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Adult educators are getting more and more excited as they see growing evidence of technology’s potential for improving learning for adults.

Community-based organizations, libraries, adult education programs, and community colleges across our Beacons are working together to incorporate technology to support their learners. When we talk with educators around the country, most, if not all, are clamoring for ways to best leverage education technology.

What is also clear: challenges exist with adopting and implementing technology, even as enthusiasm grows. Our work with educators, administrators, and community organizers has led to defining five adoption factors for successful technology implementation. This blog post, the first of a series exploring each of these factors, highlights the first adoption factor: experimenting and iterating with technology.

Because most adult educators at this point are unfamiliar with how to create an effective technology-based learning experience, experimenting with and iterating on ed-tech products can lead to the best results for learners.

How to Experiment and Iterate

So what does it take to do this?

Actively Embrace Innovation
Have an open mind, think widely about where something new might improve learning, and be okay with the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Jon Engel, Director of Adult Education at Community Action, Inc., in central Texas, experiments whenever he can. After hearing about Cell-Ed, a cell phone/text-based ESL program, he eagerly agreed to pilot it in one class, then expanded it into one of his biggest programs.

Through this experimentation, he discovered where the ed-tech made the most difference: workers who can’t attend in-person classes. His program now uses Cell-Ed to help sanitation workers learn English anywhere, anytime.

Focus on Meeting Learner Needs
Take the time to really understand what your learners need, and design learning experiences that address these needs.

Chicago Public Library (CPL) used human-centered design to think about how to teach the digital skills they knew their adult patrons needed. They carefully considered the needs of their patrons, surveying and talking with students, educators, and other community organizations. The result? They partnered with a developer to create a customized ed-tech product with relevant content, tracking of personal progress, and interface with tutors.

Use Data to Make Decisions
Gather data about the implementation such as progress and score data from within a product, student surveys, and instructor interviews.

The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy in Philadelphia is ending its third year implementing their online learning program, myPLACE. This summer, they evaluated the program by analyzing enrollment data and conducting interviews with students and instructors. Results showed that, while overall the program was going well, they needed to adjust the curriculum and consider ways to foster more face-to-face interactions.

Learn from Failure
Allow for missteps and turn those failures into learning experiences rather than reasons to give up.

Often, and in fact usually, an initial implementation doesn’t go as planned — students need more support than anticipated, technical problems arise, or the curriculum selected doesn’t quite fit. Educators tell us these adjustments are critical to changing their own misconceptions of what it takes to integrate and teach adult learners using technology.

Taking Action

The educators we have talked with all agree: being willing to experiment and iterate over time is critical for implementing the best ed-tech for your learners. By sharing this first adoption factor in our series and telling these educators’ stories, we hope you see you are not alone in this exciting yet often intimidating journey of harnessing the power of ed-tech for your learners.

We would love to hear your story of experimenting and iterating and to support you as you take these steps, so please comment below! And to learn even more about this adoption factor, watch our recorded webinar with two of our Beacons have done a great deal of experimenting and iterating.


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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