Technology can provide powerful new pathways to help family literacy programs more fully meet their learners’ needs. When thoughtfully integrated, technology can offer new supports and educational opportunities for parents, helping them become confident first teachers for their children.

To better understand how technology can further these family literacy goals, we produced case studies on two family literacy programs that are using technology in different ways. At Briya Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., adults study English, digital literacy, and parenting, while their children also attend classes. The Students and Parents in Cooperative Education (SPICE) Family Literacy Program serves central Maine’s Regional School Unit #3 (RSU 3), integrating parenting classes and adult education.

These case studies highlighted two very different programs. Briya is in a large, urban area with many immigrants, and SPICE is in a rural county serving mostly people born and raised in the area. But, by comparing how these programs planned for technology integration and the impact of this integration, four clear steps emerged for maximizing technology’s impact on family literacy. These steps can be a guide for all family literacy programs, regardless of size or location, as they consider how to most effectively harness the educational power of technology for their learners.

Step 1: Focus on the Parents

Family literacy programs often provide digital devices for children to play educational games. Gaming is proven to be an effective learning method for children, so having digital devices available helps meet children’s learning needs by providing additional support for their literacy development.

But technology can provide so much more when family literacy programs consider how to support the parents. So this is the first step: turn your lens from the students’ use of technology to the parents’ learning needs.

Often, programs do not start with the parents because they worry about adult learners having access to devices and the Internet. However, research shows increasingly widespread device ownership across underserved populations. Programs may be able to start using technology with just a little investment in devices and hotspots to fill the gaps in their learners’ personal access.

Step 2: Assess the Parents’ Learning Needs

Before implementing technology, a program should always have learning goals in mind. As the Digital Promise Journey explains, technology is not effective when used just for technology’s sake.

The second step, therefore, is to assess parents’ learning needs and whether the program is currently meeting all of these needs as effectively as it can. Our Briya and SPICE case studies underscore this need, as they show the very different issues facing urban and rural populations. Briya is able to rely on a more traditional model of digital literacy, as their learners can easily come to campus, while SPICE has broken completely from tradition and created a virtual learning center to alleviate their learners’ persistent rural isolation.

Once you have identified your adult learners’ needs, you will see some needs are already well met by existing programs. Instead, focus on the needs your program could better meet and/or the needs that are not being met at all. This is where you can create new solutions with the opportunities provided by technology.

Step 3: Imagine New Ways to Meet These Needs

Now comes thinking big. What new ways can you imagine for meeting your learners’ needs with the many ways technology can transform learning?

Do not do this brainstorming alone. Work as a team to share ideas and look to other family literacy and adult education programs for inspiration. In addition to our Briya and SPICE case studies, with Digital Promise’s Beacon Project and Spotlight on Practice, you can see how different types of adult education programs are using technology in innovative ways and brainstorm how your family literacy program can translate these stories into effective practices for your learners.

Step 4: Be Role Models for Your Adult Learners

Digital literacy is absolutely critical for parents, and therefore their families, to have increased opportunities. As Briya’s learners show us, when adults do not have the digital skills they need, they cannot truly be a part of all of the opportunities this society offers, and they cannot help their children gain these skills for their own academic and life success.

Programs need all hands on deck to make big change happen; that starts with you and your staff. The most critical step of SPICE’s transition to virtual learning was helping the educators learn to not shy away from technology. Your adult learners and their children will thrive with everyone believing in and pursuing the transformative power of technology for deepening learning.


About Susanne Nobles

Susanne Nobles is the Senior Manager of Strategic Outreach for Adult Learning and Learner Positioning Systems.

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