Distance Learning for All!!

Happy New Year Everybody!

In my opinion, it is now possible to offer English and other classes to just about everybody with distance or online learning. We just need to take into account what is called "Latent Learning".  

Latent learning is the term used to describe learning that takes place through observation and exposure. For example, learning how to drive a car begins with latent learning, or "passive learning".

When many adult immigrants begin to learn English, they do so passively, outside of a classroom. What is needed is a method to engage these students not only to help them learn English in their day-to-day lives but also to create a practical method for them to enroll in classes that can accomodate their living and working situations. That method is online, distance learning.

As we know, adult education classes now offered accommodate less than 20% of the eligible population. With online learning, using websites, YouTube videos, etc. it is now possible to assist any adult to learn English.



1. Bandura, Social Learning Theory



2. Tolman - Latent Learning





Hi Paul, and others,

I agree with your point, Paul, that adult basic or foundational skills education in the U.S. is severely limited in its ability to meet the needs of the many adults who need these services, For publicly-funded programs, the estimate of the those in need who receive adult foundational (basic) education services is usually well under 10%; in some years, in some states, it has been under 5%. I agree that this is a serious problem for adults who seek English language skills and/or other foundational skills. It is also a serious challenge for our economy, for some employers and for our society.  As you and others here may know, the problem is not new, but it's more severe now. Many fewer people are served with federal funding than a decade ago, and although some states have increased their funding, not all have done so, and there are still -- even during the pandemic when instruction has often been provided only remotely -- long waiting lists, especially for immigrants seeking English language classes or tutorials.

I also agree with your point that new models are needed, especially nonformal English language learning models, and I would add that additional public and private funding is needed to scale this up. For those who are not familiar with the term "nonformal" please continue reading.

I believe there are three broad kinds of learning for adults: Informal, nonformal, and formal, and many different variations within each kind: .

Informal learning takes place every day in nearly everyone's life. It does not include instruction, but consists of an individual's observing, making connections from what is already understood, and new understandings, acquired skills, and possibly attitudes. One example is someone learning a new language, without instruction, but by watching television or repeatedly watching watching recorded videos; not an instructional videos, but ones with lots of dialogue in the language the adult is trying to learn such as a soap opera, drama, musical, or T.V. news program. We may all know examples of highly motivated adults -- and children -- who have learned a new language without formal instruction. When I lived in West Africa, I knew many adults who, without any instruction, but with an opportunity to be immersed in a new spoken language as a child or as an adult, learned to "hear" (understand) and to speak a new language at a basic communicative level. Some had informally learned to understand and speak several new languages.

Nonformal learning (to distinguish it from formal learning this is often written as non-formal) usually involves instruction: in-person, online, or a hybrid of both. It usually does not lead to credit or certification but does lead to acquiring new or improved understandings and skills, sometimes to changed attitudes and views, and to increased confidence and self-efficacy. Some kinds of adult foundational skills learning in the U.S. and in other countries might be described as nonformal. Much of English language learning in the U.S. is nonformal, even when the instruction leads to a course completion or English language level outcome for the program providing the service. For the basic level language learner, the goal is to "learn English" (listening, speaking, and often but not always, reading and writing) to shop, speak with neighbors, medical practitioners, prospective employers and others, usually not to get an improved score or level on a formal post-test. Some English language instruction however, for example, U.S. citizenship preparation or Integrated English and Training (IET)  programs may be considered formal. While adult basic education is usually nonformal, adult secondary education that leads to a high school equivalency certificate or adult diploma is formal. Nonformal learning is often provided in community-based settings such as public libraries or other community-based agencies, and/or in distance education classes. Other examples of nonformal models include tutorials, book groups, language conversation groups, study groups, and learning circles. 

Formal learning or formal education. Everyone who has attended K-12, or higher education is familiar with formal education, but formal learning may also include apprenticeships and work-related or other training programs leading to certificates, credentials or other qualifications. Formal adult foundational (basic) skills programs or adult schools are usually publicly or privately funded and may be licensed or accredited by a public or private authority. 

David J. Rosen




David, thanks for adding this because it suggests a framework for us to imagine the possiblities. I believe that inidividuals, agencies and organizations that provide adult ed classes in these three modalities could work together. Or, to look at it from the student's point of view, it would be very logical to move from learning informally to a non-formal or formal setting over time, like a conveyor belt. 

And I also believe that there may be more funding for this approach from those companies or agencies with an interest in adult and family education. I remember reading a report many years ago about the funding provided to a program like this in one county. Actually, a program like this would probably be of interest to companies like Google, etc. 



.... I'm imagining spaces and places and faces where people would gather and informal and nonformal learnign would be the "focus" in a non-threatening (so not all that focused!) way, especially if the learning and sharing was inclusive so that we are learning from the adults there, too.