Day One Discussion: A Mobile Tech Revolution in Low-Wage Work

Welcome to the first day of our three day panel discussion on mobile technology in low-wage work.  Following up on yesterday's information-filled webinar, we have a panel of leaders in mobile learning joining us to address your questions about using mobile technology to build adult learners' basic skills, and their capacity to use technology to become self-directed problem solvers in life, and the workplace. 
Our panelists include:
Alison Ascher Webber, Building Skills Partnership, Oakland, CA
Alison Simmons, 1199 SEIU Fund, Boston, MA
Alex Chisholm, Skylab Learning, Boston, MA
Geoff Stead, WorkLearn Mobile, UK and CA
Linda Nelson, 32BJ Training Fund, New York, NY
Nick Prigo, 32BJ Training Fund, New York, NY
Alex Glukhov, 32BJ Training Fund, New York, NY
Today's conversation will include discussion on how mobile technology is, or can be, used with low-wage workers to:
  • Develop digital literacy skills such as navigating a smartphone, using text messaging and email, downloading and using new apps, using a browser, playing video games and audio files, accessing and using a word processing program, etc?
  • Find work-related information: facts, numbers, charts, graphs, written explanations, translations, and video needed to do their jobs
  • Provide remedial/basic skills instruction, practice and assessment (ESOL/ESL, numeracy/math, reading and writing, citizenship)


A participant from yesterday's webinar asked the following question:  I work with a large school district that has a custodial workforce of over 200 employees--most of them  are LEP and digital literacy skill deficient.  The custodial department is struggling to find ways for all 200 plus custodians to access official HR documents and do authorized signatures.   I think the website is not mobile friendly.  I am looking for strategies to teach all 200 custodians to access a traditional website, so that the district can be 100% compliant.  Ideas?
Again, we invite your comments and questions as we continue exploring the forefront in mobile learning for adults in the workplace.
Mike Cruse, Career Pathways Moderator
David J. Rosen, Program Management and Technology and Learning Moderator 


It’s an honor to be a part of this panel! Thanks for including the 32BJ Training Fund. We are an adult education non-profit affiliated with 32BJ SEIU, a large union representing building service workers. 32BJ members are office cleaners, security guards, superintendents, handymen, porters, window cleaners, and more.

We at the Training Fund offer free classes in roughly 150 subjects, at 50 locations, to 90,000 eligible union members throughout the Northeast and Florida. Our classes range from ESL, GED, and Computer classes to college level courses such as Air Conditioning and Refrigeration certification and Green Building certification.

In response to the question posted, 32BJ represents 5,000 custodial workers in New York City Schools. From our experience at the Training Fund there are a couple of trends worth mentioning.

First, we’ve noticed a huge increase in the mobile device ownership of our membership. Where only a handful of years ago a small percentage of our students had smartphones, now they are becoming nearly ubiquitous. Backing-up this anecdotal observation we can look at our website stats and see that about half of our students now register for classes online and nearly 80% of them read our emails on a mobile device. Second, we’ve seen a pretty steep decrease in demand for our traditional desktop based computer classes.

Based on this, our current hypothesis is that our members are moving straight to mobile and skipping over the previously very popular traditional computer skills classes. We are responding to this in two ways. First, this year we are launching our first smartphone classes where we teach our members the ins and outs of their own mobile device – email, apps, social media, etc. We also include elements of how mobile devices can be used at their job site. Second, we are starting the process of redesigning our systems to better accommodate mobile users. We have a lot of legacy systems designed almost exclusively for desktop computers. Within the next two years we hope to be much more mobile friendly.

Hello Nick,

Thanks for joining this discussion. One of the questions from yesterday's webinar had to do with learning management systems that were mobile-friendly or designed for mobile devices. I had suggested five that Alison Ascher Webber, a presenter in the webinar and also with us in this discussion, thought might be useful: Edmodo, Schoology, Mindflash. Kedzoh and EdApp. I am wondering if you -- and if anyone else here -- has experience using any of these with mobile devices, or if you would like to suggest other LMS's that you have found to be mobile-friendly. I know that Edmodo and Schoology are widely used in K-12 education and increasingly in adult basic skills teaching.

Everyone: in the LINCS Technology and Learning Community of Practice, there is a Tools and Resources Microgroup where LMS tools can be added and reviewed. At least one of these is already listed; more can be added. If you would like to join to suggest tools to be reviewed and to review tools, you would be welcome.

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning and Program Management CoPs

In researching mobile LMS systems for adults with little to no experience navigating the internet, I found Mindflash, Kedzoh and EdApp to be the most intuitive and easiest to use. These were built first for mobile and for companies to offer "on the go" learning to their employees. Unfortunately as such they have charges but hopefully it's just a matter of time before some of the free programs (Edmodo, Schoology, Udemy) get easier to use for adult learners with lower digital literacy. What is exciting about mobile-first LMS systems is that teachers can easily upload (in any order) their documents (power point, word docs, images) and videos and add new voiceover audio to them (to narrate them like you're teaching) and then add short quiz questions at any point to assess learning. And though the learning pathways for students are simple, the backend LMS reporting functions are robust! In some programs that aren't apps but just mobile enabled websites, students don't even need email to get in. They can just sign in with their cellphone number and a password (you can give same password to all students) or a assigned username (eg Alison W) and a password.  In this way, you can easily text out a url link to am online mobile curriculum that students open and start studying just by clicking on it.  A key criteria when researching mobile learning platform is to make sure that they don't require students to have Flash on their phones (an older Adobe program to play video- it's an outdated technology and a pain for students to have to download!). And then decide how important it is for students to be able to study both online and offline (some programs that are built more like apps or mobile-enabled websites built in HTML5 allow for that) vs. other capabilities/characteristics (students don't have to download an app from an app store).


My students (at all levels) have been using the Schoology app for a while.  It's extremely convenient for them and has a low learning curve.  The only thing I don't like about the app is that the instructor still needs to set everything up on a computer.

Glenda, I'm glad to hear Schoology's app is easy for students to use. Your comment reminded me that in searching for options for our janitor students, I was looking only for mobile-enabled website LMS systems and not apps as not all the janitors had the ability to or felt comfortable downloading apps from app stores (require credit card linked to phone). And I wanted to be able to just text out learning links to thousands of workers and have them have easy access whether or not they knew how to download an app. That is why options like Mindflash or even (Canvas's mobile first option) were of greater interest to me even though they unfortunately charge );  Does Schoology or do other systems have free mobile-enabled websites that students with low digitally literacy also find easy to enter and navigate?

The HR department wanting school custodians to access an HR website is a perfect example of the mobile revolution in low-wage wage work discussed in yesterday's webinar. Employees who have never had to use the internet/computers for work are increasingly being asked by their employers to use online HR or operations software as part of their daily jobs (across all industries!). Take for example the hotel room attendants and office janitors carrying tablets to send and receive worker orders about what's been cleaned yet or not and even to check digitally what soap dispensers or other "digitally connected" appliances need attention. This presents a perfect opportunity to approach employers with a proposal to train them in how to navigate the specific online websites needed for work/HR (and ideally as well in the broader internet & digital literacy skills for the workers' own lives and abilities to become lifelong digital learners).

In response to the challenge as what to do if the websites used by employers are not mobile-friendly, it seems worth presenting this challenge to the employer as a way to request more training hours as workers will need more instruction on how to scroll to find what they need, manage window pop-ups, scroll down menus etc.  But it's also worth asking the employer to consider changing to a mobile friendly HR software- all the main ones I know of are mobile optimized these days!  

And in terms of having the custodians practice navigating basic websites, this presents a perfect opportunity to introduce the custodians to how to navigate all kinds of websites that would be important for their lives: Google, Google maps, the website for the school district where they work, their kids' school website, their health insurance or health provider's website, and of course basic skills learning sites: USA Learns for ESL, level-appropriate Youtube videos, Skype/GoogleHangout/Facebook for video-calling, and so on!

Hi all. My name is Geoff Stead. I'm one of the panelists, as well as being a mobile technologist. Thanks for including me in this discussion. 

I'd enthusiastically second the earlier view - that mobile is rapidly overtaking the PC as the primary source of internet access for large groups of the population - both on the US and elsewhere. Your instincts are definitely being proven as true in many places. I definitely agree that coaching your students in using the mobile web can be both empowering, and can also step right over the hurdle of teaching them to use a PC

Yup - you are quite right that the HR platforms are being very slow to catch up. They will eventually change, but it's hard work. At qualcomm we solved this by building a separate, mobile app that was able to talk to our (non-mobile) HR system. We planned on this as a temporary solution, but it worked so well I suspect it will stay in use for ages

(I realise that this isn't an option for everyone, but maybe if enough people make a noise . . . . )

Hope this helps


ps: David asked for a bit more info about panelists: Currently I am running a newly formed "English Language Digital Development team" at Cambridge University, UK. Until recently I was in San Diego where I ran a dedicated Mobile Learning Team at Qualcomm. Check out for some samples of our work, and mobile learning ideas.


Hello Geoff,

Thanks for referring us to There I found this page on CHAMPIONS, which as I understand it, is an acronym for a framework of design considerations for enterprise (work-related) mobile learning that includes these dimensions: Contextual, High speed, Ambient, Mobile, Personal, Interactivity, Open, Networked, Social. I wonder if you could provide some examples of collaborative social learning for low-skilled workers/employees in the Mobile dimension, that includes  “everything from text messages to online seminars, on-demand help to structured programs, one-to-one engagement to collaborative social learning.”


David J. Rosen

I would be especially interested to hear from several of the panelists about their experience developing, or helping workers/employees to use:

  1. work and/or learning-related video games for mobile devices
  2. mobile apps to find work-related information: facts, numbers, charts, graphs, written explanations, translations, and video needed to do their jobs
  3. basic skills instruction mobile apps for work-related contexts


David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning, and Program Management CoPs

Thank you for inviting our organization, and myself to be a part of this panel. As Nick has mentioned, our students’ mobile device ownership and usage has grown significantly in the last several years and we’re exploring ways to provide training to a mobile audience. Last trimester, we began piloting Skypass, a mobile ESL program that allows our ESL 1 and 1A students to practice remedial English skills and vocabulary using Flash rendered games on their mobile phone browser. The content is delivered piecemeal, in a way that our working student population can play for as little or as long as they’d like without having to commit to long sessions.

We introduced Skypass into ESL classrooms with the intention of students getting acclimated to using it in a group setting before they practiced in their free time. From our experience so far, we’ve seen that enthusiasm and repetition from our ESL instructors translates to increased usage in the games from our students in their free time; but even in classes where instructors held a more traditional approach, we saw tech-savvy students logging an equally long amount of hours into the program once it was introduced. 

In Michigan we have a program called "Preparing Workers for 20th Century Employment."  The MAEPD dept. with help from ESL and a National firm interviewed prospective employers about the things that are lacking in our workforce.  One of the identified points was technology with respect to using the HR time recording program.  A mini-  lesson was put together using" Kronos" in the workplace.  It was written at about grade  f our level.  The mini-lesson was structure to take about 15 minutes time.  The students were provided with "scaffolding" in the instruction process; they were to fill in the blanks in the instructional paper.  They listened to a tape recording from al corporate HR Specialist about the need for employees to record their time correctly.  In small groups students were given a time card and were shown how to record their time correctly and how to sign their card, therefore certifying that the time worked is correct.  In each group there was a facilitator who paraphrased and modeled correct time card procedure, and a recording secretary who saw to it that every one in the group practiced "time card procedure.  

There were other questions and problems that other employers raised and a mini lesson was developed to address the problem.  I think a structured program with proper "scaffolding" could address each problem that the prospective employer offered..  

Something like this might help with the question that was raised from yesterdays instruction.  ..



good afternoon. In our programs we also use skypass with our students. We found that there were a few issues with loggin on and staying in the program so we adapted our teaching to help students access the site. We also had Alex and Lyle work with the students so they had less trouble logging on the site. What we found was that our students , mostly PCA and nursing home workers , were able to use the program in short spurts that is what they liked about it. There was a feeling of success as they moved through the program. Some students were still not comfortable with their phones to continue to use the program others were still interested in more traditional mediums. It was, though, our more quiet elementary students who have put in the most time,  we have also encouraged students in all our facilities who are in our programs to use sites like TV411 and Deep English for additional on line skill building and listening and reading skills. These are both accessible on a phone and one does not have to deal with flash issues. These are also Great for the schedules of our students because the stories and practice sections are short and can be done while they are on break or on the way home. As was mentioned by others , our students/members have mostly opted for smart phone purchases and tablets because they can take them with them. Some have also enrolled in tech goes home program that is available for Massachusetts residents , learn about tablets and purchase one at a nominal cost.  As I mentioned yesterday some people in our classes use the phone to document their work, to video and record some parts of their jobs so they can use those to review procedures, vocabulary that they may not understand or document evidence of job tasks that were completed . 



Hi Alison - it sounds like your students / members are really comfortable using their own devices for learning. Is this the same for other people? I find it interesting how BYOD ("bring your own device") acceptability is so different in different contexts 

Hi, Geoff -

Great question!  On Thursday, we're going to discuss the logistics of access, and use of mobile technology in the workplace.  Get ready to share your stories with us around your struggles and successes with implementing a BYOD policy, versus employer-provided technology for work place learning.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Ensuring smartphone access for each of our in-person ESL classes taking part in the mobile ESL games was a challenge. Since the Skypass training is accessible via the mobile browser or on PC, we piloted the program only in classes that were taught in, or otherwise had access to a computer lab. This helped us guarantee each student had a chance at playing the games regardless of their personal smartphone.

Hello, everyone, )this is a very timely discussion and I would like to briefly mention some observations from my own experiences.

In my program that teaches adult English learners, especially Spanish speakers, I have been using lessons on mobile devices for a few months, accessing Facebook, Pumarosa and other sites, and “teaching” through classes on WhatsApp, which is very popular.

The 24/7, 365 availability of lessons is very appealing to people who are usually very busy.

I think that a focus on a mobile devices in connection to workplace adult education is also a good way to approach adult education in general, especially ESL.

A large percentage of people I teach in classes work in a wide variety of jobs, one way or the other. Learning English for practical purposes and for employment is the main motivation.

People who have been trained in various professions in Mexico, for example, find that they are not qualified to work in their area because of a lack of English skills. So connecting workplace skills to Basic English skills is a beneficial addition.

Making the lessons available via smart phones and WhatsApp is, as one student said, “the next step in the evolution of education”.

I also would like to mention that the use of mobile devices is not just a topic for discussion among Formal Adult Educators, but is also something that can be used quite effectively in the Nonformal or community-based sector. Eventually all agencies that provide adult education classes will be able to form a working network, that includes classes in a church basement, at libraries, community centers, etc.

Forming partnerships with companies can be supplemented by offering a variety of classes in many kinds of jobs, from laundry workers to swap meet vendors.

I look forward to reading what others have experienced.

Paul Rogers

Geoff, yes, of course. I use WhatsApp for English as a Foreign Language study groups, which I began at the end of February on the advice of a student, who told me she thought that education was “evolving due to technology” and that I should ...get with the program!

The groups are combined with my Facebook lessons and three other websites.

On Facebook I have lessons that include grammar, pronunciation, reading, and a group to “study” songs.

My other websites are, Wiki Spaces for Teachers and a Wix site, which also links to my Wiki Spaces and 5-minute YouTube lessons.

On WhatsApp there is a group of 35 beginners and a group of 40 intermediate students.

On both groups I post lessons from Facebook,, etc.

The students from the Intermediate group are the most active and will chat in English usually all day, every day, from 3 AM my time to 10 PM. When I wake up I often see over 150 texts.

They are from about 20 different countries and have varying backgrounds.

Four are English teachers and use my lessons for their classes and also to improve their own English. One teacher has added her students to the beginners’ group.

There is one rule: Do not make fun of anyone’s English. The idea is for them to chat freely and for me to present a lesson based on my observations on what they need or on what some of them specifically ask about, such as grammar and pronunciation. Often they will ask each other questions and then send me a text to check their consensus. In this way, they can use the English they know as well as they can, and they can learn more each day. I think that texting in WhatsApp can help build confidence and lead to fluency in English. 

The most common request is on pronunciation, and here I refer them to Pumarosa and to fluency lessons I have put up on YouTube.

The Reading lessons are also popular, and most of the members usually read my stories and poems or something from other websites.

Lately some of them have been recording themselves reading out loud, at first focusing on English phonics, then later concentrating more on fluency.

Grammar is not so popular but I have convinced them that I will make it as painless as possible, and here I use a lot of humor. I also have videos on grammar.

WhatsApp is my classroom now, and works very well for busy students, allowing them to participate as well as they can. As it grows, the members can take on the role of tutor for the newcomers.


Concerning ESL via mobile devices, I would like to point out that it is generally accepted that only about 10% of the adults who need ESL instruction attend or are able to attend classes. I believe that one reason is that classes conducted in an English Only setting are too frustrating for people who know little or no English, and so these students drop out.

Many of these students will then attend less formal classes in a community center, where at least the teachers speak the same language as they do. Bilingual classes are accepted in these neighborhood centers, and serve the needs of the community members.

At the same time there are a number of bilingual ESL websites available in nearly every language. By now these sites can be accessed by Mobile devices.

One of those sites is my program, PUMAROSA.COM, which is bilingual for Spanish speakers. It sometimes is used as a bridge or transition to an EO program.

I would urge everyone to consider utilizing the various bilingual websites that are available so that we can include everyone.

Paul Rogers

This week marks the one year anniversary of Upskill America, an employer-led movement to expand economic opportunity for America’s workers.  In recognition of the occasion, the U.S. Department of Education has released Adult Workers with Low Measured Skills: A 2016 Update.

This update offers a current perspective on who makes up the population of Americans with Low Measured Skills.  Below are several highlights from the update:

  •  Thirteen percent are in the youngest cohort measured (ages 16-24), 18 percent are 25-34, 19 percent are 35-44, 28 percent are 45-54, and 21 percent are 55-64.  This means that half of the low-skilled working population is under the age of 45. 
  • Thirty-three percent of low-skilled working adults are White, 21 percent are Blacks, 39 percent are Hispanics, and eight percent are other ethnicities.  Forty percent are foreign-born and 60 percent were born in the U.S.
  • Thirty-three percent report Spanish as their first language. Men make up a larger proportion of the low-skilled working population: 57 percent of the working low-skilled population comprises men while 42 percent comprises women. An overwhelming majority, 77 percent are parents.

Do any of these numbers surprise you?  How does the make-up of this population of learners impact how we think about using mobile technology to support low-wage workers in acquiring basic, and 21st century workplace skills?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

yes my students are comfortable with using the camera and video to record and take pictures and playback. They are comfortable with viewing they are also comfortable with texting, which has provided great language items to use as lessons in class. This was after some instruction on some mobile basics. What they struggle with and what I think others have mentioned is access to the on line games, lessons and learning platforms that require them to log in, register and  go from screen to screen. It is the navigating of the learning site that presents problems. With TV411 I provide them with a detailed handout that has screen shots and arrows to show them where to go on that site. Almost like a flow chart to help them navigate to the lessons or videos that I want them to view. It takes a lot of practice I think to get comfortable with searching a site and landing at the right place. 

At, we also first provide basic instruction to our students (immigrant janitors) on using their smartphones or tablets. However, in any given class there are a few younger workers who are smart phone savvy to help teach as peer teachers. Those that are already online using their smart phones for Facebook, Google maps, CandyCrush and other sites rotate around the room and help the others learn. This was also true in my work with Cell-Ed teaching immigrant ESL/Citizenship students to text on simple phones. We'd mostly have students learn by doing, and have peer experts help teach their peers.

During the webinar, I believe Alison Ascher Webber mentioned a software or app that she was using with students in a hotel or business.  Could you please share the name of the application again?  I had it in my notes, but I can't seem to locate it now and I think it would be something I could said with businesses as a possible resource to help save money and possibly engage with our adult programs to help with technology training for their staff.

Thanks for such great information and discussions!

Hi TJ, There are lots of apps to recommend depending on the needs, but in terms of a mobile-optimized learning management system onto which you can upload all kinds of curriculum, I recommend Mindflash. Unfortunately there is a cost per user, but it's a mobile-optimized website so students don't have to download an app from an app store and it's very intuitive to use. Kedzoh is another options for mobile-optimized website-based LMS systems. And if students can download apps, Glenda Rose and others recommended Schoology (which is free!!!).  And EdApp or Bridge (made by folks who run Canvass but it's their mobile-first solution) are good options but charge.

It just so happens that next Friday, Alison is part of an interactive webinar with Susan Gaer (also a LINCs participant) and will be sharing more in depth about how to integrate some of these kinds of tools into instruction. Even if you cannot make this EdTech Center workshop on May 6th at 3:00 pm- 4:30pm EDT, if you register we will send along the recording. Register now at Certificates will be available. Steve Quann Director, EdTech Center World Education, Inc.

I appreciate the reminder of software.  I was trying to thing of the app you mentioned, and I think I found it.  It was About Time.  I will definitely listen in to the webinar next week for more info and idea.s  Thanks again!


Augh, it must have been the other Alison on our panel (Alison Simmons) as I'm not familiar with About Time. There are so many software options for employers to choose from to mobilize their operations. Some are generalized while others are VERY industry specific. For example, the hotel near LAX I mentioned is implementing HotSOS (Hotel Service Optimization System). And Google Facilities management is developing their own that will have information specific to every building and all the digitally connected devises within them (including soap dispensers!). 

I would like to thank Nick, Alison Webber, Geoff, and Harold for commenting on my question regarding assisting custodians in accessing their employer's ( a large school district) website to complete and provide electronic signatures for HR compliance,  This employer also uses Kronos for employees to complete timesheets. which I belive Geoff had mentioned he had  developed lesson plans for assisting workers and employers.  I have been sharing your comments with the Custodial Services Director at the school district and am hopeful that he and I can develop some workable solutions.  Thanks again.  

Hi, Kat -

The webinar A Mobile Tech Revolution in Low-Wage Work: Partnering with Employers to Build Workers’ Digital Literacy will be posted to the LINCS YouTube Channel once it has been close-captioned for viewers.  We will post an announcement to the group with the link to the channel when it becomes available.

Thanks for checking back!

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator