining this discussion, what's the best way for them to do that?
  2. Also If participants are interested in apps that have been developed by the Adult Literacy XPRIZE teams that were not semi-finalists, is there a document that describes them? If so, can you provide us with a link to it?

Everyone: your questions are welcome for Shlomy Kattan, and for the representatives of the five app development teams.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

That's an interesting question, David. The short answer is, "yes, English speakers were equally enthusiastic about using technology for learning, if not more so" but that probably requires some context about how we recruited English-speaking participants.

Recruiting English speakers required a lot more outreach than recruiting Spanish speakers, even in the current political climate. We had a street team of well over 120 people out in neighborhoods talking to people and letting them know about our program. Think of it like canvassing for a political campaign. We were at libraries, transit centers, fast food restaurants, near social services organizations...everywhere. We were therefore reaching students where they are, as opposed to the other way around.

This recruitment method meant we encountered a different set of issues than what you would encounter in a place-based program where learners came to you, but it also meant we recruited learners who didn't necessarily see themselves as candidates (in part not to prime participants and bias the process, and in part not to stigmatize, we did not tell recruits what level of literacy we were testing for). So, it might be sample bias, but our recruiters were largely meeting candidates who were excited for an opportunity to learn but would not have sought it out themselves for a variety of reasons, stigma being one. 

As for your question about the three teams not participating in this week's chat, you can learn more about all eight semifinalists by visiting our website at https://adultliteracy.xprize.org/teams.

The three teams not joining this discussion are Alphabet Literacy (http://goalphabet.org/), Amrita CREATE (https://adultliteracy.xprize.org/teams/amritacreate), and Lyriko (http://www.lyriko.com/en/).

  • Alphabet Literacy is an app that allows users to explore multimedia content for improving their literacy skills. Users can interact with articles, songs, videos, and more within the app.
  • Amrita Learning, a personalized learning app along with engaging, culturally appropriate e-content linked to life skills.
  • Lyriko is a music game designed to build language skills while exploring song lyrics.

Finally, that's a good question about the teams no longer in the competition. Unfortunately, no. We’ve archived that material and it’s no longer on our website. Four of the teams that did not advance to the semifinals that come to mind are Edovo (https://www.edovo.com/), Quill (https://www.quill.org/), Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com/), and WorkBay (http://new-workbay.workbay.net/). I encourage everyone to check them out.

Colleagues,

I look forward, of course, to hearing Shlomy Kattan's replies to the questions I asked, but meanwhile, let's hear from the other panelists. I would like the representatives from the five ALXP teams to introduce themselves and to describe their apps.

  • AutoCognita team represented by Dana Rozier, Head of Content Development
  • Cell-Ed team, represented by Dr. Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, Team Leader
  • Learning Upgrade team represented by Vinod Lobo, Founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade  
  • People For Words team, developer of Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis, represented by Linda K. Johnson, President and CEO of Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), and
  • Xenos Isle team represented by Ira Sockowitz, JD, MPA, CEO and Founder of Learning Games Studios

 

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program development groups

 

 

 

 

 

Hello to the group. I am the founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade, based in San Diego. The Learning Upgrade smartphone app features 900 English reading and math lessons aligned to CCRS standards. The lessons are engaging and addictive with original songs, video, games, and rewards. The goal of our app is enable any learner with a smartphone to start learning at their current level and then move up to where they need to be. The app can motivate learners to complete rigorous set of lessons so that they can succeed in school, earn a diploma, get a better job, or enter college. The app is already being used by thousands of learners in three groups. First is the XPRIZE cohort in three US cities. Second is a group of 40+ adult ed sites who are piloting or have purchased a license, including adult schools, community colleges, libraries, refugee centers, and employers. This includes ESL, ABE reading and math, and GED prep. The third group of learners have independently installed the app from the app stores and signed up, taken a placement test, and started learning. If you want to try our smartphone app with your learners, just let us know (select Pilot Request at www.learningupgrade.com or email info@learningupgrade.com ) Look forward to being part of this community! Best wishes, Vinod Lobo, Learning Upgrade

Thanks for the great introduction Vinod. Can you tell us more about how adult schools, community-based programs and other organizations are using the Learning Upgrade app? Are these primarily ESL/ESOL students, or native speakers of English, or both? If both, are there more of one group than the other, or about equal numbers in both groups? Are adult schools using the Learning Upgrade app differently from community based programs? Is the app used as the primary curriculum or as a supplement to the class curriculum? Can you give us some anecdotes about how it used? I believe you have at least one video of teachers and learners talking about how it is used in their adult school. Can you share with us the link to that video? Do you have other videos about how it is being used, perhaps in community-based or volunteer-based organizations?

LINCS colleagues, what are your questions about this app?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

 

David,
We have been pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of programs who are now using the app, with a diverse set of learners and learning goals. Instructors often enroll learners in both English and math courses.  Here are some examples:

Sweetwater Adult School California:  the ESL instructors use the app as a blended learning resource, enrolling students at ESL levels 1 to 4 (out of 7) into the app. Learners use the lessons on their own at home, but instructors also use our “whole class” web lessons for teachers on Smartboards.
The GED Prep instructors use our math courses Math 7, 8 and Algebra, which together cover almost every topic in the GED/HiSet.  This is for those who have failed the math section or are at risk to fail.

Video of Sweetwater Learners using app: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8ljT_uUH9c

San Diego Public Library: learners who qualify for tutoring and are put on a 2 to 3 month waiting list are immediately enrolled into our app, to learn at home while they wait for a tutor. This has proved successful on many fronts: tutors get learners who already know the fundamentals (phonics, decoding, sight words, etc) and tutors have a detailed assessment of learners before they start.

UMI Learning Center: this small non-profit serves Somali refugees who often to not read or write in any language.  The center has no computer lab. The instructor enrolls the learners, primarily women, in both English 1 and Math 1, and they complete lessons at the center (good Wi-Fi) and at home. In just 2 months, a group of 30 learners had earned 40+ certificates, and celebrated at a certificate party!  This amazing deployment informally includes the equivalent of “learning circles”, personalized learning, micro-credentials, etc. all in a very non-traditional setting:

Video of UMI Learning Center learners using app:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u9NOjycJLQ

Other places include public housing, migrant ed family literacy, a hotel chain with ESL employees, a literacy non-profit in Midland Texas.  So a wide variety of use cases.

-- Vinod

Hello Vinod,

Thanks for these links to the videos of students and teachers talking about Learning Upgrade. I just watched the short (6 mins) UMI video, and was impressed with the learners' and teachers' enthusiasm for the Learning Upgrade app. I am also impressed by the variety of ways they use it -- ranging from 5-minute sprints to two-hour set-aside "my time" learning for mothers at home. Recently I read someplace that very soon computer learning labs will no longer exist, that teachers will expect students to have their own devices -- laptops, tablets, and smartphones, that what schools and programs will be expected to provide is free, high bandwidth wifi access and teachers and others who can help learners to use their devices well for learning. The UMI appears to be an example of this now. No computer lab; instead, learners with smartphones. Do all the learners have smartphones at UMI? What if a learner cannot afford one? Does UMI have a portable device lending program?

You wrote about UMI, "This amazing deployment informally includes the equivalent of “learning circles”, personalized learning, micro-credentials, etc. all in a very non-traditional setting"  I would like to hear more about how they use learning circles (typically, a blended learning model that uses an online curriculum, course, or set of learning resources with a weekly face-to-face meeting.) You mentioned personalized learning. Is that a feature of the Learning Upgrade app? If so, please tell us about how Learning Upgrade personalizes learning. You mentioned micro-credentials (aka digital badges). Does Learning Upgrade offer learners digital badges that lead up to the certificates you mentioned?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

UMI Learning Center has a few donated Chromebooks that learners without phones can use. Agree that this is a model for the future as it expands adult Ed to settings without labs. The learners get together several times each week for classes, which are primarily spent doing our lessons. The learners talk often about where they are in the courses, experiences, goals. So this becomes like a learning circle, a community of users. Their spirit to applaud other students at the certificate celebration was an example. Our program has several aspects of personalization. Within each lesson questions are scaffolded based on answers to previous questions. Success with step by step leads to on your own and back if students miss a question. Also remediation and repetition to mastery is unique for each student based on scores. So each student has their own journey through the lessons. Vinod

 

Hello Colleagues!

I’m Dana Rozier, head of content development at AutoCognita. My background is in teaching, writing, and developing educational content for kids and adults. I’m pleased to take part in this discussion.

We are currently working on version 2 of our app and plan to have it ready for release this fall. Version 2 will still focus on helping adults learn foundational reading skills—alphabet, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Our new app will keep AutoCognita’s strong pedagogy and clean simple design, and add in:

  • Better user experience on low-end smart phones
  • Easier navigation throughout the app
  • Test-out feature
  • Expanded reading curriculum
  • Fluency builder

We’re excited about version 2 and are looking forward to its launch later this year!

Best regards,

Dana

Thanks for your introduction, Dana. Is version 1 of the AutoCognita app available now? From Google Play? Can you tell us about how adult learners have experienced version 1?  Are they using it on their own, in adult schools, community-based organizations, other adult literacy programs? Can you share anecdotes about learners' experiences?

LINCS Colleagues, let's hear your questions about the AutoCognita app.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

Hi David,

Thanks for your questions. Yes, version 1 of our app is available for free on Google Play. The only test pilot we are running right now is through the XPRIZE competition in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Since we don’t have direct access to those learners, we are analyzing the data we have to find usage patterns.

Right now, we have user data from the first two months of the competition. We found that learners were using our app at all hours of the day. This makes sense. Our app doesn’t require an Internet connection so adults can learn whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them. One of our heaviest users so far spent 20 hours on 140 sessions spread out over two months and completed several units in alphabet and phonics. The learner mostly logged on in the early morning so we’re assuming the learner used our app on his/her own.

This week, we’re getting four months of user data from the XPRIZE and are looking forward to analyzing the data.

As a small startup company with only one member in the U.S., we are grateful to the XPRIZE for running such a large competition. Definitely something we couldn’t have done on our own, so thank you! And thanks to the other semi-finalists. All the data we’re collecting will help inform the field of edtech and adult education. AutoCognita is honored to be part of such a dedicated group of smart, creative, and passionate people who are all working towards the same end goal.

Hello everyone!

Thank you, David Rosen and LINCS for hosting this discussion and for the opportunity to share and learn.

A Silicon Valley native, I’m privileged to still be at the forefront of designing and implementing ways in which tech – specifically, mobile learning – can deliver engaging, life-changing education and skills to those who want it most, whether that’s an immigrant who wants to take an English course or an entry-level employee who needs digital literacy skills. Most of my learning in mobile tech for over 20 years has been by working on-the-ground with the hardest to reach and teach to co-create solutions to digital, poverty and education divides. My teams and I have done this in over 40 countries working with major tech companies, global organizations, community-based organizations, and always with learners themselves, some of which I capture in my book Technology at the Margins: How IT Meets the Needs of Emerging Markets. Cell-Ed is the culmination of this life’s work.

To begin, Cell-Ed started as a research project at the University of California Los Angeles in partnership with Centro Latino Literacy. We started with the greatest need and asked a simple question, “Can we teach non-literate women how to read via texting”? After a two year randomized controlled trial, the answer was a resounding yes. Over a basic flip phone without access to the internet, 75% learned to read in under 4 months through the power of listening to short 3 minutes audio lessons, two way texting and access to a live coach.

We launched this basic service - literacy and English courses via cellphone in 2014. Thanks to the XPRIZE competition, we launched our full product and service in Summer 2017 to make access to Cell-Ed fully compatible - learners can pick and where they left off on any mobile device - flip phone with no internet, smartphone, tablet, or computer. We also offer our partners access to our training and communications platform so they can manage their learners, provide even more courses on demand, an engage with any or all learners via texting. To try it, reach out email info@cell-ed.com or see https://www.cell-ed.com.

Today, we have reached tens of thousands of learners and are available nationwide via our partner networks and in 6 countries. We are actively expanding our micro-courses and lessons and improving our platform and service to meet the massive demand for accessible and relevant education for low literate, low wage workers and learners.

In thanks, we are launching our free Cell-Ed ebook today: “Your Checklist for Evaluation a Mobile Learning Solution for Adult Education” - www.cell-ed.com/download-ebook for those interested.

I look forward to your questions and a rich discussion!

Warmly,

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, PhD, Cell-Ed

Thanks Jessica for your introduction, and for the links you have shared for accessing your book,  the Cell-Ed app, and your new e-book.

I have a few questions about the initial research that eventually led to Cell-Ed. You wrote, "To begin, Cell-Ed started as a research project at the University of California Los Angeles in partnership with Centro Latino Literacy. We started with the greatest need and asked a simple question, “Can we teach non-literate women how to read via texting”? After a two year randomized controlled trial, the answer was a resounding yes. Over a basic flip phone without access to the internet, 75% learned to read in under 4 months through the power of listening to short 3 minutes audio lessons, two way texting and access to a live coach."

1. How were you defining "learn to read"?

2. Were the participants native speakers of English or immigrants learning English?

3. Were participants doing this on their own, or were they enrolled in adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) programs?

And now some questions about Cell-Ed.

1. Are users in the U.S. all or primarily immigrants learning English?

2. If there are native speakers of English who use Cell-Ed to improve their reading and writing, do they use the app in the same way, or differently from how immigrants learning English use it?

3. Is Cell-Ed a primary curriculum for some or most of the users, or is it supplementary?

4. If it is used for supplementary instruction for those enrolled in classes, can you tell us about some of the ways that teachers and students are using it? Can you share some anecdotes about how Cell-Ed is being used?

LINCS Colleagues, this is your opportunity to ask questions about Cell-Ed.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

 

Thank you, David, for the question about basing innovations in mobile learning in evidence based research. Happy to share more about Cell-Ed’s randomized controlled trial - result published here. (Note: The 2014  study focused on adult literacy, while another independent study in 2016 assessed our English language learning program).

For the RCT, we asked:

Can audio and SMS be used to effectively deliver adult literacy curriculum?

Two Objectives of the Cell-Ed study:

  1. To test the efficacy of Cell-Ed delivery for teaching literacy using the entire LEAMOS program (43 lessons; 447 modules) from Centro Latino Literacy.

  2. To conduct a systematic analysis of the feasibility of the Cell-Ed model for global scalability and sustainability in teaching literacy to adults.

Academic Collaborators:

Concepcion Valadez PhD., Professor of Education, UCLA

Jenny Aker PhD., Associate Professor of Economics, Tufts

Christopher Ksoll PhD., Assistant Professor of Economics, Oxford

Objective 1: To test the efficacy of Cell-Ed delivery for teaching literacy using the entire “Leamos” program (43 lessons; 447 modules).

Study Design

Sample: Two groups of Spanish Speaking non-literate adults located in Los Angeles were offered the Cell-Ed program free of charge. Participants were identified through the help of local NGOs, radio advertisements, community outreach, and newspaper articles. The final test pilot included 70 adults from Los Angeles community centers, including:

  • 53 women, 17 men

  • Mean age 48 years (range 24-76)

  • Majority had no schooling and a few up to 4th grade

  • Learners were 58% Mexican, 24% Guatemalan, 13% El Salvadoran, 5% other

Methodology: All participants had a pre-evaluation assessment to measure literacy level and were provided with basic instructions on operating the program. They were randomized into two groups - Cell-Ed (n=36) vs. Wait list (n=34)- that received the Cell-Ed program sequentially allowing for a rigorous evaluation of the efficacy of Cell-Ed to teach literacy.

Positive measures of success based on pre and post testing on:

  • Measures of reading achievement (Woodcock- Munoz)

    • BASIC (letter/word recognition and word attack)

    • BROAD (letter/word, comprehension, fluency)

  • Empowerment measures

  • Qualitative interviews

Results

  • 75% stayed with the program

  • Compared to 20-50% in traditional adult literacy programs

  • Learning took place around the clock

Please contact me if you would like a list of the specific measures  (e.g. Woodcock-Munoz III, Rosenberg Self Esteem Inventory…)

For Current user of Cell-Ed:

1. Are users in the U.S. all or primarily immigrants learning English? 75% of our users are immigrants learning English. In addition, they have the option to take our basic literacy, pre-high school equivalency, job readiness and other courses.

2. If there are native speakers of English who use Cell-Ed to improve their reading and writing, do they use the app in the same way, or differently from how immigrants learning English use it? Native and immigrant users in the United States use the App the same way, with the choice of Spanish or English interface. In addition, we offer a ‘cellular option’, where they can call in rather than use on App, for those who do not have internet or data plans.

3. Is Cell-Ed a primary curriculum for some or most of the users, or is it supplementary?

Both. Cell-Ed is used as a standalone program for learners who do not have access to classrooms, teachers or the internet. They simply call a cell-ed number to start. In addition, Cell-Ed is offered as blended instruction through education providers and employers.

4. If it is used for supplementary instruction for those enrolled in classes, can you tell us about some of the ways that teachers and students are using it? Can you share some anecdotes about how Cell-Ed is being used? Certainly! For teachers using Cell-Ed, Cell-Ed is part of ongoing instruction where they are either required to take it as part of the course or as supplemental to improve outcomes. As for stories from partners, teachers, and learners, we are happy to share - some are captured on our website - www.cell-ed.com - and other publications. Would you like me to share as a separate post?

 

Hi Jessica,

I think it would be useful for people to hear a variety of ways that Cell-Ed is being used by adult learners. Could you compile the links from your website that capture that range in text or video, or narrate a few of the key examples here, please?

Thanks,

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

Thank you, David, for hosting this forum so that the community can get more insight into the digital, mobile solutions that we are developing to help them.

Learning Games Studios is an education company that was spun out of a research network led by the MIT Education Arcade. By combining the learning sciences, instructional design and commercial quality game design, Xenos Isle provides an evidence-based solution that covers the development of English language and basic literacy skills across NRS levels 1-4. Through game play, Xenos Isle also helps learners develop 21st Century “soft skills,” including critical thinking, persistence, communications, and collaboration capabilities.

Xenos Isle combines a social virtual world with single- and multi-player games to build skills. Xenos’ games are not drills or quizzes, but rather engaging experiences requiring effective use of language and literacy to succeed. The social world let users practice with others in a “no stakes” environment before taking their new skills into the real world.

Xenos Isle can be used both in class and to extend learning time outside of the classroom. Our game-based learning approach is highly engaging and, in two different third-party efficacy tests, has been shown to increase time on task and program completion rates as well as to improve the academic outcomes of users.

We have worked to obviate barriers to use and learning:

  • No digital literacy skills are required (everything is touch screen and drop and drag),  
  • Xenos can be played offline (recognizing users may not have home broadband or limited cellular plans); and
  • Games are short yet impactful, allowing players to use it when they are free (during their commute, on breaks at work, at night)

With a data dashboard, educators can track the progress being made and make directed, informed interventions when necessary. Administrators are also provided with the information they require to report to their funders.

With delivery primarily on mobile devices, Xenos is cost-effective, as there is no technology investment required and per user licenses are ~15% of the cost of textbooks and other solutions. This can also help programs reach more learners with existing resources.

I look forward to this week of dialog with this community and welcome your questions and feedback.

Ira Sockowitz

 

 

 

Hello Ira,

Thanks for your introduction and a brief description of Xenos Isle. i have several questions for you:

1. I have known about Xenos Isle for some time and recently have experienced it as a learner. I wonder what the origin of the app's name might be. Why Xenos, and why isle?

2. Can you tell us about any adult education schools or programs that might be using Xenos Isle, and how they are using it?

3. If a teacher or program director wanted to experience Xenos Isle, how would they get access to it as a learner? Can they access it as a teacher, too?

4. Do you have a video whose link you can share so we can see what a learner might experience as a player using Xenos Isle?

5. Some people may be skeptical about the learning value of a video game format. I am not one, but I wonder if you could speak to that concern.

6. Do you have anecdotes you could share about how adult schools or programs, or individuals are using Xenos Isle?

Thanks.


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

David, thanks for your questions and the opportunity to share more about Xenos Isle with our community. Here are the answers to your questions:

1. I have known about Xenos Isle for some time and recently have experienced it as a learner. I wonder what the origin of the app's name might be. Why Xenos, and why isle?

Xenos is an ancient Greek word that can be translated both to foreigner (in the sense of a person from another Greek state) and to a foreigner or traveler brought into a relationship of long distance friendship. We emphasize the latter, of course, and intend the multiplayer online virtual world, where players can chat and interact to help develop those friendships and peer learning groups. In fact, the virtual world is an island that players can explore and thus the use of Isle is partly from that. But ISLE is also an acronym for The Integrated Social Learning Environment (ISLE), which is the software architecture upon which the game was designed. As part of our development roadmap for Xenos Isle, we plan to have various zones with unique environments that provide an intercultural context for player interaction.

2. Can you tell us about any adult education schools or programs that might be using Xenos Isle, and how they are using it?

Notwithstanding the goals for the XPRIZE competition, Xenos was originally designed for use in a blended learning model, where educators provide some instruction in a formal setting and learners primarily use the platform outside of the classroom. As each learner interacts with his or her individual learning pathway, the scaffolded Mission system and embedded analytics engine is capturing their activity, providing feedback and guiding their learning pathway. Through the data dashboard, educators can also see their activity. This information allows for directed interventions with individual learners as well as create group focus for the next classroom session.

Xenos Isle is currently being used by dozens of adult ed providers in several cities, such as Atlanta and Washington DC, through LGS’ partnership with the US Conference of Mayors. In that program, Xenos is offered to a Mayor’s office and that office in turn recruits local providers to deploy Xenos with their learners. As a result, Xenos is being used by adult ed programs through public school systems, community colleges, community-based organizations and immigrant-facing organizations.

3. If a teacher or program director wanted to experience Xenos Isle, how would they get access to it as a learner? Can they access it as a teacher, too?

Despite the fact that you can access Xenos Isle directly from GooglePlay or iTunes, at present we do not have an “open” version of Xenos Isle that a single user can download and play. As such, if a teacher or program director wanted to experience Xenos Isle, they can contact us and get a “Group Code” to unlock the game. We are quite happy to set up a pilot program with those who are interested. In fact, contact me directly at Ira@LearningGamesStudios.com.

4. Do you have a video whose link you can share so we can see what a learner might experience as a player using Xenos Isle?

There is a video overview of Xenos Isle (~2.5 minutes) on our web site, which is at http://LearningGamesStudios.com

5. Some people may be skeptical about the learning value of a video game format. I am not one, but I wonder if you could speak to that concern.

We understand the skepticism about “playing” and video games, but over two decades of research have dispelled these concerns and game-based learning is a proven pedagogy for educating learners of all ages across all types of curriculum. As such, please forgive the lengthy answer, but it is important for our community to know that this is a well-researched, evidence-based approach.

Xenos’ pedagogical philosophy is largely built on Social Constructivist theory, which espouses that an individual is most capable of learning effectively through the collaborative construction of knowledge in partnership with peers (Bearison & Dorval, 2002). Cognitive psychologist and literacy theorist James Paul Gee (2003, 2004, 2007) posits the appeal of multiplayer games lies in their learning mechanisms: while such games are challenging, they provide the types of scaffolding necessary—through multistep levels of difficulty, diverse forms of multimedia support and potential assistance from other players—for people to progress steadily through them, thus making learning both efficient and enjoyable. Central aspects to this approach include: situated learning, where students engage in activities directly relevant and applicable to the concepts and context in which the learning will be applied (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989); cognitive apprenticeship, where students learn through carefully scaffolded projects where expert behavior is modeled and mediated through peer interaction; and the inclusion of ‘communities of practice’ which are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 1998). By engaging students in activities that support problem solving, Xenos builds on the demonstrated value of multi-player online gaming as a literacy-building activity (Steinkuehler, 2012). Furthermore, the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy found that for adults, belonging to a cohort of peers with a common purpose contributes to developing skills and persisting through programs (Drago-Severson et al., 2001).

The Xenos platform provides increased opportunities for continued practice and increased time on task because in-game failure is not typically associated with negative consequences. Instead, failure serves as an integral part of the learning experience (Gee, 2009; Ke, 2009; Klopfer, Osterweil, & Salen, 2009). This reduces the fear of failure, increases access to feedback and encourages players to improve through repeated practice and gameplay. The amount of time on task that playing games encourages ensures ample opportunity to learn the skills needed for mastery (Eichenbaum, Bavelier, Green 2014), which is highly linked to overall retention levels and the ability to access information at a later time (Willingham 2004). Using Xenos on mobile devices will also increase time on task as smartphones and tablets provide learners with self-directed learning opportunities without imposing time and location constraints (Joiner, Nethercott, Hull & Reid, 2006).

Game-based learning provides educators with information that supports three main processes of personalization, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: knowing the strengths and weaknesses of students, developing teaching and learning strategies based on student needs, and engaging curriculum choices (OECD, 2006). Xenos supports educators in using a data-driven approach to personalization by providing access to digital writing artifacts that learners create during gameplay, and to real-time data dashboards regarding learner progress and achievements. Learners are better able to improve their work when they receive constructive feedback (Black & Wiliam, 1998), and feedback also increases learner motivation (Jones & Issroff, 2005). Xenos arms educators with the necessary information to provide that quality feedback and give learners the ability to monitor and assess their own performance.

I have three questions for all the app development teams, one of which is mine, and two of which were sent to me by LINCS community members a few weeks ago:

  1. Why did your team choose to compete in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE? What benefits did you hope to realize?
  2. Who comprises your team? Did it include adult literacy educators and/or researchers?  Did you need to get other collaborators? if so, what kinds?
  3. How did you come up with your product idea? What inspired you, and how did you come up with your final idea to test out. In other words, what was your process to develop your idea?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

David,

1. When we first signed up for the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, we saw it as a way to kick start our efforts to create an app, after being web-based for many years. We saw it as a way to motivate us with deadlines and requirements to move into the world of smartphones, apps, etc.  What we did not realize was how important the overall effort would be to our company.  The XPRIZE process has transformed our company!

2. Our team includes a mix of creative talent to produce lessons and a program that is effective, meets standards and needs, and attractive to our audience.  This includes educators, a songwriter/musician, artist/animator, programmer, researcher/writer, sales/marketing/customer service, singers, and a voice artist.  We had a number of close customers like Sweetwater Adult Education in San Diego who closely collaborated on the app, including instructors, admins, and learners.

3. The app design was created in brainstorming sessions by our team over web conferences and in-person meetings over a period of six months.  We purchased a set of under $100 pre-paid phones from Walmart, and then created simple screens to show on the phones.  Then, we created prototypes and started using the lessons with these phones. Finally, we had a beta version that Sweetwater Adult Education could start using with learners, and we videotaped interviews with teachers and learners to get their feedback.

-- Vinod

  1. Why did your team choose to compete in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE? What benefits did you hope to realize?

The XPRIZE Foundation is part of a growing movement towards having the private sector help address major public policy issues. The financial support of two major philanthropic organizations—the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Dollar General Foundation—that are active and widely acknowledged in the field lent additional credibility to the Adult Literacy (ALXP) competition. Learning Games Studios (LGS) chose to participate because we saw that the ALXP offered multiple opportunities. First, the competition would help raise awareness of an issue—foundational skills generally and adult literacy specifically—in quarters where it is not discussed as often or as vigorously as it should be, such as with policymakers, employers, think tanks, and philanthropies. Second, the competition’s focus on expanding access to those in need of assistance who are underserved is very compelling, especially for those of us making technology-based solutions that can help adult ed providers reach vastly more learners in a cost-effective manner. Third, LGS strongly believes that in the “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy applies to meeting the needs of 32 million unserved learners and hopes that the ALXP would engender more companies like ours to create solutions to meet this need.

The benefits of participating that LGS hopes to realize are the sum of the reasons for our participation: greater awareness of the needs of learners would lead to increased attention to the solutions to meet that need, such as Xenos Isle, and in turn lead to more providers and their learners gaining access to, and benefitting from, these solutions. Ultimately, the adult education field needs solutions providers to be sustainable companies that continue to develop and improve upon products aimed at meeting learners’ needs.

2. Who comprises your team? Did it include adult literacy educators and/or researchers?  Did you need to get other collaborators? if so, what kinds?

The LGS team originated in an academically oriented, not for profit setting and was comprised of experts in the learning sciences, instructional design and game development. Our lead content developer is a professor and Department chair at MassBay community college who specializes in trans-media literacy and playful learning. Our lead instructional designer is the co-founder and creative director of MIT’s Education Arcade and has over 20 years of experience designing educational games.  Our game design team was originally led by the founder of the Games+Learning+Society Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is comprised of developers with degrees in human-computer interface as well as those with experience from the commercial game design industry. To supplement this incredible team, LGS regularly consults with leading academics from various universities who specialize in adult literacy and language acquisition as well as technical service providers in the adult education field to ensure that our continuous improvement process embodies the best practices from the field and from the ground up. LGS has a learner-centric approach to product development: we work directly with learners to get their input (product development) and feedback (formative assessments), helping ensure that our products meet their needs and expectations

3. How did you come up with your product idea? What inspired you, and how did you come up with your final idea to test out. In other words, what was your process to develop your idea?

Xenos Isle has undergone a few rounds of ideation and development over the last seven years but it was always based on the theories and research around game-based learning. As stated earlier, LGS was spun out of an R&D innovation network focused on game-based learning and the original idea for a language acquisition and literacy-building game was hatched in conjunction with the US Department of Education and the Hewlett Foundation at that not for profit. The initial version of the game was developed in Flash for use on PCs and was very successful. As a result, the Gates Foundation underwrote the further development of the game through two separate grants that included the recreation of the game in Unity for use on mobile technologies, two efficacy trials and a large-scale field trial (N=1,200) focused on DACA-eligible youth in six states. With proven efficacy and the knowledge gained by that field trial and others, it was decided to try and scale the solution to reach more learners. As a result, a for profit company, LGS, was spun out of the not for profit entity and development of Xenos Isle continues. As both mobile and game technologies advance, we remain focused on enhancing our product to take advantage of new opportunities for increasing adult learner access to, and engagement with, an evidence-based learning solution that fits into their busy lifestyles, in and out of the classroom.

Our team came together across two continents to compete in both the Global Learning XPRIZE and the Adult Literacy XPRIZE. Two of the team members (Frank Ho and I) had read Peter Diamandis’ book Bold and were inspired to help make a dent in the universe. Frank started the team in Hong Kong and then I joined shortly thereafter. Frank and I met on the XPRIZE portal. AutoCognita needed a curriculum developer and I needed software enginers. A match made in XPRIZE heaven! Globally, 250 million children and 750 million adults are low literate. That’s a billion people! Our mission at AutoCognita is to make universal literacy a reality.

Right now, Frank and I run the team. Frank’s background is in computer science. Mine’s in education. I have 25 years experience in teaching and developing educational content. When we need outside assistance (graphic design, for instance) we hire contractors to help us.

To come up with our product idea we combed through research on best practices for teaching adults to read. We also talked to adult literacy experts to get their thoughts and opinions. AutoCognita is inspired by simple, clean design. We appreciate apps like Duolingo for its excellent user interface. With best practices and simple design in mind, we began creating curriculum and screen shots for our app. App creation is a series of iterations. You put your app out there, get feedback from users, iterate, get feedback from users, iterate…

Appreciate the questions, David and group members - 

Why did your team choose to compete in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE? What benefits did you hope to realize?

Team Cell-Ed was thrilled by the prospect that the Adult Literacy XPRIZE was a signal to the market on how important this space is to innovate, practice and grow. The competition has also pushed us to create native apps when we were only a cellular option/webapp, to become truly cross-platform compatible thus available on any device, and more importantly, to get real time feedback from adult learners, both native English and Spanish speakers, to help us improve in response to their suggestions and needs.

Who comprises your team? Did it include adult literacy educators and/or researchers?  Did you need to get other collaborators? if so, what kinds?

Team Cell-Ed includes active adult educators (teachers, curriculum developers), technologists (developers, UX/UI designers), emerging market business and distance learning experts, and community advocates all with decades of experience  because key we believe it takes deep experience in this space to attempt to solve the intractable problem of adult non-literacy. By nature, we are collaborative and seek input and advice from a variety of outside experts who champion low literate, low wage, low skill adult learners.

How did you come up with your product idea? What inspired you, and how did you come up with your final idea to test out. In other words, what was your process to develop your idea? Cell-Ed started by teaching non-literate adults how to read in their first language over mobile phone first as a research project (2011-2014) then as an initial product (2014), and has since expanded to include an App and many more course offering because of XPRIZE, learner and partner demand (2017). Because Cell-Ed practices agile design, we iterate and improve our product and service weekly and look forward to the day we can fully deliver on the promise of offering a personalized learning coach to any low literate adult with a mobile device.

Colleagues,

Now that you have learned a little about the XPRIZE semi-finalist apps, I have three questions for you:

  1. What are your questions about the apps?
  2. How could teachers and adult learners use these apps in your program or school?
  3. What is your reaction to the XPRIZE Communities competition? Would your community (school, city or town, state, region, national organization, etc.) be interested in learning more about this? If so, what are your questions?

Let us hear from you. Please answer one , two or three of these questions now while the discussion is in progress so you can get answers to questions one and three.

Thanks.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

Have you missed part of the discussion? Have you just "tuned in"?  Here's a summary of the discussion so far.

Dr. Shlomy Kattan, Senior Director of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE (ALXP) competition, described the prize and its stages so far. It's in the apps field-test stage now and there are eight semi-finalist teams competing in three U.S. Cities: Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia. Several thousand users, more native speakers of English than immigrants learning English as a Second language, are using the apps. The next stage will be the Communities Competition, which Dr. Kattan has described, and for which members of the LINCS Community might wish to apply and compete. My understanding is that there will be different categories for the Communities Competition so, for example, small communities will compete against small communities  Representatives from the ALXP teams then introduced themselves and briefly described their apps. Throughout the discussion, as moderator, I have posed questions for all the panelists and they have replied, sometimes with considerable and interesting detail. Some community members have also posted comments. Today, I began the discussion with questions for the app developers as well as questions for LINCS members. The discussion continues through Friday this week.

Those who have questions they would like answers to, might want to post them today or on Thursday so tbat panelists have time to respond.

David J. Rosen, Mloderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups


David J. Rosen
 

First of all some thanks, then a question for Shlomy

Thanks to David for running this discussion and to all of the panelists. Good luck to all the competitors and thank you for your interest, innovation, and persistence in developing an app for adults who are at the lowest literacy level. A BIG thank you to Shlomy who has made this competition possible, and for understanding the needs facing the adult literacy field.

My question: When this specific adult literacy XPRIZE competition is over, will there be an opportunity for another adult literacy XPRIZE to develop which focuses on a different aspect/need in adult literacy? Or is once an XPRIZE is executed in a particular area, there can no longer be competitions in that particular area?

Daphne Greenberg

Georgia State University

Hi Daphne -

Thank you for the kind words and your great question.

The Communities Competition, to a great extent, is about solving a different set of challenges in adult education, namely access and reach. Whereas the Teams Stage of the competition seeks to identify those solutions that make the best use of mobile technology to drive learning for low-literacy adults, the $1-million Communities Competition seeks to build on what teams have accomplished and to identify those organizations that best address issues of access in adult education by recruiting the largest number of adults to download and use the qualifying apps from the Teams Stage. Importantly for your question, during the Communities Competition the apps are available for use by adult learners at all levels. 

While we will launch other competitions in the area of learning and human potential, XPRIZE will not launch another competition specifically focused on adult learners. Generally speaking, our competitions intend to build on one another by solving a different technical challenge than the one they solved before.

Shlomy

My name is Linda Johnson, Ph.D. and I serve as President and CEO for Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), a partner on the PeopleForWords team.

PeopleForWords Team

Southern Methodist University (SMU) and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) serve a city that faces adult illiteracy rates that will reach 33% by 2030, impacting everything from poverty rates, to public safety and health. As populations grow, we see burgeoning areas struggling to build an infrastructure that can provide basic education to all residents.

With combined experience of 155 years in adult education, LIFT and SMU are joining forces to bend the trend of rising adult illiteracy rates. Our institutions educate a diverse population in a city of contrasts. The gap between the poor and the wealthy is glaring. Our natural partnership was formed from a shared belief that reading is a human right. As a result, we envision making a world-class, basic education accessible to millions.

LIFT has a deep understanding of the populations most in need of basic literacy skills. Together with SMU’s interdisciplinary expertise in education, digital gaming and computer science, we have skills to create a game app that will improve adults’ basic literacy skills, ensure that those skills translate to real world success, and have measurable outcomes. The app also will be fun to use and motivate users to learn.

Leaders in Adult Literacy and Education

LIFT was founded in 1961, in response to the concern over the illiteracy rate among adults in the Dallas area. The goal was to create and support an organization that would offer free and easily accessible classes so that functionally illiterate adults could learn to read and write in English.  LIFT is now one of the largest and most widely respected adult basic education programs in Texas and offers adult basic literacy, GED preparation and English as a Second Language programs with the goal of workforce empowerment. Research driven curricula supported by technology allows LIFT to successfully teach adults, including those with learning differences, how to read. A unique classroom approach provides LIFT students with peer support and a sense of community that helps them develop a belief in their ability to succeed.

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development was created by SMU in 2005 to engage in and disseminate scientifically-based research in education and prepare professionals with knowledge and research to lead in their fields. Simmons collaborates with other schools and institutions in the development of model programs and promotes positive learning experiences in all stages of life.

World Class Technical Expertise:  SMU – Guildhall and Lyle School of Engineering

SMU Guildhall was founded in 2002 based on the belief that the arts and sciences, which serve as the underpinning of digital game design, represent the 21st century’s form of human thought, discovery and expression. Guildhall is one of the premiere digital gaming education programs in the U.S. The program has graduated more than 600 students, and alumni are working at over 200 video game studios around the world.

The Lyle School of Engineering at SMU is changing the way people think about engineers. The school attracts a diverse mix of talented students interested in making a difference in the world through innovation and hands-on experiences. Committed to equity and equal representation, the Lyle School has one of the largest percentages of female engineering students in higher education.

How We Came Together

When the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation was announced, LIFT jumped at the chance to tackle systemic changes in adult literacy. A recipient of generous grants through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s adult literacy initiative, LIFT has been able to strengthen its curriculum through research and training, vertically integrate basic literacy to GED Preparation programs and expand LIFT’s ESL program to the neighborhoods where services are needed.

TECH INFORMATION

Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis, a mobile adventure game for Android devices, helps low-literate adults improve their English reading skills. Based on an archeological adventure storyline, the initial gameplay revolves around crafting phonemes, onset-rime patterns, and sight words to “decode” a mysterious language from a lost civilization.

ABOUT TEAM LEADER

Yolette Garcia is responsible for coordinating all team efforts for PeopleForWords. She joined SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in 2008 as Assistant Dean for External Affairs and Outreach. She’s responsible for identifying and prioritizing community partnerships and projects for the School. She also develops strategies for communications and promotion. Garcia comes to her position as a veteran public broadcasting journalist and manager for KERA television and radio, the North Texas public broadcasting station. She served the public broadcasting organization in various capacities for 25 years.  Garcia received two degrees in Art History, an M.A. from SMU and a B.A. from Wellesley College.

Corey Clark, Ph.D. currently serves as the Deputy Director of Research and Software Development Faculty for SMU Guildhall.  His work in reverse engineering gene regulatory networks and integrating gaming techniques into chemotherapeutic comedication property discovery for multidrug resistant cancers led to appointment as Adjunct Research Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.  His expertise lies in finding solutions to large-scale problems by combining several areas of study, such as gaming, distributed computing, analytics and artificial intelligence.  Clark began his career in the US Navy as a Nuclear Electrician, where he maintained the electrical systems for the Naval Nuclear Power Plant on the Nimitz Aircraft Carrier. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington.

 

 

 

The following is a high-level summary of adult low-literacy causes and solutions.

 

The Bird’s Eye View: Major Causes

American adult illiteracy is the result of several complex societal, structural, economic factors.  Major factors include:

  • Racial and gender discrimination
  • Misguided public policy that causes intended consequences (One example is 1996 welfare reform that shifted benefits to tax credits for the fully-employed and has created greater poverty for the unemployed and under-employed who want to work.  I’m just finishing $2 a Day which catalogs statistics and stories about this issue.  Website: http://www.twodollarsaday.com/
  • Location issues such as migration and segregation that exacerbate income and racial segregation
  • Economic, societal, and educational disparities that limit access to:
    • housing
    • transportation (mobility)
    • healthcare and well-being (especially preventative, e.g. reduce teen pregnancy)
    • quality childcare
    • adequate education (including for learning differences)
    • living wage employment opportunities

 

Bifurcated Solutions:

The spectrum of solutions focuses on two simultaneous approaches:  reduce the causes of illiteracy earlier and treat the results of those causes.  Reducing the cause essentially requires a critical emphasis on early childhood health and learning to create the ability for a child to successfully read by third grade, and develop appropriate levels of cognitive thinking through to adulthood.  Simply put, low-literate adults did not receive adequate education and knowledge (wayfinding/critical thinking/communication skills) of how to pursue further education/training (lifelong learning) and economic well-being.

 

The ingredients of the treatment of these inadequacies relies on the type of learning approach LIFT and most of large national adult education programs use:

  • adopt and implement successful, proven curricula (including focus to treat learning differences) (LIFT is in the process of implementing new HSE curricula)
  • create multisensory classroom experience (reading/writing/speech require mastery of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension)
  • provide positive and supportive learning environment (often not the childhood experience of “school” for many of these adults)
  • develop knowledge and training of workforce opportunities and connection to pathways to obtain improved economic status

 

I think the major obstacle is the ability to reduce the barriers to entry for low-literate adults to pursue the learning they desire. 

 

Brutal Facts:

  • Of the 36 million adults with low basic skills, adult education currently assists 1.8 million, or 5 %, of them each year to earn a high school equivalency, increase basic and employability skills, or improve their English language proficiency
  • The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found literacy improvement to be basically flat.

Image removed.

  • Results from the combined U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data, released in 2016, indicate 13% of U.S. adults age 16-65 performed at the highest proficiency level (4/5) on the PIAAC literacy scale, which was higher than the international average of 12 percent. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults performed at the lowest level of the PIAAC literacy scale (at or below Level 1), which was higher than the international average of 16 percent. 
  • According to the National Council for Adult Learning, low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment
  • “The shame experienced over adult illiteracy often matches, in intensity, the shame experienced over incest.” Shame: The Power of Caring, Gershen Kaufman, 1992.

 

Thank you Linda for introducing yourself and giving us some background on LIFT and a brief description of your app, Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis. Can you tell us more about the app, and perhaps give us a link to a short video? You wrote that its focus is reading in English. Is this for both immigrants learning English and native speakers of English learning to read at a very basic level?  Would I be right in assuming that Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis is available for Android phones at Google Play?  Is it free, at least for now, or is there a cost?  Can you tell us about how adult learners are using the app, for example in one-on-one reading tutoring programs and/or in classes?

I have been posting a few questions for all the teams. I hope you might also address those for the PeopleForWords team.

Thanks.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

Thank you, David.

Access to the app, for free, is available: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=io.cordova.codex&hl=en

The app is designed for both people who are learning English and for native speakers.  This is the same target audience that LIFT serves (as well as most adult education organizations).  The competition was designed as a way to reach a population--low literate adults--who in many cases are hiding in plain sight.  Further, an app that can be played privately, and that allows a low-literate adult to gain confidence as s/he gains reading ability, will hopefully spur the adult to seek further education and training.  The statistics I referenced in my first post indicate a high correlation between poverty and adult low-literacy.

LIFT's adult learners have used the app to augment the classroom instruction that they receive.  Research conducted by SMU confirms high player engagement and literacy acquisition. 

INFORMATION ABOUT THE CODEX: LOST WORLDS OF ATLANTIS GAME

Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis is an exciting, globe-trotting journey to far-off lands where YOU, the player, will uncover long-lost relics of the once great civilization of Atlantis. Through your quest to decipher the forgotten language of Atlantis, you will develop and strengthen your own reading skills!

SOLVE PUZZLES TO BUILD LITERACY
Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis transforms literacy skills into engaging, puzzle-solving gameplay. Unlock the secrets of Atlantis by deciphering ancient relics scattered across the globe. Break down the ancient Atlantean language, powering up your own codex and allowing you to dig deeper into the history of the once great civilization.

COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER PLAYERS
Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis lets you reach out to other players around the world for help! Expert players, who have completed certain segments of the game, can make themselves available to chat, in-game and in real-time, with other players. Will you become an expert yourself and choose to give back to the community?

PLAY IN ENGLISH OR SPANISH
Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis supports English literacy learners in English and Spanish. Whether you are a native English speaker looking to boost your literacy skills or a Spanish speaker learning to read English, we support you with instructions delivered in your native language!

EXPLORE EGYPT AND AUSTRALIA
Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis currently features Egypt and Australia, the first two regions in a planned five region journey across the globe. In the future, we plan to develop additional regions with new gameplay, new characters, and new literacy skills.


 

My name is Linda Johnson, Ph.D. and I serve as President and CEO for Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), a partner on the PeopleForWords team.

PeopleForWords Team

Southern Methodist University (SMU) and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) serve a city that faces adult illiteracy rates that will reach 33% by 2030, impacting everything from poverty rates, to public safety and health. As populations grow, we see burgeoning areas struggling to build an infrastructure that can provide basic education to all residents.

With combined experience of 155 years in adult education, LIFT and SMU are joining forces to bend the trend of rising adult illiteracy rates. Our institutions educate a diverse population in a city of contrasts. The gap between the poor and the wealthy is glaring. Our natural partnership was formed from a shared belief that reading is a human right. As a result, we envision making a world-class, basic education accessible to millions.

LIFT has a deep understanding of the populations most in need of basic literacy skills. Together with SMU’s interdisciplinary expertise in education, digital gaming and computer science, we have skills to create a game app that will improve adults’ basic literacy skills, ensure that those skills translate to real world success, and have measurable outcomes. The app also will be fun to use and motivate users to learn.

Leaders in Adult Literacy and Education

LIFT was founded in 1961, in response to the concern over the illiteracy rate among adults in the Dallas area. The goal was to create and support an organization that would offer free and easily accessible classes so that functionally illiterate adults could learn to read and write in English.  LIFT is now one of the largest and most widely respected adult basic education programs in Texas and offers adult basic literacy, GED preparation and English as a Second Language programs with the goal of workforce empowerment. Research driven curricula supported by technology allows LIFT to successfully teach adults, including those with learning differences, how to read. A unique classroom approach provides LIFT students with peer support and a sense of community that helps them develop a belief in their ability to succeed.

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development was created by SMU in 2005 to engage in and disseminate scientifically-based research in education and prepare professionals with knowledge and research to lead in their fields. Simmons collaborates with other schools and institutions in the development of model programs and promotes positive learning experiences in all stages of life.

World Class Technical Expertise:  SMU – Guildhall and Lyle School of Engineering

SMU Guildhall was founded in 2002 based on the belief that the arts and sciences, which serve as the underpinning of digital game design, represent the 21st century’s form of human thought, discovery and expression. Guildhall is one of the premiere digital gaming education programs in the U.S. The program has graduated more than 600 students, and alumni are working at over 200 video game studios around the world.

The Lyle School of Engineering at SMU is changing the way people think about engineers. The school attracts a diverse mix of talented students interested in making a difference in the world through innovation and hands-on experiences. Committed to equity and equal representation, the Lyle School has one of the largest percentages of female engineering students in higher education.

How We Came Together

When the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation was announced, LIFT jumped at the chance to tackle systemic changes in adult literacy. A recipient of generous grants through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s adult literacy initiative, LIFT has been able to strengthen its curriculum through research and training, vertically integrate basic literacy to GED Preparation programs and expand LIFT’s ESL program to the neighborhoods where services are needed.

TECH INFORMATION

Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis, a mobile adventure game for Android devices, helps low-literate adults improve their English reading skills. Based on an archeological adventure storyline, the initial gameplay revolves around crafting phonemes, onset-rime patterns, and sight words to “decode” a mysterious language from a lost civilization.

ABOUT TEAM LEADER

Yolette Garcia is responsible for coordinating all team efforts for PeopleForWords. She joined SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in 2008 as Assistant Dean for External Affairs and Outreach. She’s responsible for identifying and prioritizing community partnerships and projects for the School. She also develops strategies for communications and promotion. Garcia comes to her position as a veteran public broadcasting journalist and manager for KERA television and radio, the North Texas public broadcasting station. She served the public broadcasting organization in various capacities for 25 years.  Garcia received two degrees in Art History, an M.A. from SMU and a B.A. from Wellesley College.

Corey Clark, Ph.D. currently serves as the Deputy Director of Research and Software Development Faculty for SMU Guildhall.  His work in reverse engineering gene regulatory networks and integrating gaming techniques into chemotherapeutic comedication property discovery for multidrug resistant cancers led to appointment as Adjunct Research Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.  His expertise lies in finding solutions to large-scale problems by combining several areas of study, such as gaming, distributed computing, analytics and artificial intelligence.  Clark began his career in the US Navy as a Nuclear Electrician, where he maintained the electrical systems for the Naval Nuclear Power Plant on the Nimitz Aircraft Carrier. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington.

 

 

 

The following is a high-level summary of adult low-literacy causes and solutions.

 

The Bird’s Eye View: Major Causes

American adult illiteracy is the result of several complex societal, structural, economic factors.  Major factors include:

  • Racial and gender discrimination
  • Misguided public policy that causes intended consequences (One example is 1996 welfare reform that shifted benefits to tax credits for the fully-employed and has created greater poverty for the unemployed and under-employed who want to work.  I’m just finishing $2 a Day which catalogs statistics and stories about this issue.  Website: http://www.twodollarsaday.com/
  • Location issues such as migration and segregation that exacerbate income and racial segregation
  • Economic, societal, and educational disparities that limit access to:
    • housing
    • transportation (mobility)
    • healthcare and well-being (especially preventative, e.g. reduce teen pregnancy)
    • quality childcare
    • adequate education (including for learning differences)
    • living wage employment opportunities

 

Bifurcated Solutions:

The spectrum of solutions focuses on two simultaneous approaches:  reduce the causes of illiteracy earlier and treat the results of those causes.  Reducing the cause essentially requires a critical emphasis on early childhood health and learning to create the ability for a child to successfully read by third grade, and develop appropriate levels of cognitive thinking through to adulthood.  Simply put, low-literate adults did not receive adequate education and knowledge (wayfinding/critical thinking/communication skills) of how to pursue further education/training (lifelong learning) and economic well-being.

 

The ingredients of the treatment of these inadequacies relies on the type of learning approach LIFT and most of large national adult education programs use:

  • adopt and implement successful, proven curricula (including focus to treat learning differences) (LIFT is in the process of implementing new HSE curricula)
  • create multisensory classroom experience (reading/writing/speech require mastery of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension)
  • provide positive and supportive learning environment (often not the childhood experience of “school” for many of these adults)
  • develop knowledge and training of workforce opportunities and connection to pathways to obtain improved economic status

 

I think the major obstacle is the ability to reduce the barriers to entry for low-literate adults to pursue the learning they desire. 

 

Brutal Facts:

  • Of the 36 million adults with low basic skills, adult education currently assists 1.8 million, or 5 %, of them each year to earn a high school equivalency, increase basic and employability skills, or improve their English language proficiency
  • The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found literacy improvement to be basically flat.

 

  • Results from the combined U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data, released in 2016, indicate 13% of U.S. adults age 16-65 performed at the highest proficiency level (4/5) on the PIAAC literacy scale, which was higher than the international average of 12 percent. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults performed at the lowest level of the PIAAC literacy scale (at or below Level 1), which was higher than the international average of 16 percent. 
  • According to the National Council for Adult Learning, low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment
  • “The shame experienced over adult illiteracy often matches, in intensity, the shame experienced over incest.” Shame: The Power of Caring, Gershen Kaufman, 1992.

 

I have several questions for all the teams today, some from LINCS members and some of my own:

  1. Please give us a full description of the app your team has developed, including for example how it is intended to be used by teachers in adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) programs and adult schools, and also by individuals who may not be part of a program or school. As this might be a long response you may want to answer it in one post and respond to my other questions in (a) separate post(s).
  2. If you haven't yet, please describe how teachers and adult learners can access your app now; what the user cost is now, if any;  and what the cost is likely to be after the ALXP competition.
  3. For the learner, or for teachers, how is using an app, especially your app, different from using an online instructional program?
  4. Are learners placed into a learning level in your app? If so, how is this done?
  5. Can learners get extra support from the app itself, or from elsewhere, if they need it? Please describe the supports and how learners access them.
  6. How are learners able to assess their progress using your app?
  7. What online assistance is available now, or is likely to be available in the future for teachers, administrators and for individual app users? Technical assistance? Assistance in using the app for learning? Assistance with information about the availability of local adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) programs for independent app users who may be interested?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

David, some answers:

1. The Learning Upgrade app includes 900 lessons within 15 courses that cover English, reading, writing, and math from the basic level through textbook/literature comprehension, algebra and GED math. Instructors are using the program within ESL, ABE English and Math, Literacy, and GED prep classes. The smartphone lessons are used to supplement classroom instruction (blended), or used independently such as for library learners waiting for a tutor.  Also, the program is being used in non-traditional settings like refugee centers, public housing, and workplace ESL where traditional programs are too high-level.  

We have detailed information including a list of lessons, CCRS standards alignment, videos, case studies, etc. at our web site adult ed page:

https://web.learningupgrade.com/why-learning-upgrade/adult-education/

2. Any Adult Ed program can start enrolling learners and using the app through a no-cost pilot: just fill out our pilot form (link at top at www.learningupgrade.com ) or send an email to info@learningupgrade.com with your program info.  After a successful pilot, the program can purchase a license to continue: the cost is reasonable and is per learner for access to all lessons.  Click quote request to find out pricing.

3. The big difference from web-based online instruction (which learners can also use) is that time-on-task goes way up with smartphone app use.  Our average went from 30 to 60 minutes per week in adult ed online to 2 to 4 hours per week in Sweetwater Adult School!  The reason is that phones are always with the learners, and they can grab a lesson at any time: on the bus, waiting for kids at school, work break, after kids go to bed, etc.  

Another difference is that learners much prefer the touch screen interface of a phone to a mouse/computer.  Very few low-literate adults have good mouse or trackpad skills.  Almost all can press buttons on a screen. A Somali refugee recently told me she loved to move cows around the screen and count them in our early math lesson (5 cows - 3 cows = ?).  This is much harder with a mouse.

4. Instructors can put learners into a level (English 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and we use a placement test for independent learners that we are adding for instructor use soon.  In general we find instructors have good data from their own tests and work with learners to place them, but there are situations where quick placement test is needed if there is not much data.

5. Our lessons provide immediate feedback when a learner cannot answer a question including a spoken voice, animation, and text. For example, if a learner misses a capitalization activity to select words in a sentence that need to be capitalized, a voice will explain that the first word and a proper name need to be capitalized, and there will be highlighted words, color coded, with animated arrows and diagram, etc to make sure they learn.  Also, we have required remediation to mastery to support learners as they move to proficiency.

6. Learners move through a visual map of lessons in each course, so they see where they are, where they are going, and with a medal on each lesson their score (bronze for 75%, silver for 90%, gold for 95%). They also see course progress through the entire sequence of courses English 1 to 5. We try to make this simple and visual.

7.  We have an 800 number for instructors to call for help, as well as an email address.  Also, we offer Zoom web conferences for training, support, or just finding out more about program.  Our web site has videos and web pages to get teachers up to speed.  The goal is to help instructors get started quickly and then learn how to manage the program and view reports.

-- Vinod

Hello Vinod,

I was struck by these two findings you mentioned that I think are very important:

3. The big difference from web-based online instruction (which learners can also use) is that time-on-task goes way up with smartphone app use.  Our average went from 30 to 60 minutes per week in adult ed online to 2 to 4 hours per week in Sweetwater Adult School!  The reason is that phones are always with the learners, and they can grab a lesson at any time: on the bus, waiting for kids at school, work break, after kids go to bed, etc.  

Another difference is that learners much prefer the touch screen interface of a phone to a mouse/computer.  Very few low-literate adults have good mouse or trackpad skills.  Almost all can press buttons on a screen. A Somali refugee recently told me she loved to move cows around the screen and count them in our early math lesson (5 cows - 3 cows = ?).  This is much harder with a mouse.

I hope that adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) teachers who are following this discussion have noted them both so that they might track this with their own students who may be using Learning Upgrade or another app. For as long as I can remember, adult education teachers have complained that their students don't have time in their lives to spend on homework. Perhaps, with the increased use of smartphones -- a 'school in the palm of one's hand', that allows them to schedule short bursts of learning in a busy day, or longer periods of study that might be in the evening or weekends, maybe adult learners can do "homework" and increase their time on task.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and program Management groups

Thank you for the thoughtful questions, David and participants. I will start with the first:

1. Please give us a full description of the app ...

Cell-Ed’s app is a complete mobile learning solution designed specifically from the ground up for the busy adult learner who prizes 24/7 convenience, flexibility and content that’s directly relevant to their day-to-day lives. Through English-language, literacy and numeracy learning, adults are able to obtain the skills they need to improve their lives. The app’s following key features boost learner engagement and performance:

  • Personalization. The app collects information around learners’ ability (via skills assessments); learning goals; and priorities to deliver a personalized, dynamic experience. It is not one-size-fits-all. The app continuously updates to meet learners where they are.

  • Assessments. Using national and international standards, as well as skills assessments, Cell-Ed’s content is aligned with what adult learners need most to make real progress.

  • Bite-sized, 3-minute learning. Research shows on-the-go adults learn more effectively in short, easily digestible bursts

  • Rich audio and 2-way texting. Rich audio and the use of simple texting allow for every learner to engage quickly and completely with the system. Learners receive immediate feedback and can communicate directly at every stage. Tracking learners in real time, the app sends encouraging emojis as learners progress and alerts coaches to intervene if a learner struggles.

  • Live coaches. They are available on demand to talk or text when learners need it most.

  • Real-life scenarios. The content has been specifically developed to mirror learners’ everyday life with topics that include communicating at work and applying to rent an apartment.

  • Self-directed. Learners can spend more time on some lessons, less on others. Studies show practice and repetition are critical to lasting learning.

  • Cross-platform compatibility. Content and learner progress are kept in sync across web and mobile devices so learners can always seamlessly pick up from where they left off.

  • Track learner progress and utilization. Are learners learning? Using Cell-Ed’s proprietary dashboard, organizations and companies gain complete visibility into every learner interaction.

  • Scalable. Cell-Ed’s customers (organizations, employers) can serve 300 learners one day, 30,000 the next.

Adult schools and teachers can use Cell-Ed’s app as a homework tool for learners while they are outside of class or directly in class with the use of Cell-Ed’s handy teachers’ guides. The app is also fully developed to be an excellent stand-alone program. Learners simply sign up and begin texting and learning right away - no in-person class needed. Plus, there are always coaches a call or text away if a learner gets stuck.

Happy to answer any questions.

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO Cell-Ed, jessica@cell-ed.com

To continue the thread of Cell-Ed responses...

2. For the learner, or for teachers, how is using an app, especially your app, different from using an online instructional program?

Cell-Ed is different from an online instructional program for a few reasons. 1) The content is designed specifically for adult learners; we have been designed and built solely for them. We also use national and international standards and skills assessments to create content that is applicable and relevant every step of the way. 2) Learners are more engaged than in typical online learning because they are asked to text back correct answers to questions and activities every three minutes or less. Each activity requires active listening, reading, writing and more. 3) Only very simple knowledge of technology is required to use Cell-Ed. Some adult learners struggle with complex technological concepts so Cell-Ed deliberately removed the barriers for all learners. Through simple audio and texts, learners are fully engaged.

3. Are learners placed into a learning level in your app? If so, how is this done?

Yes. An automated assessment is given to each learner as they begin their journey with Cell-Ed. We test for English language ability, reading and writing skills to ensure that each learner starts at the appropriate place. We don’t want to waste the time of our more advanced learners, and at the same time, don’t want to leave behind our beginning learners. Each level of our courses is interactive, engaging, and employs real-world concepts to apply language, reading and writing skills.

4. Can learners get extra support from the app itself, or from elsewhere, if they need it? Please describe the supports and how learners access them.

Cell-Ed offers unmatched support to each learner. First, there are automated texts to encourage learners along their learning journey. These texts go out every few days to remind learners of their goals and help them understand how learning English or literacy skills fits into those goals. Secondly, we provide personal coaching with a real person! Adult learners face many challenges and having that personal support is necessary. Coaches reach out early on to identify learner motivation and continue to support learners as they study. Coaches answer both academic and technical questions to ensure we never lose a learner. As well as this proactive coach support, learners can talk or text with a coach at anytime.

5. How are learners able to assess their progress using your app?

Within the Cell-Ed app, learners can click the “Me” tab to see how far along they are in their current course, what courses they’ve already completed, as well as certificates they’ve earned.

6. What online assistance is available now, or is likely to be available in the future for teachers, administrators and for individual app users? Technical assistance? Assistance in using the app for learning? Assistance with information about the availability of local adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) programs for independent app users who may be interested?

This learner assistance is currently being provided by our live coaches via text and phone call. Coaches can assist learners with information about the availability of local adult basic skills programs, but the app itself does not do this. Our account team provides assistance to teachers and administrators in terms of onboarding them and tailoring the program to fit their needs. For those customers who want more than monthly reporting on their learners’ progress, Cell-Ed offers a full learning management system and other custom options (e.g., making their courses available via Cell-Ed, providing a custom platform, etc).

Hope this helps clarify some of our support and other offerings. Thanks for the questions!

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO Cell-Ed, jessica@cell-ed.com

Colleagues,

Today is the last official day of our Adult Literacy EXPRIZE discussion. If you have questions, please post them now.  Here are the last of my questions for our panelists:

  1. In its 2015 “Learning for Life: The Opportunity for Technology to Transform Adult Education” Study, Part II, “The Supplier Ecosystem,” Tyton Partners found that the adult basic skills field spent $800 million annually on instructional materials, $180-$240 million of which is for digital products. They projected growth in digital instructional materials and a reduction in spending on print materials. They also listed major sites for the adult education program market: Public Library Systems (8,900 sites), Correctional Institutions (4,500 sites), American Job Centers (2,500 sites), Local Education (K-12) Agencies ( (1,300 sites), Community Colleges (1,100 sites) and Community-based Organizations (400 sites). It’s still early but, as of now, what are your impressions of this market, and also of the market of potential individual users who are not connected to programs or schools.
  2. If you plan to reach, or are reaching, individual users can you tell us how you find them, and how they are responding? Are there cost-effective ways to reach this market? 

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

 

David,

We have received a number of orders from adult ed providers for our program, as a result of successful pilots.  Literacy programs such as libraries and community based organizations have been more open to purchasing a smartphone based solution. These organizations do not have the structures and requirements of WIOA funded programs like adult schools and colleges. So despite having smaller budgets, they are more open to purchasing.

I do believe the overall market for digital instructional materials will grow, and I think a good portion of the growth will come from  non-traditional settings such as employers, community organizations, churches, etc.  Because the new tools enable organizations that have never served learners before to become literacy providers, there will be an expanding market for these materials.

For the independent learners, we are just getting started, putting our “toe in the water” a few months ago.  The most difficult challenge is “acquisition cost” for new learners onboarding: whereas providers bring us learners, in the independent market we have to attract learners on our own though ads or marketing.  If the model is to charge learners, eventually the acquisition cost has to be less than revenue from learners.  This can happen if word of mouth, “organic” free search, social media buzz, etc can drive large numbers of paid learners to an app.  To early to tell whether this will work out.

-- Vinod

As an answer to your first question, I think it a good idea to quote one part of the Tyton Partners summary:

"On the other hand, analysis of the supplier ecosystem reveals an immature market that does not currently offer adult education stakeholders a vibrant set of innovative learning technologies designed specifically for their students. Given the richness and abundance of technologies across our daily lives and, equally important, the way in which technology is changing the nature of work across all areas of our economy, the paucity of solutions is problematic, if not troubling.

However, suppliers need assistance in developing more rational and attractive market dynamics to encourage investment. The adult education community’s commitment to addressing a trio of structural market conditions – challenging channel dynamics, insufficient decision-making resources, and funding constraints – will help define how and to what extent the desired investment in innovation occurs."

This seems to be an accurate summary of what is happening.  One other point I'd make is that many institutions on the list of major sites have particular goals for adult education.  For example, community colleges increasingly face funding-tied-to completion-outcomes and move adults as quickly as possible from "adult education programs" into credit-bearing courses.  K-12 systems usually offer "adult education" in order to assist parents and guardians with English language acquisition to further parent-child-teacher communication and/or assist students who have dropped out pass high school equivalency exams.  Other goals could be defined for correctional systems and libraries.  

 

Reaching the adult education audience is easier when they are referred by employers or other educational systems (postsec or K-12) that have already completed an assessment like TABE.  If the adult education needed meets their cost-benefit evaluation (getting a the new position at work, or obtaining a postsecondary credential), then they respond well.  The bigger issue that technology can assist with is reaching the 95% of adults who may not seek further education because of self-limiting confidence issues or shame over their low-literacy (that they may be hiding from others).  That's why I think the Adult Literacy XPRIZE and the Communities Competition are so important.

 

 

The week has flown by, but I certainly hope we continue to be included in dialogues on the importance of adult literacy and mobile learning. Millions depend on all of us being successful in providing relevant, affordable and accessible options to foundational skills.

1. In response to the Tyton reports, Cell-Ed was honored to be been included in the series because of our focus on low literate, low wage adults learners designing a mobile learning solution for their diverse needs. In terms of the Supplier Ecosystem they list, Cell-Ed partners with dozens of these incredible organizations across the United States that also pay for earners to access Cell-Ed for FREE including, Public Library Systems, Public Unified School Districts, Community Colleges, Community Based Organizations. In addition, our partners include government agencies (e.g. States of New York,  Texas Workforce Commission), Literacy Councils, employers, content providers (e.g. Educational Testing Service, Pearson) and more. We have spent significant time understanding the market landscape and would be happy to share more in a follow up. For reaching our learners not connected with a program, we have the stand-alone option, where flyers, radio and other means have provided access.

2. If you plan to reach, or are reaching, individual users can you tell us how you find them, and how they are responding? Are there cost-effective ways to reach this market? Cell-Ed is also designed to go direct to learners and have reached them by providing posters and other materials in markets, clinics, radio and other outreach methods and we are testing effectiveness of methods with third party studies this year. Stay tuned!

Thanks to everyone for your continued passion and practice in this space. Please reach out for any reason.

My best, 
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, PhD, Founder & CEO, Cell-Ed, jessica@cell-ed.com

Colleagues,

This was a fabulous group of panelists, very generous with clear details about the Adult Literacy XPRIZE (ALXP) competition and about their apps. The information they shared gives helpful insights into the competition process, the next stage -- the Communities Competition, and the development and features of five of the eight semi-finalist apps. Thank you Shlomy, Jessica, Vinod, Ira, Dana and Linda for your thorough answers to our questions, and for your work over the years in creating the competition and developing the apps. I hope you will all remain as LINCS Integrating Technology group members, and that as questions emerge about the ALXP Communities Competition, the use of the apps, or other ALXP-related topics, that you might be available to answer them. All the best to you all.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology and Program Management groups

David and LINCS Community,

Thanks much for this opportunity to share and discuss the XPRIZE experience.  I  attended the CATESOL San Diego conference on Saturday and some of the attendees told me they had followed this entire conversation online throughout the week!  Shows the power of the LINCS Community.  Look forward to being part of this group moving forward.

Vinod Lobo, Learning Upgrade

David,

Thank you for engendering this conversation and offering insight to the LINCS community about the companies and products that have been selected as semifinalists in the ALXP competition. With the mandate for more use of digital solutions as well as the need to serve more learners in a cost-effective manner, this was an excellent opportunity for our community. I'd also like to thank the community for showing interest and participating, as I too have heard from several of you and know that you are eager to learn more about new ideas and solutions to enhance your efforts. As you have seen from the comments by me and my colleagues, we are all deeply invested in creating tools for your use and have a commitment to helping adult learners. I look forward to working with you all--educators, program administrators, and fellow entrepreneurs--as we work together to educate our populace.

Best regards,

Ira