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"Making Skills Everyone's Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States"

Good afternoon,

I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 National Meeting for Adult Education State Directors this week.  Making Skills Everyone's Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States, a brief guide to OCTAE's national action plan, was shared with participants. The national action plan is based on:

  • a review of the performance and outcomes of state adult education practices
  • an assessment of states' status on various adult education reforms
  • consultations with several nations that have developed national strategies for improving foundation skills of adults
  • a literature review on instructional effectiveness
  • review and analysis of U.S. data as reported in the OEDC report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill, and
  • a nation-wide engagement process conducted by OCTAE leaders that sought input and recommendations from students and stakeholders.  

This guide is a preview to a longer report which will be released by OCTAE in August 2014.  Alex Chisholm, co-founder, President and CEO of Skylab Learning, and a panelist on a plenary session, "Champions of Change - Meeting the Call to Transform Adult Learning" describes the guide on Skylab's blog:

"Posted on May 15, 2014 by apollo

For the past six months, we’ve been participating in a series of engagement sessions organized by the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) as it develops an action plan to transform adult education in the U.S.  As we’ve noted previously, roughly 36 million adults lack the skills to secure jobs and chase economic opportunities where they can realize a living wage.  Stakeholders from private industry, local, state, and federal agencies, foundations, educational organizations, policy organizations, labor groups, among others, have been contributing to the OCTAE’s efforts as we all try to get our arms around the really big issues that need to be addressed if we are going to address what is essentially a national crisis.

On Tuesday, at the annual meeting of State Adult Education Directors in Washington, Secretary Arne Duncan and the OCTAE team shared a preliminary brief, Making Skills Everyone’s Business, in advance of a larger action plan that will be released later this summer.  OCTAE has identified seven strategies for all to consider as we innovate:

(1) Create joint ownership of solutions
(2) Expand opportunities for adults to improve foundation skills
(3) Make career pathways available and accessible in every community
(4) Ensure all students have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and programs
(5) Align federal policies and programs to integrate services for adults
(6) Increase the return on investment in skills training for business, industry, and labor
(7) Commit to closing the equity gap for vulnerable sub-populations

During a panel presentation moderated by Acting Assistant Secretary of Education Johan Uvin, we shared our thoughts on the role technology can play in increasing access to education and training, as well as the returns on investment individuals, businesses, and society can realize when we develop new programs for a diverse population of adult learners.

Specifically, we highlighted the proliferation of mobile devices among immigrant and minority groups as an installed base of technologies that could be leveraged for training, enabling low-skilled workers to have access to content and resources 24-7 rather than often times limited and expensive location-based training programs that look like “more of the same.”  And, of course, we championed game-based learning experiences, which engage learners differently than traditional instruction and can be customized for different contexts and are adaptive to individual learners.

In terms of ROI, we pointed to the case studies and research we’ve highlighted here in recent months, suggesting that it really is “everyone’s business” to be tackling the challenges of adult education and training.  As they consider their roles in catalyzing transformation, we encouraged State Adult Education Directors to explore opportunities that aren’t part of the old playbook and take risks when exploring new programs at state and local levels.  Unless we attempt something bold and different, we will continue to fail ourselves and those who look to us for leadership, direction, and opportunity."

PDF of Making Skills Everyone's Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States

In reviewing the 7 strategies, how has your program or community been involved in creating solutions to transform adult education in the United States?  Which of these strategies will your program or community use or continue to use in improving and developing foundation skills for adults?  How will you continue to make it your business?

Gail Cope, SME, LINCS Program Management Group


storytellersf's picture

I would love to know what the first of these 7 strategies means in the practice. Does anyone have a sense of this, or even better, an example?




Sharon Speckhard's picture

At our community college (which is where adult education and literacy is housed in Iowa), the Continuing Ed side worked with community leaders to set up programs that link AEL grads to non-credit or credit course sequences to prepare them for jobs which the community has said it needs right now.  We also work with local transportation groups to help with our students' transportation needs, etc.  To me, it means that the joint ownership is community-wide, not just the "job" of the Adult Education and Literacy programs.

Donna Brian's picture

Hi Gabe and all,

Sharon has provided your good example, and I'll provide more help to gain a sense of this "creating joint ownership of solutions."  The LINCS Resource Collection can be a big help in understanding just how to create this "joint ownership." Go to the LINCS page at, then in the right hand box of the three choices choose "career pathways" and add "partnerships" as a key word. and  31 resources  will pop up.  You can read the review of each resource and decide if it looks like something that would be helpful to you. A link to the actual online free resource is included in each review. The basic idea in creating joint ownership is to involve partners to collaborate to solve the problems, community by community, of the  "roughly 36 million adults (who) lack the skills to secure jobs and chase economic opportunities where they can realize a living wage."  I would particularly recommend these resources from the 31 that are currently in the LINCS collection under "partnerships":

Getting Started Toolkit (Part 2): Partnership Development and Planning (review at

Courses to Employment: Partnering to Create Paths to Education and Careers

The Breaking Through Practice Guide

A Guide for Developing Local Interagency Linkage Teams

Hope this is helpful! 

Donna Brian

SME, Career Pathways