As we celebrate Adult Education and Family Literacy this week, we find ourselves reflecting on the progress happening across the country on behalf of the 36 million low-skilled adults in the U.S. These adults face several challenges. Multiple jobs, child care issues, and transportation issues often keep adults from attending classes that will help them improve their skills.

Many are parents who simply wish to provide a better life for their children, particularly as they seek to pursue educational opportunities. We believe technology can play an important role in adult education and family literacy by providing, at a minimum, anytime, anywhere access. It also has potential to help personalize learning for adult learners.

In our work over the last two years, we’ve been heartened by the efforts we see around technology and adult education. Momentum is building! For example:

  • More products aimed at adults. Thanks to the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, more than 100 teams embarked on the challenge to create mobile apps designed to increase literacy levels in low-skilled adults. Eight semi-finalist products will reach more than 12,000 learners over the next year in the field testing phase of the competition. In addition, many other traditionally K-12 edtech companies, like Achieve3000, have begun to look into ways their products might serve adults.
  • More programs looking to adopt technology. Thanks to new stipulations in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and to the recognition that adult learners need to build digital skills, more adult education programs are working to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning practices. The Digital Promise Adult Learning Beacon Project has recognized 14 adult education and workforce development programs that are finding innovative ways to use technology to extend learning outside of the classroom, provide greater access, build digital skills, and provide a more individualized learning experience for students. A willingness to pilot new technologies is key to learning and building practices around the implementation of edtech with adults.
  • More community involvement. Thanks to efforts like the XPRIZE City Partnerships, a powerful consortium of city mayors, community-based organizations, and public education institutions including the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), City of Philadelphia’s Office of Adult Education (OAE), and the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), who have signed on to support the next field testing phase of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, more communities are investing time and resources to address adult low-literacy and the burdens it places on job growth, medical costs, and a child’s future educational success. When the final phase of the XPRIZE—the Communities competition—launches in January 2019, cities and counties nationwide will be incentivized to encourage use of the finalist apps among their low-literate populations.
  • More research on effectiveness of technology. Thanks to the support of researchers and educators around the country, several efforts to conduct research on the effectiveness of edtech with adult learners is underway. SRI’s recent report on five literacy and math products pointed to ways in which integrating technology into core instruction yielded better results than a more supplemental model. More programs are beginning to conduct systematic pilot evaluations using Digital Promise’s Edtech Pilot Framework, which will help them understand more clearly whether a product meets the goals and outcomes they desire. And finally, the data that will be collected from the XPRIZE represents first-of-its-kind data from a large number of learners across the country. From this information, we can learn how adults access and use technology, how mobile devices affect their learning, and how mobile technology can support and supplement in-class learning. Research of this kind is minimal in adult education and key to creating powerful, technology learning experiences that will make a difference in the lives of adult learners.

This week we celebrate all of these efforts and invite you and your community to help build awareness for this important issue. Consider one of the following:

  • Educators: Consider piloting a new product — think about your goals for edtech and use the EdTech Pilot Framework to get started.
  • Entrepreneurs and Product Developers: Consider adult learning — how can your product be helpful to these 36 million adults? Read more about the adult learning market.
  • Community members: XPRIZE field testing is recruiting through the end of October — if you know an adult in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or Dallas who might benefit from mobile learning, email info@barbarabush.org for more information.

Together, we can continue the momentum to help adult learners in their quest to learn new skills so they have more job opportunities, and are able to better support their children, family and society. Because when everyone learns and everyone participates, we all benefit from a more informed, just, and engaged society.


About Patti Constantakis

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

About Liza McFadden

Liza McFadden is President and CEO of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. You can follow her on Twitter at @LizaMcFadden.

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