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On Nov. 18, Digital Promise held its first ever Designing a Better Future for Adult Learners design challenge in five locations across the country via simulcast web conference. The 150 thoughtful, inspiring attendees, who formed 20 teams, engaged deeply in designing real solutions for under-served adults.

At our five host locations — 1776 in Washington, DC, LearnLaunch in Boston, LEAP Innovations in Chicago, Edge in New York City, and GSV Labs in Silicon Valley — teams of developers, designers, educators, researchers, and investors brought their unique perspectives and knowledge to the challenge. They produced thoughtful ideas, grounded in the real lives and core problems of these learners.

The ideas centered around several different themes, but across the country, one common theme became apparent: the importance of integrating literacy and language skills with relevant job skills as students learn. Several teams came up with solid ideas around this theme that have the potential to meet a significant need amongst adult learners. The ideas demonstrated a key understanding of both the adult learner’s needs and the mindset. Here’s a sampling:

  • Team Language Skills Plus Lab wants to help under-skilled adults develop pathways for the careers they want, while also learning language and literacy skills. For example, what if Josefa had an online blended learning program that could help her get certified as a child care worker while also learning the English she needs to do the job well?
  • Team #Curate4AL wants to help under-skilled students find good, fun, informal content that will support their basic skills, but also help them learn job-related skills as well. For example, what if an app could recommend for Antonio helpful videos on YouTube in English that also taught him basic plumbing skills so he could get a better job?
  • Team The Bridge understands that many under-served students struggle with basic financial questions. What if Nelson and Mayra had a banking app that not only helped them with the basics of budgeting and family finance, but also integrated a way to learn the math behind the finance?

Other teams tackled ways to teach literacy skills on mobile devices, ways to provide coaching services online, and ways to create peer-to-peer networks to support adult learners. Overall, all of these ideas represent a significant first step toward finding ways technology can improve learning opportunities for under-served adult learners.

To close the day, 10 selected teams “pitched” their ideas to our panel of investors including Rusty Greiff of 1776, Deborah Quazzo of GSV Advisors, and Matthew Muench of the Joyce Foundation. All three investors were encouraged that the “pitches” focused on core problems adult learners face and the proposed solutions built on existing programs and available technologies. They also were enthusiastic about the integration of coaching, mentoring, and community building.

The quality of the ideas is a testament to the power of researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs connecting with each other to solve complex and seemingly intractable problems adult learners face. Look through the gallery of pitch videos. Find your inspiration, and join us in the effort to provide better learning opportunities for underserved adults.


About Patti Constantakis

Patti is the Director of Adult Learning Initiatives at Digital Promise. You can follow her on Twitter at @patticonstan.

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