Adult Learning: Building Paths to a Better Future
EdSurge
EdSurge

Adult Learning: Building Paths to a Better Future

How and where technology can support underskilled adults

There are 36 million adults lacking basic literacy in the United States. Many of them might be considered relics of the industrial age supplanted by an era of knowledge work, but an estimated 12 million are under the age of 35. And quite a few struggle to find work--at least of the meaningful, sustainable variety. The 24 million holding down employment are mostly in menial positions replete with the kind of long commutes, inflexible hours and low pay that all too often characterize living paycheck to paycheck, rather than improving one's quality of life.

These adults are extremely diverse by conventional standards and life experiences. Some may have fallen off track in the K-12 system due to circumstances at home or unidentified learning needs, while others are immigrants--some with college degrees from their native country--facing language barriers to better job prospects.

The only common ground is the learning gaps which separate them from building vocational skills--and the socioeconomic benefits they afford. And there is little evidence to suggest these gaps are easily filled. For all of the hardworking adult learning professionals and volunteers, the diversity and quantity of adult learning needs far outpace the accessibility and availability of adult learning programs.

Rather than participate in education as a necessary event, adult learners already act as consumers--presumably ready to act on a compelling learning proposition.

When it come to addressing these gaps through technology, many of the challenges run parallel to K-12 education: 1) there is still a dearth of broadband access and robust devices, 2) the learning needs and academic goals are equally diverse and evasive, and 3) no one can agree exactly what problems are best solved through technology.

But what makes adult learners unique--and hopefully attractive to education reform innovators--is that they are grown-ups. They have life experiences well beyond the confines of the academy. They are unencumbered by Common Core standards and SAT scores. Rather than participate in education as a necessary event, adult learners already act as consumers--presumably ready to act on a compelling learning proposition.

This guide, made possible by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, explores the burgeoning relationship between adult basic education and technology innovation. Through the on-the-ground perspectives of adult learners, up-and-coming innovations, or analysis of the adult edtech landscape, these resources shed light on what compelling learning propositions are possible.

Adult Learning Overview

Discussing the challenges and promises of using technology to serve the needs of under-skilled adults.

Innovations in Adult Education

New and interesting ideas for increasing access and quality of learning opportunities for adult learners.

Perspectives on the Ground

Discussing on-the-ground efforts, challenges and perspectives in adult learning.

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Current EdTech Landscape

The edtech landscape for adult basic education largely mirrors available funding sources--either education or workforce development grants--for brick-and-mortar adult learning programs over the past thirty-plus years. Big publishers lead the way in providing curriculum, having made the transition to web-based platforms in recent years.

English Language Learning comprises a considerable portion of the space as the adult immigrant population moves into a knowledge worker economy and needs foundational skills to access opportunities in-person and digitally.

The landscape is most lacking in tools that increase access to building foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Both are necessary to access the broader offering of adult learning opportunities, but generally only available through non-profit and community-based programs that have the human and financial resources to implement site-based tools. There is a strong need for wrap-around services that remove barriers to participating in such programs, as well as personalized tools that can help adults build skills in-situ.

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Adult Learning Products

Below is a comprehensive list of products and services that specifically target under-skilled adults looking to build basic literacy, numeracy and career skills. The list is by no means exhaustive, as there are other tools which don't expressly cater to this population but offer suitable content (e.g. YouTube, Udemy).

Product Customers
ACT Career Curriculum
LMS and courses focused on building foundational workplace skills for adults.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills, Job Search
Individuals
Comm. Colleges
Businesses
Non-Profits
Core Skills Mastery
Adaptive course prepares students for life, emphasizing problem solving persistence and more.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills
Comm. Colleges
Businesses
Job Seekers
GCF LearnFree
Provides adult learners with opportunities to strengthen 21st century career and life skills.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Digital Literacy
Comm. Colleges
Job Seekers
iPathways
Prepares adult learners for high school, equivalency exams, including the GED test.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Test Prep
Comm. Colleges
Non-Profits
KET Fast Forward
KET’s online GED preparation program.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Test Prep
Individuals
Prison Systems
Non-Profits
KET Workplace Essentials
Aims to support adult learners who are searching for jobs or trying to get better jobs.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills
Individuals
Businesses
Job Seekers
Non-Profits
Prison Systems
LiveMocha
Language learning community offers traditional instruction and native speaker interaction.
Focus: English Language Learning (ELL)
Individuals
McGraw-Hill Workforce Access
Provides online courses for adult learners working towards certification for gaining employment.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills
Individuals
Comm. Colleges
Businesses
Non-Profits
Job Seekers
McGraw-Hill Workforce Connects
Supports adult learners in choosing a career path and becoming career-ready.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills, Job Search
Individuals
Comm. Colleges
Businesses
Non-Profits
Job Seekers
MyPLACE Online
Blending learning program to support large-scale adult literacy and work-readiness for adults in Philadelphia.
Focus: Literacy, Career Skills, Job Search
Individuals
Job Seekers
Non-Profits
Prison Systems
Pearson MyFoundations Lab
Competency-based courseware with an emphasis on personalized learning paths.
Focus: Literacy, Math, Career Skills, Digital Literacy
Comm. Colleges
Seams LMS (formerly Skillsboost)
Provides online training programs for companies looking to train their employees.
Focus: Career Skills
Businesses
Skillshare
Short online courses from industry leaders with corresponding projects.
Focus: Career Skills, Job Search, Test Prep, Digital Literacy
Individuals
Job Seekers
Skylab Learning
Mobile, game-based learning supporting English language development for working adults.
Focus: ELL, Career Skills
Businesses
Non-Profits
Spark3000
Adult basic literacy.
Focus: Literacy, ELL
Comm. Colleges
Businesses
Prison Systems
U.S.A. Learns
Improve English through online courses.
Focus: ELL, Career Skills
Individuals
Job Seekers
Comm. Colleges
Words2Learn
Support vocabulary development for adult learners preparing for postsecondary education programs.
Focus: ELL
Comm. Colleges
Businesses