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Preparing for the GED Online: Lessons Learned from Experienced Teachers and Adult Learners
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Literature Review

GED is an acronym for General Educational Development (American Council on Education, 2012). In 1942 the military requested the American Council on Education (ACE) to measure high school instructional outcomes for military personnel and veterans who had not finished high school. The creation of the GED test has allowed individuals to show their attainment of acceptable academic knowledge and to receive a certificate documenting their success. Since 1943, over 17 million people, including the civilian population, have earned a GED credential; and from 1974 to the present, the GED credential has been offered in all 50 states (ACE, 2010). There are five content areas in the GED test: mathematics, social studies, science, language arts writing, and language arts reading. Mathematics and writing both have two parts, focusing on content and processes. The reading test parallels the reading comprehension of text in English classrooms and includes five fiction passages and two nonfiction passages. The most recent GED Test series was released in January 2002 (ACE, 2010). The assessments are field-tested and undergo review and revision to ensure they are closely matched to contemporary high school curriculum. A free informational brochure published by ACE (2003) that is available to the general public and often distributed in adult education centers stated, “Those who pass the GED Tests have surpassed the performance of at least 40 percent of the nation’s graduating high school seniors” (p. 1).

McLaughlin, Skaggs, and Patterson (2009) analyzed the preparation activities for over 90,000 GED candidates who completed the test in 2004. Participants were placed in eight profile groups, including those who attended “public school adult education with or without a practice test, community college adult education with or without a practice test, individual study with or without a practice test, practice test only, and no preparation” (p. 4). The most frequent preparation was self-study without a practice test (29%) followed by attending a public school adult education site without a practice test (28%). Participants who took practice tests had higher scores on their GED. Students who individually studied with a practice test had the most successful pass rates, and students who attended public school adult education sites without a practice test had the lowest pass rates.

Of the approximately 700,000 adults who take the GED test each year, approximately 56-60% pass on the first attempt (Zhang & Patterson, 2010). Zhang and Patterson were interested to discover characteristics of repeat examinees. They found that about half of the students who do not receive a passing score on the first attempt retake the test. Many times, students retake one or two subject area tests rather than the entire battery. Science and language arts reading have the lowest number of retesting examinees, and mathematics and language arts writing have the highest number of retakers. Most test-takers need to retake a test no more than two times except for math. Of the total 1,671,023 adult GED test takers in 2004-2006, mathematics was the most challenging subject (Zhang & Patterson, 2010).

Only a few studies have investigated the topic of Internet use and online learning for Adult Basic Education (ABE) or GED students. Berger (2010) investigated adult education instructors’ views about integrating the Internet into their instruction. Based on a survey solicited from 219 educators, Berger found instructors fit into two profiles. One profile showed instructors who integrated Internet use with few barriers and positive results. These ABE instructors found students were empowered, engaged and used higher-thinking skills. In contrast, a second profile was comprised of instructors who did not integrate the Internet either because they didn’t have positive results or there were too many barriers such as finances, access to the Internet, distracted students, or students who didn’t like using the technology. These teachers found students visited inappropriate sites, or plagiarized. Also, the teachers were challenged by differences in students’ computer knowledge and ability. Berger concluded that adult education centers need to be provided with financial assistance so technology is available and instructors have the support they need to integrate it. The Internet can be a valuable tool for purposeful adult learning.

Silver-Pacuilla (2008) reviewed large-scale surveys and literature, and spoke with six experts about the skills that adults need for successful online learning. She concluded “online environments engage and inspire adults. . .and supply an opportunity to engage in self-study and informal learning” (p. 2). Porter and Sturm (2006) evaluated distance learning for adult literacy and basic skills in Ontario. They found distance learning is a viable option for adults who are unable to attend traditional adult literacy sites, including those with low literacy. They recommended more research be conducted with learners who are successful.

Prins, Drayton, Gungor, and Kassab (2012) conducted a large study of over 24,000 rural students who participated in state-funded GED programs. They found only a small portion of adults study for their GED online. This could be in part due to two reasons: lack of digital access and the need for quality programs and support services. They found that distance learning “was no more or less effective than face-to-face instruction” (p. 229). Students said the advantages were numerous including flexibility and convenience for work and family responsibilities, less social anxiety and greater confidentiality. Nine adult educators were interviewed as a part of this study. Adult educators believed the online GED option provided more information and resources to distance learners, provided some adults the only option for preparing for their GED, and enabled adults who had schedule constraints and were unable to attend class. For students who studied online and attended class, the distance learning option reinforced and strengthened their learning.

The field of adult education is attempting to stay abreast of the technological age by including online technologies for instruction, even for adults with limited literacy and language skills. Areas for further study include learning more from successful adults who complete programs (Porter & Sturm, 2006), comparison between rural and urban distance learning classes and students (Prins et al., 2012) and “research and evaluation that could provide guidance on content design and flexible supports to serve users’ needs and create new options and opportunities for learning, instruction, program planning, and content development” (Silver-Pacuilla, 2008; p. 2). This exploratory study, focused on adult students who used the Internet to prepare for their GED, aims to fill this need.


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