Using Technology to help learners set, monitor and achieve learning goals

Hello Integrating Technology colleagues,

From Tuesday, January 12th, through Thursday, January 14th, Anthony Burik will be a guest joining me to discuss how digital tools can help teachers help students to set, monitor, and achieve their learning goals. Anthony offers strategies and digital tools that make it easier and more effective for teachers to do this.  

Anthony is a Project Specialist with the Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN), a California state leadership project that focuses on assisting adult education staff with integrating technology into instructional practices. He provides online and face-to-face training at sites and conferences across the state. He also assists with managing digital content and digital communications for OTAN. Prior to joining OTAN, Anthony Burik was the ESL and Citizenship Coordinator for an adult education program in the San Francisco Bay Area. He previously worked as an ESL teacher, Distance Learning teacher, EL Civics Project Leader, and GED test administrator, managing the GED testing center and helping open the agency’s PearsonVUE test center. Finally, Anthony has been active in CATESOL, a statewide professional development association for ESL K–adult professionals, at the local and state levels. He currently serves on its Board of Directors as President-Elect; his two-year term as President will begin in October 2021.

Please post questions for Anthony on how to help students set, monitor, and achieve their learning goals here, now and through January 14th, as replies to this post. 

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group


Hello Integrating Technology Colleagues,

Our discussion on Using Technology to help learners set, monitor and achieve learning goals begins now.

I would like to welcome our guest, Anthony Burik, whose brief bio you can read about in the first post in this discussion, and remind you to post your questions for him.

Here's my first question:

  1. The title of your upcoming article in the Technology Solutions column of the Adult Literacy Education Journal, to be published in March 2021, is “Using Technology to Help Students Set, Monitor, and Achieve Goals.” Some might wonder if teachers are already doing that, or, if they are not, why not? Can you tell us your thoughts about that?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group


Thanks Anthony,

In that article you write that goal-setting is connected with student persistence and cite this LINCS document, “Set and Monitor Goals” at This, in turn, cites an article by Comings, Parrella and Soricone (1999), Persistence among adult basic education students in pre-GED classes (NCSALL Report #12). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education. summarized this way, “learners who have specific goals in mind are more likely to persist in their studies. The primary incentive for learner persistence is the learner’s ability to set a goal and see progress in reaching that goal.”

2. I was struck by this paragraph from that study and wonder if you would like to comment on it: “Two aspects of educational experience were also associated with persistence. Adults who had been involved in previous efforts at basic skills education, self-study, or vocational skill training were more likely to persist than those who had not. The strongest relationship was with those who had undertaken self-study. Adults who, when asked why they had entered a program, mentioned a specific goal (such as help my children or get a better job) were more likely to persist than those who either mentioned no goal or said they were doing it for themselves. These findings suggest that experience with education may increase an adult’s self-confidence about learning. These relationships also suggest that motivation, especially as demonstrated by undertaking self-study or by being clear about the goal for attendance, is a support to persistence.” Specifically, do you think that engaging adult learners in goal setting, monitoring, achieving and celebrating is key to their persistence in adult basic skills education?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

Yes, I'd agree that the educator/staff/school need to engage adult learners for them to persist. In the LINCS "Set and Monitor Goals" document, there is discussion about "self-regulated" learners. We know that some of our learners are already self-regulated - that is, their goals are clear and they are highly-motivated to achieve those goals, and they are able to come into our programs and schools and do what they have defined for themselves and exit successfully. But that is probably not the majority of our students. What struck me most about "Set and Monitor Goals" is that the adult educator has a definite role to play to get the learner to a self-regulated stage. If the goal is in the mind of the learner, it has to become explicit. I saw this all the time in ESL - the "Learn English" goal was clearly identified and marked during registration, but why were the students really there? Did we take the time to learn this for each student and then make sure we were working towards students reaching those goals? The educator has to find this out, and if it's still fuzzy in the student's mind or if they do not know how what their goal could enable them to do (for example, learning English enables me to speak with my child's teacher, but with more English I could get involved as a parent volunteer at the school, which I had not considered), then a goal setting process may help to bring some clarity to the student (and educator).

One of the features of certain tech tools that really appeals to me is the interactivity between the student setting the goal(s) and the educator (a teacher, a counselor, a support staff member) monitoring the goal. As a supporter, I can see the goal named and the timetable established, as well as the subtasks. Notifications can go out, and I can communicate with the student in the app. These are all features that keep the educator "engaged" which "Set and Monitor Goals" makes clear is key. "Set and Monitor Goals" also makes clear that we can't leave the burden of goal setting, monitoring, and achieving entirely or mostly to the student; that's a recipe for failure. We have to be a partner in that process, and technology is a tool that can help us establish and maintain that partnership.

5. The solution to effective goal-setting that you offer in the article has five parts: Adopting a goals framework; Determining technology access, connectivity and ability; Nudging; Selecting the tech tools to use, and Celebrating student achievement and success. I have several questions about these.

a. You write that you a believe that a good place to start with a goals framework “would be this San Diego Continuing Education webpage with handouts (See “Decision Making Goal Setting - SMART” at and this handout developed by the Lake County (FL) Library System (See “Goal Setting Strategies” at ). Could you say why these two resources are especially good for adult basic skills educators to start with?

b. You suggest the following resources for determining students’ technology access, connectivity and ability to use the technology: Susan Gaer’s cell phone survey at  and Soledad Knipp’s cell phone features at .  Do you have additional resources to suggest for helping students with the digital literacy skills they may need, especially to set goals, receive and act on nudges, and monitor their progress?

c. Some people may interpret “nudging” as reminding or even hounding students. I wonder if you could clarify, at least ideally, what nudging students about their goals and progress means, and how it is more than reminding and hounding, if you believe that it is.

d. Of the several digital tools that you recommend for the goal-setting, -monitoring, and goal-achieving process, do you have personal favorites and, if so, why?

e. You recommend as tools for monitoring and staying connected with students setting up a private Facebook group or using a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Canvas, Schoology, or Google Classroom. With these tools, is the monitoring one-on-one between the teacher and a student, or can it involve others, for example other students in a Facebook private group, or an advisor or supporter, perhaps even a family member that the student would like to involve in the monitoring process? If so, can you give some examples of these possible types of monitoring?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

Yes, let's take each component one at a time!

5a. There are lots of SMART Goals handouts and suggestions all over the internet. I referenced these two in particular because they've been customized for use in these programs with educators and tutors who work with adults, and they're a bit more thorough than many other handouts out there. Educators will probably need some training and practice themselves before using these with students and doing the goal-setting activities, so I do feel that looking at these handouts as a whole give educators a good sense of what to consider and how to help students craft goals that are going to be solid.

5b. David, I recently came across your article in a previous ALE Journal, Assessing and Teaching Adult Learners’ Basic and Advanced 21st Century Digital Literacy Skills, that I think is a great piece for thinking about other tools to assess learner digital skills:

If your program or school already administers a digital skills survey, then maybe it's just a matter of revising what you already have, rather than starting from scratch. I also think that these COVID times give us an opportunity to take a second look at these types of surveys to make sure we're asking the right questions and getting the right feedback; with the wholesale move to distance learning in the last year, we probably want to rethink what staff and student access to technology, connectivity, and digital ability really means moving forward.

5c. Nudging is a lot more nuanced than hounding. Nudging is based on an understanding of where each student is and what each student needs, on the road to actually achieving the goal. I'm grateful that we've been talking about student-centeredness this week, because nudging lends itself well to a student-centered approach to goal-setting. Different students are going to need different nudges to help them stay on track. I think that in general, educators as a profession are more in tune with how to nudge students in respectful ways that acknowledge where students are at any given moment; I recommend the book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein for their thoughts on how to look at the complexity of nudging and how you craft nudges with a variety of factors in mind and what might appeal to a particular student depending on where they are in their process. (The upcoming ALE Journal article also lists some other resources to review on nudging.)

5d. The one tool that I really like is called Lifetick:  I like it for a couple of reasons. One is that it is based on SMART goal-setting, so it's right in line with what you're already doing as you work on goal-setting with students. The other main reason is that an educator, counselor, or other school staff member can also sign up and become a "supporter" of the student, which provides access to what the student has created in the app (and here is the monitoring piece of the process). I also have the ability to communicate with the student via the app, so here is where I can "nudge" the student on what they are currently working on, also part of the monitoring process. With any new tech tool, you're going to want to pilot it to the extent that you can, so you can understand how the tool works both from the student side as well as the teacher side. There is a free version of Lifetick that should be adequate for educators and their students, as well as a paid subscription if you're interested in exploring other features of the app.

Social media is a great way to let the world know about student success and acknowledge the hard work that students are doing and have done. The one thing I would say about social media is that don't leave the achievement piece until the end - the graduation, getting one's citizenship, earning an HSE or other certificate. Highlight the first day of class, the good work going on daily, the "aha" moments our students have, particular barriers students have overcome, as well as how the adult ed program or school is a catalyst in the community for adults to better their lives by working on and reaching their goals. Humans need validation for their efforts, and social media is one tool that can validate the effort students are making in reaching their goals for a wider audience.

I also want to point out one of our efforts at OTAN to document student success - the California Adult Education Students Succeed program:  These are powerful stories (and we all have them) that can be shared in so many ways, one of which is with our current students who are struggling and think that they are the only ones who have ever gone through their particular struggles.

5e. One of the considerations of any tech tool you select is the interactive nature of the tool. As described with a tool like Lifetick, it's going to be 1-on-1 between the educator and the student. With an LMS course, you might be able to create a couple of different options - create a group with the teacher and student (or students?) and then use the calendar to schedule deadlines and send out messages through the LMS to nudge, remind, etc. Another option would be to set up a discussion forum or board for more informal communication between students and the teacher (but don't be so teacher-y is this forum) where students can check in with one another, get encouragement, ask questions, seek assistance, etc. You could also set up a Facebook Group to do something similar. One benefit of a Facebook Group is it might include some previous students who have been successful who can provide perspective to current students on how they overcame barriers to be successful in reaching their goals. That peer interaction is particularly effective because many students are similarly in the midst of their own goal-achieving work, so students can better relate to the experiences of their classmates. Sometimes, we teachers forget or have forgotten what it's like to be a student!

6. You write about the importance of celebrating student success, and not just at the end, when the student might be awarded a certificate, an HSE diploma, or attend a graduation ceremony. You suggest that “Social media is a great tool for documenting and promoting success, as it tends to be where our students are online and can be shared with students even if they are not active on social media. Also consider making use of a program, school, or agency website to house success stories.”

Can you say more about this, possibly provide some examples?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

I talked about social media in an earlier post, but I'll add a bit more here. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I pulled some slides from an earlier presentation I gave on this topic; you can take a look at them here:  As the slides demonstrate, you can publicize many different points of the process. Don't leave all of the recognition until the end; remember the beginning and the middle, too! I particularly like slides 6 and 7 from the slide deck, titled "Working on a Goal" and "Working on Goalsetting," which demonstrate how the school is attentive to student goals and sharing how students are making progress. And telling the world about it, which helps to promote the school or program to a larger audience. We want to be where our students are, and our students are definitely on social media. How great to recognize that and share that with the world.

I'll also share our California Adult Education Students Succeed website again:   We all have these success stories, and it's important to document them in some way (and try to make them video stories, which social media and other users are more likely to watch). These are stories that our incoming and current students need to hear how others before them faced similar challenges and overcame them. I think that it gives students hope that they too can be successful based on the success of others.

And try to get previous students to come back and share their stories. Every time I've heard about a school doing this, I've heard nothing but how great this was for the current students to listen and ask questions and get encouragement. These visits can also be turned into news items that are shared with a larger audience.

Good morning (in California still!) everyone and here's to a better 2021!

First, let's acknowledge the adult educators who have integrated goal setting with students into their practice. This should be a regular part of our work with adult students, in my opinion. I'm guessing that those educators who do it would say that goal setting is a powerful tool to help students persist in their studies; it keeps students coming back because the students know that the school is actively helping them reach their goals, perhaps in ways that they have not experienced in other educational settings.

Why doesn't it happen? I'm sure we could think of a number of reasons why. Perhaps it's only done at intake or during the registration process to fulfill data accountability requirements - check a box or write in a goal - and that's it. Maybe this information from the office is sent to teachers in a report and the teacher gives it a once-over and files it away. Other teachers will make the effort to learn about their students' goals, but then they are not able to circle back to the monitoring piece because the day-to-day requirements of the class (the curriculum, instruction, and assessments) have taken over as the priority. Because of the open-entry/open-exit nature of many adult ed programs, if students are not present during the first few days, the focus is on quickly integrating those students who join the class later into the flow of the class and there's no time to have students do some of these "other" activities. Maybe teachers do have a plan to revisit the goals named by students at a later point in the term or semester, but it could be too late for some students - they are already off track. I'm thinking of some of our HSE students who have a plan or a schedule in their minds to take and pass the tests, but they are missing their deadlines or they don't have a retake plan if they are not successful with one of the tests. They probably were not realistic in the timetable they had created to achieve their goals, which monitoring could have helped identify early on. These are just some of the considerations and challenges that adult educators face when embarking on goal setting with students.

One of the silver linings in these COVID times is that we have started applying technology in ways that we didn't think were possible or hadn't explored as an option. This is certainly the case with goal setting and monitoring. If you have a paper-based system and it works and students persist in and achieve their goals, that's better than no system at all! But as we'll discuss this week, there are tech tools out there to consider. It's not as robust as areas like formative assessment - think of all the options like Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, Socrative, etc. - but it's certainly worth exploring.

3. Anthony, in the ALE Journal article, you ask these two questions,” The political landscape of 2020 has also catapulted the issue of equity to the forefront. If students never get to state their goals or, if when they do state their goals nothing is done to help students reach them, how does that make the students’ experiences in our adult education programs equitable? Why is attention to student goals not considered when we plan for what will happen on a daily basis in class?" How would you answer these questions?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

There are a lot of priorities in our adult education programs and schools, and usually student-centeredness is one of them. But even if it isn't explicitly stated, it should be an important part of our mission to serve our students, that we center our work around the needs of our students, including their goals and their reasons for attending our programs and schools. The question becomes, which priorities rise to the top in our day-to-day work? It's not easy to give equal weight to all of a program's or school's competing interests, but the past year with a nationwide movement that has focused on social justice and equity gives us an opportunity to take another look at where student priorities stand in what we are paying attention to and where we spend our energy.

I think one strategy is to take a schoolwide approach to goal setting and make it a priority in all classrooms. For example, if some teachers are diligent about goal setting and monitoring in their classrooms but others are not, then some students get the benefit of this attention while others lose out. We are unintentionally creating an equity gap that is going to lead to uneven student experiences in our program or at our school. We are also saying that student goals (at least in some classrooms) are not as high of a priority as programmatic goals, which is unfortunate. The solution needs to be a collective commitment to prioritizing student goals, which becomes a collective commitment to student-centeredness as well.

We all know that there are a lot of things we are trying to accomplish when we work at a school; taking an equity approach ensures that we are actively considering the needs of our students in the midst of everything else we pay attention to.

On a related note, I want to let folks know about a three-part series on Advancing Equity recently hosted by my colleagues at the California Adult Education Program - you can view the recordings and download the handouts at this CAEP webpage:

It was a fairly recent development, actually. A few years ago, I participated in a back-to-school training at an adult school as an OTAN trainer, and in between my trainings, I had a chance to attend a session on setting goals with students with one of the adult school teachers. She did a great job explaining her process and how to get started setting goals with students using some teacher-developed handouts. There was a moment, though, when I looked around the room at everyone with their phones, tablets, and laptops, and there was a bit of a disconnect. I started to ask myself some questions, namely: What happens to the paper handouts once the goal setting is over? How does the teacher put all of this information together into something usable after the first few days of the term? And, is there a way to integrate technology in this process?

Around that time, I also asked another colleague about goal setting and the use of technology in their registration process. The teacher said that during registration, there was a teacher in the office who was using a Google Doc to record student responses to the goals questions that they had noted on a piece of paper. However, when the students went to their classes on the first day, they handed their registration papers to their teachers. What happened to the Google Doc, though? The plot thickens! So, knowing that goal setting is so important for adult ed students in terms of their persistence, I started to wonder about technology specifically for the goal setting part of intake, and in my mind, I just felt that there had to be some options for adult educators. I've been learning about and ruminating on how to introduce technology into this process, and there are probably still some tools out there yet to be discovered! (Keeping up with technology developments is a never-ending process, as I'm sure we can all agree.)

Since I've been at OTAN, I've become the social media lead (and all self-taught - I still have a lot to learn!). I really see the power of social media to promote all kinds of achievements in the adult ed programs. Typically, we think about graduations, earning HSE certificates, becoming citizens, and the major accomplishments, but social media can be used for so much more. What about posting during intake and registration to show adults taking the steps to better their lives? Or in the classes showcasing student work and projects? I've also seen some adult schools that have created goals boards and then posting pictures of the boards. There are all kinds of ways to communicate to the outside world all of the great work going on at the adult school or in the adult ed program. And students appreciate the recognition, which is so important to validate their hard work and struggle in many cases to succeed.

Almost a decade ago, I developed a number of digital tools centered on recording goals and tracking goals. I engineered the tools, but working with the Fort Kent (ME) staff to adapt the tools to the specific needs their program had made these tools incredibly effective for their program and their learners!

These tools were all created within the Google suite of tools with most of the tools being created within Google Sheets. This suite of tools I created was part of a multi-year process of the entire staff meeting monthly to constantly evaluate what we wanted, where we were at, and what needed to be altered. Although this was a significant investment in time, every staff member was a part of creating this process so "buying in" or getting proficient with these tools was almost guaranteed by the time we got to the finished system. 

The first 4 of these tools were available to teaching staff in shared folders organized by student names. Open up a student's shared folder and the following information would be available. 

  1. Intake - 8 pages of intake processing was done all in one file which made it convenient for teachers to find things. To make things easier, one extra page was added that consolidated information teachers most needed from the intake all in one page. 
  2. Individual Learning Plan - This tool focused on three long range goal categories; becoming a productive citizen, individual and family literacy, academic goals. Each of these three categories had a number of more specific choices a learner would check off as focus points. This tool also included an Accomplishments journal in which the learner would record any accomplishment and link it to specific goals that were selected. All of these goals and progress towards those goals are summarized in one goal summary sheet that adapts automatically to accomplishment entries. This tool allowed for a change in goals as life often requires change. As change in goals were toggled on or off, progress towards previous goals was not lost and reporting automatically updated to reflect the currently selected goals. 
  3. Academic goal setting - This tool was set up in each of the content areas. Each goal sheet included drop down menus that allowed learners to quickly record activities, links to finished products and which course goals were demonstrated in the finished product. This simple check list recording of accomplishments helped to encourage feelings of, "When I finish this list, I'm done this course?" instead of "How much longer do I have to do this stuff?"
  4. Career Goals - This tool included components that helped the learner reflect on skills, job values and self exploration that all fed into occupational exploration goals and cumulated in educational planning outlined. Learners were required to have three target career focal points and these career focal points were incorporated in their academic work. Learners completing this career goal process had very clear employment goals as well as clearly defined path goals to get to those careers from where they were currently.
  5. Teacher Goals - Adapting to standards can be a daunting task for most educators. This tool aimed to help staff members create activity based planning structures that included resources learners might need, which standards were the focus as well as pre and post standards that are related to the focus of the activity. Finally the tool included a check list to compile existing assessment methods developed. This last piece helped staff identify what other forms of assessment might need to be developed  to better support learners. We developed a tool for Mathematics and one for ELA as those were the two areas most connected to standards at that time. 
  6. Standards Goals - I created a tool that addressed so many aspects of CCRS goal setting and tracking. This tool included ways to record which standards were in progress, which were demonstrated (with links to different types of evidence. The tool also included printable standard cards designed to explain to learners what the learning standard meant and even included QR codes to online resources that assisted in learning the standard on each card. The tool included graphical evidence of what standards were already demonstrated, which were in process, and which standards still remained untouched. This tool prototype took hundreds of hours to get to a demonstration level and wowed tons of people it was presented to, however there were questions about how ready adult ed programs were to engage in such a tool. Of course, then there was concerns over how the remaining work could be completed with people being compensated for this valuable work. Given the changes in the last 5 years since this prototype started, it may be a much more viable tool for some systems. 

Almost all of these goal setting and tracking tools were designed by me, but were made into effective tools by the work of the entire Fort Kent (ME) adult educators that were constantly part of the revision and implementation of these tools. The above is shared to illustrate that the Google suite of tools have an incredible depth to allow systems to make efficient and useful goal setting and tracking systems that keep the focus on the learners' needs and encourages learners to take charge of their experience and their lives.

I hope the above help stimulate ideas, thoughts or questions in this very important discussion. 


Hi Edward. First of all, wow! This system sounds amazing and I can visualize toggling back and forth between Sheets to get quite a range of information, not only on the learner, but my instructional practice, how we're doing as a school or program, and in this day and age info on how successful we're doing with students on career pathways and where WIOA has and will take us, in addition to places where we might need to pay attention and make corrections.

One of the items that jumped out at me was item 2, the Individual Learning Plan. I know that we as educators want to make the learning as personalized as possible, and yet when we're faced with a classroom of students who cover the range of skills, experiences, previous schooling, etc., we tend to aim for the middle. With something off-the-shelf which I've been looking at over the last few years or a tool built from scratch that you and your colleagues have developed and refined, we have the ability more and more with technology to zero in on what each student needs to be successful and how to pay better attention to the needs of each student who walks through our (face-to-face or virtual!) doors. This is what all of the 21st century learning frameworks tout, this chance for the learner to have a customized learning experience that pays attention to their academic and other needs. Educators still struggle with this -  this will be an instructional challenge for some time, I imagine, as we get better at differentiating instruction - but we should be looking at how technology can help with a variety of areas, including goal setting, monitoring, and achieving, we are working on with students in our schools and programs.

I do feel that our COVID times have opened many adult educators' eyes to the possibilities of technology and I hope moving forward that more of us will look at how technology can improve the educational experiences of not only students, but teachers and staff as well.

Anthony, you stated ...

...chance for the learner to have a customized learning experience that pays attention to their academic and other needs. Educators still struggle with this -  this will be an instructional challenge for some time, I imagine, as we get better at differentiating instruction - but we should be looking at how technology can help with a variety of areas, including goal setting, monitoring, and achieving, we are working on with students in our schools and programs.

For individualization as you highlight, there needs to be a shift away from the teacher-centered models we have had entrenched for some time. In an earlier post, I think you mentioned  "student centered" and I wonder if you could share any thoughts you might have on how education units might look at approaching that shift from an almost completely teacher-centric environment to one that has more of a focus on student-centered practice. Many in education may buy into the idea of having learners driving the educational process more, but systems, teachers and learners have been so ingrained in a teacher-centered experience that most can't even envision what a student-centered model might look or feel like, never mind how they might start transitioning to it. How might you address a director coming to you asking, "How do we do this transitioning over to all this individualization?"

This is a multidimensional issue that won't be solved overnight, and it will require an understanding of how to tackle the issue before proceeding. I feel that there are two key layers here that need attention. The first is what I would call the "technical challenges" of shifting from teacher- to student-centeredness. Shifting our teaching practices - for example, differentiating our instruction rather than aiming for the middle, changing our role from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" - in large part is technical, and I would also add integrating technology as mainly a technical challenge, shifting from paper and print to digital. These technical adjustments, however, only scratch the surface; they shouldn't give us a false sense that now we're fully student-centered, although they help move us in the right direction. As you alluded to, there are the deeper "adaptive challenges" that if addressed will bring about real change and shift our programs and schools to true (or truer) student-centeredness. These adaptive shifts require changes in behavior and mindset - for example, the educators who "can't even envision what a student-centered model might look or feel like" are who we're talking about here (but it's really the teaching staff and program/school staff as a whole in a "teacher-centric environment"). How do you get from can't envision to envision (and then do something about it)? I think that's a mindset challenge that is going to take time.

The effort has to be program- or schoolwide. We can't be student-centered in one program but not others; that seems like an equity issue of our own making, then. We're probably going to want to look at data and evidence, and tech tools can provide some of that information that is going to help us understand what's happening in classrooms and across the school. I think all signs are pointing to forming a PLC (professional learning community) or COP (community of practice) or some grouping of teachers and staff, with student and other stakeholder input, that is going to address this issue long-term. (I would leave it to the program or school to decide how to frame it.)

This is an entire discussion on its own (!) but to reference the technology piece of it, let's be clear about where and how far technology can take us. At OTAN and other organizations that help educators integrate technology into their practice, we always say, teaching first, technology second. The priority is on our practice, and then how technology can help improve our practice.

(By the way, I'm currently in an administrative credential program and we talk about these adaptive challenges all the time. The first part of the book Leadership on the Line by Heifetz and Linsky has helped me understand the difference between technical and adaptive challenges.)

David and Anthony! 

First of all thank you for initiating this discussion on such an important topic that is the fuel for all Adult Ed programs, the reason why our participants come to study. I was looking forward to it!

Being involved into several Adult Ed and family programs as an instructor and for the past 3 years as a tutor trainer on SMART GOALS, I discovered that a lot of education needs to be done with our educators on setting up the goals. Would be a great start right there! Another big factor I learnt is that a goal setting is a totally new and at times never heard of skill, something American, something that not many cultures practice and I am guilty myself when I did not pay much attention to it because of other program priorities like it was mentioned above. 

Our program did a great job on developing a "Student Handbook" that has a section dedicated to a short and long term goal setting, which we cover in the very beginning of the program and I introduce the SMART GOAL technique to the students as a great tool for setting up not just academic but also life goals. I also adopted "0-10 goal significancy scale" to see how important this goal for a student is. It also makes them think about it and it is that widely used tool to introduce to the students in healthcare, for example. 

This goes well and usually it creates a great self reflective discussion but where I fail the most is the revisiting the goals and celebrating them. It happens when we get the test results or they come back after their citizenship or a job interview and students are either happy or unhappy. And I feel like they treat it as some sort of miracle or luck, which is not, in fact. I clearly understand that it was the lack of revisiting and changing the learning strategies in case of failure. 

I am a big fan of GOOGLE products and like the idea above but what successful practices some of you colleagues might have in your portfolio on how to revisit the goals with a class of at least 15 students. 

Would be great to hear from you. 

Best, Anya 

Thanks for your post, Anya, and I'm happy that you're already setting goals with your students using the SMART goals framework. And you're right that it takes some learning and practice to feel comfortable using it with students.

I think that setting up some kind of a notification system is key. This will help especially with the monitoring part of the process. The tech tool Lifetick I mentioned in a previous post allows the user to time the notifications so they are delivered according to a schedule. Students may be on different timelines for completion - I'm thinking about students in an HSE prep course who are taking the tests at their own pace and in their preferred order, versus a CTE course where the students are moving together in a cohort - but the point is that the notifications are going out according to some schedule. That way, we don't lose sight of the goals and what the students need to do to stay on track (the danger of sticking with paper if we haven't set up a corresponding system to be reviewing goals with students). Notifications can prompt the educator to check in 1-on-1 with each student, or if the student doesn't feel like they're on track, this could prompt them to check in with the teacher. (This is part of the process of the student learning to become self-regulated, which I discussed earlier this week.)

Celebrating is the fun part, right? I'm somewhat active on Twitter following adult ed programs in my state of California, and I see all kinds of ways schools and programs are doing it. (I'd encourage you to follow other adult ed programs in your state to get a steady stream of how others are doing it.) But what about when students fall short? When I learned more about nudging, I learned that we should expect error. I know we don't like it, but we should expect it. We're human beings, after all. This is a critical moment for you as an educator, because we know that some of our adult students might drop out at any moment, and these kinds of setbacks can be a tipping point. That's why goal-monitoring is so vital, to cut issues off at the pass. What if the student has created a totally unrealistic schedule for themselves to reach their goal? They've set themselves up for failure! We would have figured that out earlier in the goal setting exercise and/or the monitoring (for example, there's no way a student could have done the amount of prep to take one of the HSE tests in the length of time they set for themselves, and we should have let them know that and helped the student reformulate their goal).

I hope this answers some of your questions!


Agree on many points, Anthony. Great highlight on setting up not realistic goals. Notification is the key in consistency of executing a goal and changing a strategy if necessary. I am taking the tech tools with me, which I will be sharing and I am curious to see how they will work for the students. 

I am also glad to see that you encourage social media use as a part of celebration the achievements. It is always that "celebrity" moment that students like a lot. 

Thank you, Anthony and David, for this very important discussion, contribution and time! 


Best, Anya

7. Anthony, In the reflections section of the ALE Journal column article you suggest, “The benefits are worth it, though, as students with clear and attainable goals supported by adult educators persist longer in adult education programs. In addition, schools create an equitable environment that attends to the goals of all students.”

Can you say more about how adult schools or programs can attain an equitable environment through the use of goal setting, monitoring, nudging and celebrating learning success?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

There are a number of things that schools and programs can do to attain an equitable environment; goal setting and paying attention to this process for each student is one of them, because we are prioritizing student needs. We know that students come to our programs for different reasons, and being able to capture information about why they attend and what their goals are and make it actionable for students and the teachers and staff who support them will help create that environment. When we have conversations with students about their goals and how we can assist them in reaching those goals, students get the sense that the school or program is invested in their success and that the school or program is willing to assist students in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances of the students. Monitoring the goals and nudging as needed to keep students on track tells students that we're not going to give up on them, even though there may be road bumps along the way. And celebrating gives us a chance to show how student achievements are as important as other accomplishments at the school or in the program.

One of the equity challenges we all face is being able to engage in goal setting, monitoring, and achieving across our entire programs and schools. It's not fair that students in some classrooms get the benefit of teachers and staff who are looking out for their goals, while students in other classrooms do not. This means that student experiences are uneven, and we should strive to close these gaps. When we work to close these equity gaps, we should consider how technology might aid in these efforts. Hopefully COVID times have prompted us to be open to the possibility of technology for functions that we haven't considered up until now, by exploring apps such as Lifetick and Goalscape, making use of groups and the calendar in LMS like Canvas, Moodle, and Google Classroom, and better promotion of our student accomplishments via social media and documenting and sharing their stories.

This week, we've also touched on student-centeredness in a number of ways, and taking a variety of steps to make our programs and schools truly student-centered is important work that will help us attain equity environments, because our work will be centered on students and their success. Think of technology as one of the tools that will move us in the right direction.

Integrating Technology Colleagues,

I want to express my deep thanks to Anthony Burik for this stimulating discussion. There is much food for thought here and, I hope, possibilities for adult basic skills education programs and schools to use the technology that Anthony has suggested.  With this technology, transforming practice may be possible so that adult learners’ goals get greater attention, so learners can achieve their goals and, as they go along, celebrate their progress with their families, friends, fellow learners and – through social media – with the world. This discussion, accompanied by Anthony’s ALE Journal Technology Solutions column article that will be published free online in March, can be very helpful to programs and schools that want to move forward.  Although the discussion has now officially ended, Anthony will keep tabs on it and will reply as his time allows.

I will assemble the questions, replies and comments into one (long) post that should be available by Monday, that may be easier to follow from the beginning to the end for those who may find this discussion later.

Thanks, too, to Ed Latham, Anya Enright and Gayla Feist who contributed with their insights to the discussion.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group

I also want to thank everyone for this discussion. It's helped clarify some of my thinking about the topic and given me some additional ideas moving forward. I'm looking forward to the article coming soon in the next ALE Journal and you can always reach out to me at OTAN in the future. Stay safe and continue doing the great work of adult education!

I was a little late to the party, but LOVE all the great resources Anthony has shared. Specifically, the student-centered approach is great and I think you hit the nail on the head with your "nudging" explanation.