How Adult Literacy Time and Technology Use Should Be Focused:
Views from Learners and Teachers
Funding for adult literacy is less than one-twentieth of higher education funding and less than one-tenth of K-12 funding (National Coalition for Literacy, 2009). While funding for K-12 serves all children ages 5-16, funding for adult literacy serves only 3 million out of the 93 million adults who would benefit from educational services. Further, the demand for adult education services has increased due to the economic crisis; yet adult education centers do not have the capacity or resources to serve the increased needs of students (National Coalition for Literacy, 2009). This study has gathered the perspectives of adult literacy learners and teachers regarding technology and instructional time.
A large fraction of learners of all three types (ABE, GED, ELL) indicated they would spend more time studying at home if print and computer materials were available even though teachers rated students’ home study as less frequent. This concurs with previous research that self-study is an important component of adult learning (Reder, 2008; Reder & Strawn, 2002). Some learners indicated problems with not studying at home resided in themselves and a few ABE students expressed concern about not knowing how to use computer programs. It is important to also note that more than 3/4 of students had computers at home or easy access to them and many were quite familiar with them. Most indicated they would use both computer and print materials if they were able to take them home or get them over the internet. The major problem was not being able to obtain access of materials. Teachers tended to underestimate the percentage of students who could access a computer and use it for learning and rarely integrated technology into their classes. This parallels Kotrlik and Redmann’s (2005) finding that teachers are just ‘exploring’ technology rather than integrating it or having their students use it for self-study. It does not seem the teachers in this study put to practice the principle that computer programs are a valuable tool for delivery of instruction (Kruidenier, 2002; McCain, 2009). A recent study by Silver-Pacuilla (2008) investigated the language and literacy skills that students must possess in order to independently complete online learning. She discovered that “learners at the lowest levels of literacy and language proficiency can engage with online learning content” (p. 7). Adult learners are eager to engage in online learning and receive several benefits, which include increased self-confidence, self-directedness, and independence. This finding was affirmed by McCain (2009).
The highest learner and teacher priorities for resource use were teachers and books—especially newer materials which could be taken home. Interview comments from adults attending some centers indicated that cut-backs in teachers and aides were noticed by learners who felt they needed individual help, which was now more difficult to find. Though some students acknowledged the need for babysitting and transportation support, this was rated a lower priority than funds for more teachers and materials, and lower than instructors rated these support services. The student voices in this research seemed to contradict or at least down-play previous research which indicated the aforementioned support services as important factors in students’ active attendance and participation (Comings, 2007; King, 2002; NCES, 1998).
The results clearly indicate that adult learners want to study and learn. This parallels previous research findings (O’Donnell, 2006; Reder & Strawn, 2002). Despite busy schedules with work and families, adult learners report spending more time engaged in learning than what teachers perceive. One finding that emerged is the need for more books and materials including computer programs. Clearly, there is a dearth of resources for students, especially to take home for self-study.
A surprisingly large percentage of students had computers or access to computers. It appears that many adult learners use computers in their daily lives, but computers could be used more for educational purposes if resources, especially computers/programs to take home or access from home, were available. As our society becomes more technologically advanced, it would benefit adult literacy centers to be able to deliver and/or support instruction through computers and computer programs.
One major roadblock is time. Teachers clearly felt they did not have sufficient time to teach students all the skills and lessons that needed to be learned. This is especially significant when teachers realize students attend only, on average, about 35 hours of class time (Development Associates, 1993; Young, 1995). Likewise, students felt tension because there was not enough time for the teacher to spend individually with them when there were so many different students with varying needs and goals in the same classroom. This is one of the reasons many instructors use individualized group instruction (Robinson-Geller, 2007).
In our search for research on time, resources and technology in adult education, we struggled to find references and readings. We recognize the current research study was based on student surveys and limited interviews at six sites. We also acknowledge that the interviews were mainly to clarify and elaborate upon survey responses. Still, the sites were diverse and there was a high degree of triangulation documenting:
1) the increased demands placed upon fewer teachers who were less available to students and the agreement among both learners and teachers that increasing learner access to teachers was the highest priority;
Adult educators and directors, researchers and policy makers face many challenges. This study contributes to the field by documenting research that may be overlooked or neglected. It is imperative to recognize that adult students want to learn, and technological opportunities may be a way to support adult students. As budget cuts and limited financial support continue, it will be worthwhile for program directors and adult education boards to consider how to utilize current resources to best meet students’ needs and goals. It may be possible to increase program effectiveness through innovative means. Likewise, it is important for researchers and policy makers to continue advocating for increased funding for adult education. Making adult education a priority can positively impact the economy and provide stability across time.
2) the interest and willingness of students to study more at home and often with computers while teachers saw home study and computer use as less important; and
3) that adult learners saw professional development for their teachers in how to use computers as more important than did teachers who saw current resources and knowledge as acceptable.