Forming networks between Formal and Non-Formal adult educators

Are there members of LINCS who work in community based organizations (CBOs) such as libraries, churches, nonprofits and other agencies (the Non-Formal sector)?

The reason I ask is that a few years ago I read that in some areas up to 50% of adult ESL and other classes were not under the auspices of  community colleges or government funded programs but rather sponsored by CBOs. And I think that at least 25% of other classes were run by CBOs.

But here in LINCS it appears that almost all the discussions originate from professionals in Formal programs.

The importance of the issue rests in the impetus to meet the needs of the “under-served” who are usually low-income, working adults, often from various immigrant communities.

In general, these needs can best be met if networks or alliances are formed between the Formal and Non-Formal agencies in any community. The Philadelphia Literacy Alliance is a good model to emulate.

I hope there is an interest in forming such networks, and that a good discussion of the How Tos will follow.


Hi Paul,

In my view, what constitutes the difference between formal and nonformal adult basic skills programs in the U.S. is whether or not they receive federal or state public grants. Programs that do receive these grants, whether from the state or the federal government, must comply with a hefty set of regulations that require they address the Adult College and Career Readiness (CCR) Standards; they must report attendance and learner outcomes following the guidelines of the National Reporting System that requires that students be pre- and post-tested using approved standardized tests; and they must comply with other federal regulations promulgated for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. They usually also have to comply with state adult education regulations.

This applies to cbos and volunteer organizations that get these grants too. They must follow the same regulations that public schools and community colleges getting these grants must follow. They are accountable.They usually must offer levels of ESL/ESOL or ABE classes or (now increasingly AND) high school equivalency preparation; they must integrate their adult learners in the workforce development/career pathways system in their state. Their program performance is measured against these standards and outcomes, and their continued public funding depends on their performance against the standards and their program outcomes. In my view, this is what makes them part of the formal system (although not necessarily part of the local formal K-12 public school system). Paul, you may see comments in the LINCS communities from those who work in formal adult basic skills program in cbo's, libraries, even some volunteer programs, as well as public schools and community colleges.

Nonformal adult basic skills programs do not have to meet these regulations, but also do not have these public funding opportunities. They often "fly under the public funding radar." They may be in cbo's; they may be volunteer tutoring programs or classes or tutorials sponsored by student groups in universities, recreation centers, community technology centers, faith-based organizations, community centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, immigrant or refugee placement services, and in some libraries. They may or may not receive private funding from charitable or corporate foundations or individual donors. They do not usually show up in literacy databases or literacy hotlines. Their purpose is to serve people in their community, sometimes people who do not know about or cannot be served by formal programs, or people who do not for a variety of reasons trust formal programs. Some nonformal programs may serve undocumented learners and do not want -- and often could not get -- public funding.

How many of these nonformal programs there are, and what percent of the population in need are served by them is unknown. I am aware of only one survey, conducted many years ago by what was then known as the the Boston Adult Literacy Fund; the survey attempted to identify nonformal adult basic skills (including ESOL) programs. It found that there were many more nonformal than formal adult basic skills programs serving Boston residents, although because the nonformal programs were usually small, the total number served by formal programs, some of which were large, may have been greater. It is rare that nonformal programs come to state adult basic skills or ESOL/ESL professional development conferences or other publicly-funded professional development opportunities. They may not know about these face-to-face or online or blended courses or may not be eligible to participate in them, or may not be able to afford them. Some may join LINCS, but it's hard to know if they do. They are, of course, welcome to sign up for LINCS.

David J. Rosen

David, yes, these are good points, but I should have made it clear that I was focusing on funding from private foundations, such as the Gates and Ford foundations. And there are other sources of funding also, from bake sales to simply seeking donations in the community.

The main issue, however, that I wanted to raise is to find out if there are Non-Formal educators here on LINCS and if it were possible to start a discussion about forming Formal and Non-Formal Networks similar to the Philadelphia Literacy Alliance.

This month I am going to attend a Literacy Fair in Oxnard, California. The purpose of the fair is to inform the community of the opportunities available for attending college. At the fair will be a number of representatives from community colleges plus leaders from Non-Formal adult education providers, many of whom serve the Latino community. Basically this Fair is a good first step in forming collaborative alliances.

A Fair like this can easily be replicated, especially in large cities like Boston, where there are many Non-Formal programs run by NGOs.

For many years adult education leaders have discussed the problem of meeting the needs of the “under-served”, but with little success. Now we have the models to follow. It would take effort on our part, but sooner or later we can make inroads to improve the situation. Literacy Networks or Alliances are a good first step.



Hi Paul,

There are many adult literacy alliances, coalitions, cooperatives, collaborations and initiatives around the country. Some are affiliated with ProLiteracy USA. You will find a list of about a thousand organizations, by state, on their website -- here

Below are some examples of urban adult literacy coalitions.

If there are other adult literacy coalitions that should be added to this list, let us know.

David J. Rosen

Thanks, David, and I hope we can add to the list. Going back to my original question concerning the role of LINCS in forming Literacy Coalitions - is there an interest in a discussion about the benefits and the How Tos? How can we solve the problem of providing better services for adults who need services but are unable to attend classes at  community colleges?

Hi, Paul and everyone,  I lead a free community-based ESL program in Plainfield, New Jersey.  We operate out of a church (since 2007), and serve about 90 students annually, with 40-50 usually active at any one time.  For a community-based program, ours is fairly intensive - 3 mornings per week for a total of 7.5 hours, mid-September through mid-June.  We receive some grants from private foundations, but no state or federal money.  Our budget is around $10,000 per year.  We have money to buy books and supplies and I get a stipend that is enough to cover my expenses.  

Plainfield has an immigrant population of about 40%.  We find students through referrals from pre-schools, flyers placed in local businesses and  a sign posted in front of the church for a couple of weeks before class begins in September, and of course by word of mouth.  We find volunteers through word of mouth and VolunteerMatch.

I keep up with several threads on LINCS but don't think I've ever posted before.

One of our continuing challenges is that we offer 'basic English,' but as students advance there is no suitable low-cost program for them to continue.  The local community college is financially out of reach for almost all our students.

Marian Olson

Teacher / Director

Plainfield English School


Marion, thank you for replying and telling us about your class. You have developed a solid model for a  Non-Formal program and I am sure you will be able to find others to work with. I suspect that a library would be a good liaison.

One of the benefits of partnering is that you will have better success with mutual grants as well as mutual fund-raising events. I am sure you also qualify to come under the umbrella of other non-profit groups.

I Wikipedia-ed Plainfield and it said there are about 50,000 people there, which is a good sized city. An immigrant population of 40% is a large number and I am curious to know what their native countries and languages are.

Anyway, I am sure there are a lot of resources you can tap into, including obtaining grants. I recommend reading about the Philadelphia Literacy Alliance to use as a good example of successful networking.

What are your specific needs now? In other words, how can members of LINCS help you? I am  loaded with all kinds of ideas, and I have also accumulated information on a variety of issues, so perhaps I may be of some service. I specialize in online learning for Spanish speaking adults. You mention more advanced classes, which can be designed for free using online resources - as long as they are not for credit.

Thanks again and ...nice to meet you!

Paul Rogers

Hi Paul, 

I believe we might have spoken on another conversation thread earlier, but in case not - I run a program for refugee and immigrant adults from within a refugee and immigration agency in Atlanta called New American Pathways. My program trains and pairs volunteers with our adult clients who for various reasons (the top two being lack of childcare and transportation) are unable to access the wide variety of ESL classes in Dekalb County. The volunteers come to the clients' homes once a week for ESL tutoring. We provide training, support, curriculums, and materials, and we conduct pre tests and post tests to measure the clients' language progress. We receive funding through various grants. 

Our program is not designed to bring our clients all the way to literacy or fluency since we are relying on volunteers, many of whom have little previous teaching experience, but we function more as a 'stop-gap' service that tries to keep this previously under-served segment of the population from falling through the cracks. Much of the time, our clients would not be learning English if we weren't providing them an in-home teacher through this program. 

I also refer clients who are capable of attending to ESL classes in the surrounding area. I network with many of my colleagues in other refugee resettlement and service agencies in the area, and I'm working on establishing better connections with the local libraries. My need is to continue to provide solid training, support, and materials to our volunteers and clients in our English at Home program. As much as I possible, I notify our volunteers of other ESL training and networking in the area, but there aren't very many opportunities of this that I know of which are specifically for volunteer teachers, not exclusively for professionals. And as I mentioned in the 'mobile learning' thread, supplementing our work with online learning resources that the clients could study during the week would be ideal, but I don't know what the best resources are, particularly for very low-level clients. Any insight or advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for starting this discussion!

Kelsey, Yes I remember your earlier post and thanks for adding this. Between you and Marian we have some good examples of ESL programs in Non-Formal Adult Education. There is a Non-Formal Micro-Group here on LINCS where we can focus on the development of Non-Formal programs. Please join.

There is a lot to discuss and a lot of information and resources to share. And I think the first issue is ...funding. Usually only community college "formal" adult programs are funded by the federal government, a policy which needs to be changed, the meantime we can focus on Private Foundations, such as the Gates and Ford Foundations.

As a general rule it is always good to have a Mission Statement written, briefly describing your program's history, goals and financial needs This can be used for a lot of reasons, and as far as applying for grants, it serves as the basis of a Letter of Introduction, which most foundations need first.

If you have Non-profit, 501C(3) status, you can, of course, always apply for a grant as is. If you do not have non-profit status, there is the option of finding a non-profit agency which could act as your umbrella - meaning that they manage the funds and receive up to 10% as a fee, but you get the remaining 90%.

I am also a big fan of fund-raising events. Years ago, when I went to apply for a teaching job in a community college, at a table outside the entrance were several women selling pastries to raise money for textbooks for their ESL class!  I, of course, bought several cakes. They were delicious!!! And for a good cause. Well, there are lots of ideas we all can use that will help with fund-raising.

To keep this short, I think it would be good to list the topics to be discussed and researched, such as training of volunteers, program development, the use of technology, etc. 

So in the meantime please join the Non-Formal Micro Group, and let's keep the discussion going.

Sincerely, Paul Rogers - - 805-258-3310

Kelsey, There are many online resources for adults to learn English that your volunteers can demonstrate to the clients in your refugee program. Your “stop-gap” approach is very necessary for students who know little or no English and home visits are a great way to help adults learn.

One aspect to consider is how to incorporate the students’ Home Language (L1) into English classes. A bilingual approach at the beginning stages is often very helpful for many reasons (see reference by Phillip Kerr below).

In your program, you can create a list of bilingual websites and videos on YouTube.

English pronunciation is often a big problem for beginning students, and YouTube videos are an interesting and effective way to practice.

Along these lines, you may also consider developing your own website that provides information and lessons in various languages. Basic lessons of the most common 500 words could easily be translated by Google Translate, and it would only have to be done one time.

Mobile devices, especially Smart Phones, are now just as important as laptops. One way to supplement the Home visits is to create free and easy WhatsApp study groups.

I have developed my own Non-Formal program for Spanish speakers using all of the above, and not only do students like the lessons but. …they learn faster, in my opinion. The basis is my website

Reference: “The learner’s own language,” by Philip Kerr, Freelance, Austria Abstract

The learner’s own language (commonly referred to as ‘L1’ or ‘first language’) has been neglected as a resource in the learning of another language and, in some contexts, it has been banned altogether. The arguments in favour of own-language exclusion are not supported by research and the policy is not followed by a              majority of teachers…..more: