Adult education needs attention, investment, and innovation. A handful of groups are already beating that drum, including Project IDEAL and the Learner Web Partnership, two of the largest and longest-running national initiatives supporting technology and adult education.
Project IDEAL is a consortium of states working to develop effective online education programs for adult learners. The program took shape in 2001 after representatives from several state departments of education met to explore how adult education could benefit from distance learning – considered somewhat innovative at the time.
The consortium now consists of 11 states committed to sharing resources and best practices. Project IDEAL also provides planning, training, curriculum, evaluation, and technical assistance for other states trying to get digital efforts underway and garner the benefits for adult learners.
For example, in Ohio, a Project IDEAL member state, enrollment in online courses for GED students tripled over four years, while the per-student cost of delivery dropped from $738 to $239, according to the organization’s website.
Continuous evaluation of data associated with it’s courses allowed Ohio to expand its curriculum offerings to better target the needs of adult basic education students in the state and the delivery model allowed the program to reach more students.
The center, located at the University of Michigan, will publish a new series of case studies highlighting successful online instructional practices, Director Jerome Johnston promised during a presentation at the 2014 Commission on Adult Basic Education conference in Pittsburgh.
The Learner Web Partnership also uses resource and knowledge sharing, research, and other tactics to improve access to and collaboration among adult learning communities.
The partnership’s primary goal is to address three barriers to broadband access and technology use among low-income, under-skilled adults in the United States: affordability, lack of digital literacy skills, and a perceived lack of relevant content.
Led by researchers at Portland State University, the partnership includes 63 community institutions in six locations – including Richmond, Calif., and New Orleans, as well as Minnesota, New York, and south and central Texas. These institutions range from public libraries to community colleges and adult basic education programs.
Each partner is working to increase broadband use among low-income and low-literacy adults, non-native English speakers, and other vulnerable populations by implementing an innovative online system of self-paced learning plans. These plans cover GED preparation, citizenship, workforce development, and digital literacy, among other subject areas.
The Learner Web project also focuses on another often overlooked population: incarcerated adults. In New Orleans, the project supports digital literacy training at a prisoner re-entry program at Orleans Parish Prison.
Almost 45 percent of adult inmates return to prison within five years of being released. But correctional education programs reduce the risk of recidivism by 13 percentage points for those who participate, according to a 2013 report by the RAND Corporation. Inmates who took part in these programs were also 13 percent more likely to land a job after their release.
Digital Promise wants to highlight promising programs that use technology to improve access for adult learners, helping them build skills and gain hope for a productive future. Where do you see technology improving education for adults with low skill levels?