How Adult Literacy Time and Technology Use Should Be Focused:
Views from Learners and Teachers
Adult learner views about time and technology
Time: Adult learners in this study reported they spent an average of 6-10 hours per week at literacy centers and another 2-3 hours per week outside of class on literacy activities. If more materials were available, they indicated they would be likely to spend more time outside of class (i.e. 3-5 hours). A repetitive theme was the limited amount of materials that students could take home to study. The adults reported that they had to return the texts immediately for other students to use, and sometimes during class there were not enough books for every student to have his/her own text. A shortage of educational resources limited the amount of time they spent studying outside of class.
When asked to “divide 10 hours” of learning time they thought more than 17% of their learning time was best allocated to studying at home. Interview comments confirmed that many report already doing quite a bit of home reading—even though they often struggle to find the time.
Female GED, Age 50. (Has been laid off from her job): I could spend more time at home if we had more of the pamphlets that explain how to do things step-by-step. I’d like to take home things like this to remind me how to do things. It is hard to work at home without help.
Female GED, Age 16: Having a computer at home would help. I’d like to help my brother with his homework. I read the newspaper at home and not books. I don’t have books.
Male, ESL, Age 20 (Works Construction during the day): Sometimes I practice at home with books I get at the library. If the center had books we could borrow, I would take them home and use them.
Technology: The final portion of the survey asked learners to rate technology priorities specifically about the computer and internet, not other emerging technologies. The top two priorities were: 1) buying new computers and printers and 2) training instructors in computer/program use. This was followed by 3) providing the center with WiFi, 4) buying new software and 5) loaner lap-tops for students to take home. Over 90% of interviewees indicated they had a computer at home and those that did not indicated they had access to computers either in a lab (at a residential facility) or at the library. The interviews also revealed that even though learners had access to home computers, some were concerned about not knowing how to use programs or the fear that they might need teacher help to understand what the programs were asking of them. Still others reported they already use computers extensively and wanted to use them more for their educations. Only about ten percent of the interviewees indicated they would be unlikely to use a computer for learning at home if take-home computer materials were available.
Female GED, Age 49. I could work on the GED at home if I could check out a program, I think. I would need more help to figure out how to use the program.
Female ESL, Age 38: Yes, I would definitely like more computer programs. I would like to have my grammar corrected by the computer and get feedback on this. The more feedback and correction, the better.
Female, ESL, Age 30: If they had computer materials I could take home, I would take them. I have trouble with writing. Some computer programs to help with writing would be good.
Male, ESL, Age 20 (Works Construction during the day): I could try to use the computer, but I don’t like it. It makes my eyes tired.
Comparison of learner and teacher views
T-test comparisons between ratings of learners and teachers did reveal several statistically significant differences which teachers may find interesting. Students indicated they would be willing to spend significantly more time than teachers estimated for working outside the literacy center if study materials were more available (i.e. students thought 3-5 hours weekly and teachers 1-2 hours weekly). Learners also allocated significantly more time to home study and more computer learning time than did teachers when dividing 10 hours of optimal learning time (i.e. 31% of time for learners and only 23% of time for teachers). Most adult learners thought they could and would spend more time on home and computer study while teachers tended to think most could or would not read more at home or work with computers.
Adult learner comments about willingness to do more at home if print and computer materials were available did not mean that learners did not value teachers’ help. Learners indicated they thought their best learning could occur if they received more than 1 ½ hours of individual teacher time for every ten compared to teacher’s estimates of less than an hour. What they did not rate as highly as teachers were full class and small group activities. Teachers suggested the optimal time allocation was 2/3 of combined full class and small group activity while learners allocated only about ½ of their learning time to these formats.
Learner comments indicated that nearly all of them had some access to computers and the vast majority indicated willingness to work at home or elsewhere with computer programs if they were available. Most learners already used several different sorts of computer programs and seemed willing to try more.
Teacher comments, on the other hand, reflect very wide estimates and lack information about how many learners have access to computers and would be likely to use them at home. While many learner comments were enthusiastic about the possibility of using computers for learning at home, teacher comments were much more cautious and protective of learners who were often seen as unfamiliar with technology. Teacher comments below substantiate these observations.
ESL teacher: I’m guessing only about 20% have access to computers. A lot of my ESL students live in homes with semi-grown children who don’t help them. I work with older clientele.
GED teacher: I think only about 20%-30% have access to computers at home or the library, but I’m not really sure. They probably don’t have access to the internet at home. I think some would probably use programs at home. Right now we have GED programs they can take home, but only if they are not able to attend class.
ABE teacher: I don’t really know, but I guess maybe about 40%. I think less than half would be able to work on computer materials at home, but different ones surprise you.
The comment of one ABE teacher who was very aware that most of her students have computer access, we think, focuses on an important aspect of the teacher concerns—i.e. showing students how to use the programs while they are at the centers and encouraging them to use computers for learning outside of class.
ABE teacher: I’d guess that 75%-95% already have computers at home. We have a computer program in the lab that the students already know how to use. If they could also use the leaning programs at home, it would help a lot.
The largest statistical differences (p. < .05) between learner and teacher views about resources were:
- learners see a need for more computer and computer program access while teachers tend to see these areas as lower priorities or currently being adequately met.
- Teachers rated priorities such as support for babysitting, transportation and help with testing fees as having significantly higher importance than support for technology.
- Learners and teachers tend to agree on the high priority for more teachers and books—especially books that can be taken home.