Comments on Infrastructure and Productivity Sections of NETP Report

The NETP Report identified important infrastructure and productivity components, both short-term and long-term.  The discussions in the previous days have already touched on many most of the issues.  We appear to agree that there needs to be a free portal for use 24/7, better broadband, social networking with peer and professional interactions, access to MOOCs as well high quality commercial software, on-line training material for teachers/tutors, E-Portfolios, and so on.    

What are the priorities for short-term investments?  My view is that it would be developing the internet portal, pursing the various ways for adult learners to get internet access (free or very inexpensive), increasing social media communication with peers and teachers/tutors, and providing low-cost computers to adult learners. Some of the comments in the last few days have recommended tactics and have given examples of how this can be accomplished at costs that are not outrageous.

The Report mentioned standards for content interoperability (SCORM and Common Cartridge).  This allows educational software to be used on many different learning management systems and computing environments.  Military training systems must conform to SCORM standards, for example; if the systems don’t, the military won’t purchase the software.  Some of my colleagues have attempted to get the corporate community to adopt such standards, but progress has been slow on that front.  The only way to get developers of educational digital content to follow SCORM and other core standards is to apply serious leverage.  For example, the portal will include educational software only if it is compliant with SCORM and/or Common Cartridge.

As a note, these standards sometimes limit the sophistication of the software.  SCORM is fine for traditional computer-based training, which is adequate for shallow and intermediate depths of learning.  However, SCORM has met some challenges when it comes to dynamic sequencing of content, intelligent fine-grained adaptivity, simulation environments, and more complex games.  Unfortunately, these sophisticated learning environments are suited to deeper learning of complex 21st century skills. Some, but not all categories of educational software, would need to be SCORM compliant.           

There are many questions I have about infrastructure and productivity issues that have not been addressed in the previous days (or I somehow missed it). Consider those below. 

(1) Some sort of standards need to be adopted for the E-Portfolios if they are ever destined to be used effectively.  How will our community come to an agreement on the sort of data to be stored in the E-Portfolios?

(2) Digital badges were recommended in the Report.  What knowledge and skills would be important to include in the first wave of alternative badges to receive? 

(3) Software may be evaluated on a number of dimensions in the learning analytics.  There are considerations of cost, ease of use, motivational appeal, practical value of the subject matter, type and depth of learning, sharability, ratings/comments from stakeholders, and so on. Which dimensions of evaluation are most important?  Who decides? 

(4) The social networking and media will be essential in the future.  Who, if any one, will manage this to ensure participation and quality? 

(5) I want to reiterate the matrix that crosses (a) careers/vocations and (b) subject matter knowledge and skills.  This is available in various places but may need to be periodically updated.  To what extent is this available digitally and actually used by adult learners?  Can this be improved and better disseminated? 



Art & all.

I'd like to comment on the potential efficacy of E-Portfolios and badges. It seems to me (without having done much reading on the topic) that if a universal online portal includes such means to demonstrate competency expectations for what gets put there should be aligned with either common core standard or state-endorsed standards. I think that learners would be more apt to use the site and teachers more likely to endorse and refer learners to a site that obviously connects to tangible goals like diploma completion.  

As an example of state-endorsed standards I thougth about Wisconsin's High School Equivalency Diploma. Adults have multiple means by which they can obtain one (from 


"5.05 HSED is based on passing the GED tests and completing additional requirements in citizenship, health, career awareness and employability skills; 5.06 HSED is based on attainment of 22 high school credits including 11.5 specific credits; post-secondary credits may be substituted for high school credits;5.07 HSED is based on 24 semester or 32 quarter post-secondary credits; the candidate must have post-secondary credit in each area where they did not meet state high school graduation requirements, except physical education.5.08 HSED is based on a foreign high school or post-secondary diploma and requires that the candidate be a US citizen or meet both of the following: speaks, reads and writes ordinary English and passes the citizenship course or satisfies required education in US history and forms of government; 5.09 HSED is a competency based program approved by the state superintendent"  The last alternative could be represented in an online E-portfolio/badge system though it might mean that there are subpages created to suit specific states' requirements. Jen


Once again, very wise suggestions and helpful information.  The Common Core standards will be essential for GED of course. For the more vocational level (only indirectly addressed by the Common Core), certificates and badjes would make sense.  I also like the point you make that such badges and information about certificates or diplomas could be an attraction to the portal.     

One important resource that I didn't see specifically mentioned in the report is need to provided supported access to computers and the Internet. I've worked on a number of projects that shared this strategy: Learner Web BTOP, Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment (in labs across MN), St. Paul ABE Digital Education Lab. In each case teachers or tutors (often volunteers) worked scaffold learners' computer skills so that they could make use of the materials required to help them develop tech or academic skills.  I think such support has proven to be essential (in research and practice).



Hi Jen,

Supported access is very important. You and a handful of others who have worked with the projects you have mentioned have a wealth of knowledge from experience -- and soon Learner Web will have knowledge from research on this. Could you -- and others with this knowledge -- share some of what you have learned with participants in this discussion? What are some of the key learnings that might be incorporated in the report on the NETP? For example, I know that Learner Web, through its BTOP project, has learned a lot about CLICs in Minnesota and elsewhere. Can you tell us about that? And what has NorthStar Digital Literacy lbeen learning about support?


David J. Rosen

David & everyone,

I am looking forward to seeing the research results from the study of supported labs using Learner Web for digital literacy skill building and career path exploration. I do have some anecdotal observations that might be informative.

  • Provision of labs staffed with tutors/volunteers (CLICs - community literacy information coaches) allows for learners to work with technology to accomplish a range of skills. Silver-Pacquilla & Reder (2008) write about the importance of leveraging skills a learner possesses and scaffolding skill gaps so that learners can use technology to learn. Learning opportunities, learner skills, and the support available work like three legs of a stool, balancing to ensure achievement. We have seen that without the face-to-face support provided in the labs many of the participants in our BTOP program would have failed to persist. 
  • Providing a shared space for a common goal creates the potential for informal peer cohorts to form. I've seen the same students show up at the same time over the course of weeks and this regularity turn into motivation for future attendance. Cohort has proven to support persistence in many audiences.  See on the importance of in-person meet-ups for MOOC participants and Karp, M. J. M. (2011). Toward a new understanding of non-academic student support: Four mechanisms encouraging positive student outcomes in the community college for some interesting ideas on the power of cohort.
  • Funding is key. Agencies need space/resources to experiement and find the strategy that works best for them. In our labs, we had the funding through the grant to keep trying new approaches when what we tried first didn't succeed.
  • A variety of opportunity and lab activities brings in the participants. We have drop-in tutoring, group workshops and just open lab. 
  • The goal needs to be tech integration into whatever else the learner is doing, and supported access can help a learner gain confidence and skills needed for success with those larger goals. For example, at a lab in a OneStop, many learners came in looking for help formatting a resume. Our lab volunteers were able to provide guidence and scaffolding that made it possible for the participants to work through online learning content on resume writing.

Regarding Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment, we are using it as both diagnostic and milestone of skill attainment. The assessment is very popular. It has proven to be a draw in some of our labs across the state.

I'm sure if I kept at it, I could think of more observations. In the interest of brevity, I'll end here. I'd love to see what others have found out about supported access.



To Jen and others,

I need to turn to other obligations after this lovely discussion on adult learning and technology during the last week..

I would like to say that the CSAL center folks have a profound respect for Northstar's Digital Literacy assessment. My colleague Andrew Olney in CSAL is partnering with Northstar on their assessments of digital literacy.  It is behavioral interactions, not just questionaires.  We need to do what we can to have assessments be based on actions, interactions, and thoughts while performing authentic tasks.  That is a very different model of collecting data than a questionnaire.

To the future, folks.  We are the ones to do it!



Thanks, Art. We tried hard to avoid abstract multiple choice questions in the assessment. We were limited by buget to using Captivate with a bit of custom coding. I think the result, given our limitations, is pretty good! We are always looking for partnerships to help us refine, revise, and update the assessments. We're glad to be partnering with CSAL!




Hi Jen & Everyone,

One of the things that we have been discussing here at Portland State University is that there are a variety of ways that programs have been able to support learners using Learner Web to build digital literacy skills that seem to support learning.  In some cases the computer lab has one person who helps a variety of learners who are working on their own learning plans.  I met such a person last week at City College of San Francisco.  In other settings the learners make appointments with individual tutors.  In yet other settings there is one tutor to two are three learners.  I think that the takeaway is that there needs to be a person available in some capacity, who knows how to support learners learning new technologies but that the specifics can fit the setting.

Another thing that we have learned from a variety of projects using Learner Web is that there needs to be training and support for the tutors or teachers who are supporting the learners.  The support people themselves need support from a go-to person who understands learning as well as the technologies & skills involved.  This applies across the board, I think.

It is also very useful when tutors and teachers can do professional learning using the same technologies that they are helping their students to use in their own learning.  

Thanks for an interesting discussion.