Digital Literacy and Blended Learning in Adult Literacy Education

By: David Rosen, Ed.D

21st century, adult literacy education (including English for immigrants) must integrate digital literacy, a new set of core literacy skills, with existing curricula. While reading, writing and numeracy are still essential, adults now also need to be comfortable and competent in using technology for daily living, work, higher education and lifelong learning and training. However, many adult literacy education teachers are not well prepared to integrate the use of technology in their classes, and many adult literacy education programs and schools cannot afford and/or do not know how best to use state-of-the art technology. The effective use and integration of digital technology in teaching and learning is now essential to prepare adult basic education learners for opportunities in work, vocational training and apprenticeship, and post-secondary education.

There are important lost opportunities for adults who lack the ability to use technology for living, learning and working, and for the communities in which they live.   For example, adults without up-to-date skills, knowledge and experience in using technology to meet their daily needs:

  • Cannot as easily access government and private sector services
  • Miss opportunities to find jobs, and apply for college. Increasingly jobs are advertised and applied for online. In some cases only online applications are accepted. College admission applications and financial aid application are now most often made online.
  • Miss the opportunity to learn online.  Adults who do not have digital literacy skills cannot take advantage of free or inexpensive, high quality online and blended learning through which they can improve their basic skills, including English for immigrants.
  • Cannot engage with and are isolated from local and global communities and family members. Children use text messaging, social networking websites such as Facebook, and Twitter:  parents need to keep an eye on those activities.  Schools reach out to parents by email, and community groups use online networking and social media to organize and promote community events.   Immigrants use Skype to make free calls and to videoconference with relatives in their home countries.  Each of these is an example of the ways that the inability to use technology will limit adults’ ability to be active, engaged parents, family members and members of the broader community.

The following policy recommendations might help to address this problem:

Digital Literacy

  1. Require that programs receiving public funds integrate digital literacy skills in their curricula and instruction;
  2. Require that programs offer all adult learners basic digital literacy skills (including, for example: how to navigate the worldwide web; search for and evaluate information online; send and receive email; make good use of online learning; and use basic tools such as word processing, spreadsheets and email) so that they can be competent and comfortable in computer based testing; apply online for, and succeed in, post-secondary education; and use computers and other web-accessible devices in the workplace.
  3.  Provide funding to increase program access to computers and the Internet
  4. Provide funding for teacher training and for hardware and software  to enable programs to successfully accommodate those with learning disabilities, through assistive technology and universal design.

Blended Learning

  1. Provide funding to Increase programs’ hours per week of instruction) through blended (face-to-face and online) learning that will enable learners to progress more quickly. Learners who have more time for learning, because of unemployment or other reasons, can increase their basic skills learning intensity through online learning.
  2. Provide funding for web-based professional development for teachers who want to be effective in blending online and face-to-face instruction.
  3. Provide funding to develop adult basic education open education resources that support blended learning.

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