Day four of our discussion on “How can technology transform adult education and current practice?” focusing on Teaching

We’ve arrived at day four of our discussion on How can technology transform adult education and current practice?”  

Adult education and technology experts Art Graesser and David Rosen will focus on the Teaching section of the draft report recently released on LINCS: Connected Teaching and Personalized Learning: Implications of the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) for Adult Education, produced through a contract with the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

This part of the discussion will be cross-posted to Evidence-based Professional Development group.

We look forward to reading your responses too.

Related Documents and Resources:

 Connected Teaching and Personalized Learning: Implications of the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) for Adult Education

 National Education Technology Plan 2010: Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology


The NETP Report identified the many ways that professional development (PD) for teachers of adult learners can be improved.  There are workshops, conferences, social networking, internet classes, repositories of best practices, experiences by teachers (ideally classified by the type of learners, subject matters, and various metadata), and so on. The Report also has two main goals for teaching: Prepare and connect. That is, prepare the teachers and increase connections among teachers/professionals. The comments of the first few days have repeatedly articulated that there needs to be more PD training for teachers and tutors of adult learners, that such resources are seriously underfunded, and that the community needs to be inventive in filling this gap with lean budgets. 

My colleague in Memphis (Mark Conley, a collaborator in the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy) was worked with more tutors and teachers of literacy than anyone I have known.   Imagine thousands.  He frequently expresses the need for more systematic PD training and also creating learning methods that integrate the experiences of teachers/tutors.  He has also worked with adult learners.

We have already expressed learning principles and good practices in the report and in the discussions.  Good practices can be documented and integrated in classes and internet resources.  It is also worthwhile to document bad practices, myths, illusions, and so on.  One research area of my colleagues and I has been to document tutoring sessions of real tutors in fine detail (speech, actions, emotions, support materials, feedback, interactions). We discover that tutors (even outstanding tutors) have strong tendencies to perform non-optimal tactics and strategies.  Here are just a few.

1. Lecturing to the student rather than stimulating active learning.

2. Assuming that whatever the tutor says is understood by the student (it usually isn’t).

3. Quickly correcting the student rather than giving the student a chance to correct themselves.

4. Believing the student is correct when answering the tutor’s question “Do you understand?”     

5. Applying grill & kill shallow questions, with little time for the student to think.

These common proclivities could be available as part of the PD materials in addition to good practices and learning principles.   

As discussion in an earlier comment, one could image PD materials on a central portal that is free to teachers and tutors.  The portal would have free PD facilities as well as commercial ones.  I endorse policies that require Federally funded educational technologies to be available for free on the portals (or very low cost if the company made up-front investments on the research). One of the facilities on the portal would be social networking, where teachers can make comments on technologies, PD materials, best practices, experiences, and so on.  These comments can be classified, organized, and accessed in ways that are easy to retrieve.

In my view, one of the chief challenges is getting teachers actively involved in the social networking and contributing to the community. Who is documenting the frequency and quality of these connections through social networking?  How long are the conversation threads?  Who are participating? What is the quality of the exchanges? When do teachers drop out?  What activities keep them involved?  How does one get new teachers involved?   Perhaps there are data on this.  I am curious. I know that a small number of corporations (e.g., Cisco) have tracked data on the on-line courses that employees can take in order to optimize career advancement in addition to corporate performance.  They may be tracking other detailed interactions as well of course.  However, these results are not shared, as far as I know. 

Perhaps one approach is a foot-in-the-door technique.  A teacher inexperienced with technology can be brought into the on-line PD social community by a knowledgeable friend or colleague.  Start out having the teacher do one small thing that is easy to do – as an expert in the field.  After that small step, more will come, until the teacher finds it rewarding and is an active member of the community.  Has anyone figured out a PD pyramid scheme? 

I also believe that some publishing companies are interested in supporting the many facets of PD though their materials and technologies.  Pearson, Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill are interested as the world of publishing shifts from print to electronic media. I wonder how many are using such resources among the teachers of adult learners.

Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I'd like to respond to the following point/question contributed by Dr. Graesser:

"In my view, one of the chief challenges is getting teachers actively involved in the social networking and contributing to the community. Who is documenting the frequency and quality of these connections through social networking?  How long are the conversation threads?  Who are participating? What is the quality of the exchanges? When do teachers drop out?  What activities keep them involved?  How does one get new teachers involved?   Perhaps there are data on this.  I am curious."

My work as a PD facilitator has me thinking about the same issues. I recently wrapped up a two-month hybrid/blended PD experience for low-level adult ESL teachers. The request for the PD was to show them how to use social media/networking sites in ESL classrooms. It's interesting that the organization that asked me to create and lead the training just wanted a one-day workshop. I strongly felt that teachers need supported use of new technology/materials/tools over an extended period of time in order to feel comfortable integrating new tech in instruction. This strategy is supported in much published research. One useful reference is Vrasidas, C., & Glass, G. V. (2007). Teacher Professional Development and ICT: Strategies and Models. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 106(2), 87–102. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7984.2007.00116.x

For my extended social networking PD, I used the free version of Schoology as the venue (It's great!). After an in-person kick-off, where teachers learned how to use the tool, I launched a series of themed discussion on relevant topics (Internet access stats, useful websites, how to use phones in class, tech integration choices).  As expected, there were a few regular contributors and many, many teachers who failed to persist. In follow-up interviews, a common reason given for dropping out was that the teachers did not trust the environment. They felt insecure about revealing their lack of knowledge about the topics discussed. 

I've been doing some reading on online Communities of Practice and the idea of social presence. I think that online CoP are an important way to get teachers networking and comfortable online so that they gain confidence to bring these tools to their classrooms. The idea of building social presence is key to successful participation in CoP. If you don't feel seen you are less likely to participate and value the community. 

If I try this again, I think I will embed a mentoring role for more experienced teachers (paired with those less comfortable with tech) or make sure that my online CoP is small enough that the participating teachers who are new to tech/social media will feel comfortable enough to assert their social presence rather than hiding, lurking, or dropping-out.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Jen Vanek


Thanks so much for your valuable contributions.  I will take a look at Vrasidas and Glass (2007) article.  And please share what you learn on you dissertation.  This is a very important topic.

It is informative that they worry about showing their lack of knowledge about topics discussed.  That decreases their contributions, which is a bottleneck, because it is the interactivity and responsiveness of others that is the essence of what makes these environments work when the do work. Perhaps some topics could be put forth that everyone has views and knowledge about.  Then after their contributions and social presence is high, there could be a shift to more difficult topics. 

One challenge in many group interactions (focus groups, parties, classrooms, and so on) is that most if the discussion is dominated by a few people.  So others to the hiding and lurking, as you astutely point out. This is where some technology may help with intelligent agents (messages, not the talking heads necessarily). A message could be sent to them to give their opinion, knowledge, or views on something.  Or to send their views to another person.  Sometimes there is a "group think" problem where groups are polite too quickly without arguing and coming up with a better solution.  Some degree of conflict and argumentation sometimes stimulates more participation.

I like your idea of pairing up experienced mentors with less experienced teachers.  I wonder how much such pairings are being pursed in social networking and communities of practice.   






Great suggestion about staring off with topics on which everyone can share insight. In the case I described above, I agree that it was perhaps too much to ask to have both a new way of communicating and a topic that was foreign to most of the participants. Another great article on the issue of what motivates participation in online communities is Hur, J. W., & Brush, T. A. (2009). Teacher Participation in Online Communities: Why Do Teachers Want to Participate in Self-generated Online Communities of K-12 Teachers? Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(3), 279–303. Retrieved from

Though the research was not specifically on ABE teachers, I think it's relevant. It, too, suggests that participation is motivated by feelings of efficacy and confidence in expertise. The teachers wanted to participate in order to give back to the field.




Once again I agree.  And thanks for the reference. 

It is difficult for a newcomer to both handle the technology and to learn/advance the topic matter.  That is an overload. And we all know that teachers of adult learners are exhausted from the multiple tasks and miracles they pull.  There needs to be a humane pacing of the tasks a teacher performs.  This is of course a mantra of jobs throughout our society.  We are doing 1.5 jobs under challenging time constraints.  A workload analysis on teachers would be a sensible research project. 

Teachers have expertise of the years of experience -- what worked and what didn't.  They need to be brought into the fold of the social networking of the Community of Learners.  It just takes many efforts to bring them into the fold until there is a critical mass.