Digital Learning Effective among ABE Learners?

The following study is a recent addition to our LINCS Resource Collection:  Murphy, R., Bienkowski, M., Bhanot, R., Wang, S., Wetzel, T., House, A., Leones, T., Van Brunt, J. (2017).Evaluating Digital Learning for Adult Basic Literacy and Numeracy. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.  
Collection Abstract: "The purpose of this study was to investigate if digital learning technologies increase the capacity of adult basic education (ABE) programs by providing more efficient and effective leaning opportunities to better serve adult learner needs. Thirteen ABE sites were selected representing a range of program types, governance, and goals for the adult learners: public and county school districts, community colleges, and community-based organizations. Five digital literacy products representing a range of approaches to delivering web-based instruction aimed at improving math and literacy skills were selected for investigation. One-hundred and five instructors and 1,579 adult learners participated in the study."
Which of the following initial recommendations implied from the research for ABE Program Administrators and instructors do you consider the most difficult to follow in your program?
• Ensure that students spend sufficient time on the products and make adequate progress, commit to using the products as a regular part of core instruction (not as an add-on activity) and make use mandatory and consequential.
• Support product use outside scheduled class time, help students take advantage of federal, state, and local programs providing low-cost devices and Internet access and make sure all students know how and where they can obtain devices and connectivity on and off site (e.g., public libraries, workplaces, and community resource centers). In addition, provide incentives for off-hour use.
• Help ensure instructors’ commit to using the products, provide adequate time for training, planning, and piloting to ensure better integration of the products into the curriculum and the instructors’ own practices.
• Prepare to offer students who are struggling with the transition to online learning additional monitoring and support, including a more gradual ramp-up time on the products and alternative instructional activities during the transition. Plan for the likelihood that some students will not want to make a transition to digital instruction.
If you took time to scan through this study, what other reactions did you have to its findings? Please share your experience using technology among adults in your basic literacy and numeracy work.
NOTE: I have just found a earlier discussion on this resource, posted by David Rosen in our LINCS Communities of Practice back in 2017. I appreciated the comment made there as well! Let's continue the dialogue! Leecy


Well, phooey (I'm dating myself, I know!) Alecia. Sorry that you ran into probs with those links and thanks for both reporting them and offering an alternative URL.  I just retested those links with no glitch. Anyone else? As always, I want to learn, learn, learn about why these things happen. 

There were a few aspects of that report that intrigued/bothered me. I hope others drop in to questions or support research processes and findings. Leecy

Hi Leecy, I also got an error message when clicking on the link in your message.

Regarding the study, I believe that digital literacy is essential to integrate into instruction. I also think we need to encourage learners to continue their studies outside the classroom. The most important question, of course, would be is there evidence that these tools make a difference in learners' achievement. The cost would need to be weighed into one's decision, but if a technology tool can accomplish these goals, then I'm all for it.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoP

Following up on your comments, Susan, what do you and others here think about using defined curriculum programs rather than picking and choosing resources to fit our students' needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing either? There are excellent curricula out there that require that students follow a certain sequence, progressing after they have shown proficiency in specific skills through constant testing. Without promoting or discouraging the use of paid curriculum packages, how do instructors and administrators feel about those choices? Leecy

Hi Leecy and all, Your question about learners following an online curriculum is an interesting one. What specific online curricula are you aware of? I'm aware of USA Learns for English learners, and I would love to hear from those who have integrated this online resource into their programming.

Would USA Learns be an example of the type of curriculum you are referring to?

What are some examples for ABE/HSE?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Hi, Susan and other viewers here, the article in this thread discusses in detail five digital learning technologies that "represented a range of approaches to delivering web-based instruction to improve basic math and literacy skills" (pp. 6-10). Page 12 lists the number of programs that used different technologies. In addition to pre-packaged curriculum programs, of course, there are other curricula available under OER, such as the Khan Academy, which has been reviewed by many instructors and administrators who differ considerably in their views.

What experience have programs/instructors had in adopting ready-made curricula/text series over simply developing different curriculum activities, as so many colleges are now doing using OER?

To expand the discussion on this topic, I invite everyone to review two discussions recently posted by Jeff Goumas from CrowdEd: (1)  Free & Open Resources for Academic, Employability, and  (2) 21st-Century Skills and (2)Free CCRS Learning Plan Generation Tool Combining Publisher and Free Resources.   Is Adult Education finally catching up in providing a wider selection of choices for instructors to use among students? Do you have suggestions about other resources that can supplement instruction for those adopting ready-made curricula? Do you use ready-made curricula among your adult learners? If so, please share your experience with us. Leecy

Great share, thread, and thank you for the mention! Having worked on the educational publishing side for awhile, and having founded CrowdED Learning with a mission steeped in providing wider and more streamlined access to free and open education resources, I guess you could imagine I have an opinion here!!! I’m also extremely interested in hearing what others have to say related to current curricular choices for adult ed:

  • How are you implementing full scale curriculum?
  • How are you assessing its alignment to what you need to be teaching (standards, competencies, etc.)?
  • How are you supplementing such curriculum where there are gaps? (Or, even if there aren't gaps, per se, you want to provide options?)

In my 15 years working for publishers, I worked on materials for both K-12 and Adult Education. On the K-12 side, there was a bit more clear guidance on the “formula” for developing materials….there’s a general expectation that classes will include 20-30 students, all there for approximately 180 days, and all coming in with presumed  entry levels (having mastered the previous year’s standards) and expected exit points (mastering the current year’s standards). Having this semblance of structure lends itself better to using full-scale curriculum, and I would say makes it easier to “hit the mark” with developing something that meets the needs of most learners and instructors.

When I moved to adult education, it was clear things were different...and developing materials for adult learners was far less formulaic. Learner entry and exit points, programs’ structures and goals, and instructional delivery are all widely varied, meaning the notion of “one-size-fits-all” is not very realistic (nor do I believe should it be the goal). Therefore, it seemed that when designing programs, the more “start-to-finish” you tried to make a curriculum, the more limited its appeal (and, subsequently, use) because too much prescription made it difficult to implement given the widely varied manner in which adult instructional programming is delivered.

This all said, I think there is high value both in self-made curriculum and activities and publisher curriculum. When working with publisher materials, you have the assurance that the instructional format and sequence is consistent, and typically the publisher provides clear indication of what skills are covered. Such clarity and consistency can be huge timesavers, which is a major reason why instructors gravitate toward it. And, if it is a well-designed program (print or digital), I believe these materials can be very effective. The beauty of digital programs, in particular, is that the more they can be customized to suit any given instructional dynamic and the more responsive/adaptive they are to learner needs, the more they have the potential to provide a full-scale solution that addresses the aforementioned challenge of the varied settings and structures of adult education programming.

The reality of most adult ed settings is that even if there is a core curriculum of any sort being used, there is always room to supplement that curriculum with other resources that help provide more variety in terms of learner modality, additional practice, real-world application/demonstration of mastery, etc. I personally believe (well, I suppose this is the whole goal of CrowdED Learning) that the future lie in a world where instructors and learners have seamless access both to quality, ready-made curriculum (hopefully carefully selected to be certain it truly fits the instructional setting and learner dynamic) and free and open resources that can help round-out and augment that curriculum.

It’s been encouraging to see work such as this already happening in some states who have gone through Standards in Action training—where instructors and curriculum teams are working to analyze the alignment of their curricular resources to the CCRS and then working to “fill gaps” where gaps exist in coverage, depth, or rigor. I’d love to see this work expand and be more widely shared out, so we as an instructional community can build off one another’s work to help everyone effectively use whatever publisher curriculum, free resource, or any combination therein to meet the needs of all students.

Probably went on well beyond what anyone felt like reading; but, if you truly want to know how I feel, you can check out this post from earlier this year where I REALLY let loose on the topic :) 

Jeff, thank you for sharing your very reasoned views in response to this prompt. No one better to do it!   You are so right that "developing materials for adult learners was far less formulaic." Programs that offer services to adult learners who are on their way to work or further study, are even less "formulaic." There are many formal Adult Ed programs that receive federal funding, and there is a huge variety of programs that are non-profit and community based. Students in those two types of programs vary in many ways, and there is no formula that can address all populations although attempts are made to distribute regulations and to assess all programs by them.    I would like to think that we are headed, as you suggested, to a "place" "where instructors and curriculum teams are working to analyze the alignment of their curricular resources to the CCRS and then working to 'fill gaps' where gaps exist in coverage, depth, or rigor."" However, those teams would very likely only include people from well-funded, more formal programs, leaving poor "seat-of-the-pants" providers unable to contribute their two cents to any development.    Personally, I would like to find more choices for underpaid and overworked instructors to access complete, research-based packages that are free, maybe under OER, with good references to support materials that are scattered about on the Web. I believe that CrowdEd is going in that direction, isn't it?    Many thanks! Leecy   I hope others join us here to also answer your questions, repeated below:
  1. How are you implementing full scale curriculum?
  2. How are you assessing its alignment to what you need to be teaching (standards, competencies, etc.)?
  3. How are you supplementing such curriculum where there are gaps? (Or, even if there aren't gaps, per se, you want to provide options?)

Let the discussion continue. There is much good flesh left on these bones! Leecy

Thanks for tech support, the link has been fixed. Unfortunately, I posted a resource that was restricted for public use, and it didn't dawn on me that I was doing that. Thanks for all of the heads up. Leecy