Education publishers have developed a huge collection of high quality online lessons and courses for the K-12 audience of teachers and students. On the other hand, adult education has suffered from a lack of good tech curriculum to serve the 36 million U.S. adults struggling with low literacy. Because of the relatively small adult education budgets and disparate group of local providers, publishers have avoided developing new adult-only products.

The obvious solution is to somehow adapt the K-12 tech programs to the adult market, thereby getting a “two for one” and avoiding costly R&D. But this effort has been stymied by a combination of forces:

  1. The K-12 online curriculum may be too “childish” for adults learners.
  2. Adults want flexibility and control over their learning.
  3. Adult ed sites lack the labs and tech staff to support online curriculum

As a team in the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition, which challenged teams to create mobile apps that result in improved literacy among low-skilled adult learners, Learning Upgrade needed to address these forces head-on. The fundamental changes we made, which has since allowed us to serve both K-12 and adult markets with a single program, can be incorporated by other developers looking to help these adult learners.

To scale a product, one of the first and most important decisions is to pursue a “universal lesson design” that would work for children and adults alike, including special needs students and English language learners. The lessons could be arranged in different sequences for different needs, but each lesson would be able to teach that topic to any audience.

The key to a universal lesson design is to incorporate fun and excitement. What everyone wants, young or old, is to enjoy learning. The challenge is to avoid lesson styles that seem too childish or too boring. But, we have found that adults enjoy game-oriented lessons that are filled with songs, video, and rewards.

Another important decision is to allow adults to place themselves into the level of learning they feel comfortable, and have more flexibility navigating lessons. In our case, we added placement tests and self-selection of grade level learning. We also opened up our courses so adults can jump around the lessons in any order, rather than moving through them sequentially. The result is a comfortable environment for adult learners, which still uses the same universal lessons.

Finally, developers should consider building mobile platforms for adult learners. Over 80 percent of low-income adults now have smartphones, a number that rises every year. With smartphones, adults can learn anywhere, anytime, and adult literacy programs don’t have to be limited by their own computers and staff.

The combination of universal lesson design, a flexible adult-friendly course format, and smartphone deployment has allowed Learning Upgrade to serve the adult education market and K-12 with one product. I encourage other publishers to embark on a similar journey, so that adult learners can have a wealth of new programs that are engaging, interactive, and fun.


About Vinod Lobo

Vinod Lobo is the founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade, which publishes online courses and smartphone apps to teach English reading and math through songs, video, and games.

9 Comments

  • Gilda Reyes says:

    Hello Mr. Lobo:

    I am also in San Diego. I just finished reading your article. This is what I have: I have a dazzling idea for education, I have the curriculum based on my celebrated after-school program, and an amazing creative team of individuals from the most respected gaming and entertainment companies in the world. They want to be involved realizing the world is demanding this change in education and gaming is the platform for the change. The exciting curriculum is beneficial and challenging to both K-12 and Adult Learners since the information and knowledge in the game is either information you should know or information that you need to know but don’t realize it as yet. 12 volumes of important knowledge to the lives the players who would become enthralled in the process of their personal one-on-one education. Playing the game allows the player to become part of a dynamic network of a thinking population.

    The most prolific zone of learning for all of us is the magic carpet ride we take through our childhood; the foundation for that period of time is “PLAY.” This is still the way we all gather the most important lessons for the navigation of our personal journey and self-discovery. This experience is appropriate for adult learning; it is sophisticated, exciting, informative and allows the player to enter into adventures around the world and throughout history.

    I would be honored to chat with you when time allows.

    Respectfully,

    Gilda Reyes

  • Vinod Lobo says:

    Hello Ms. Reyes,
    Great that you are passionate about creating a curriculum for both K-12 and adult learners! I agree that gaming and “play” is a format for learning that both children and adults love. I hope you take the next step and start producing your program. If you want to chat, please reach out using the contact info at our web site learninguprade.com.

    Best wishes,

    Vinod

  • Roberta Gallant says:

    Hello Mr. Lobo,

    You have more free math demo courses in the course section of your website than you do language arts. Why? Whenever you offer the general public free demo courses, you should balance the lessons to make them fair. The course section of your site must also include selective underlining/highlighting, much-more paragraphing, title questionnaire, summarizing, and note-taking course demos for a change.

    Please email me back. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your reply.

  • Vinod Lobo says:

    Hello Ms. Gallant,
    Thank you for your feedback. We are developing more language arts lessons based on feedback from learners and educators. This includes more lessons that focus on writing skills, which are so critical.

    I look forward to chatting with you by email.

    Best wishes,

    Vinod

  • Arthur Rubin says:

    Vinod,

    Would you be interested in obtaining access to English Teaching/Learning content in a 17 book program, supported with existing Games, Activities, and additional Teacher Resource books?

  • Toni Borge says:

    I had piloted Learning Upgrade, last semester in two classes in my program here at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston: One, an ESOL class, and the other a Spanish HiSET class. The students loved it. While we were on January break, students were emailing the teachers — what happened to Learning Upgrade, I can’t use it anymore. The teachers assured the students they will be able to use when they return for the spring semester.

    This program is such a valuable resource for learners to be able to extend their learning outside the classroom. There is little to no funding to add hours to existing classes let alone new classes. Learning Upgrade offers adults a venue to learn anytime/anywhere. It also allows adult education programs to offer more instructional time and help students acquire digital literacy skills.

    Thank you.

  • Dan McGuire says:

    Is the content #OER? Or, is this about you making money?

  • Vinod Lobo says:

    Hello Mr. McGuire,
    We offer both no-cost pilot access and paid licenses to schools and individuals. Our dream is to find funding so that we can offer our lessons at no cost to learners around the world!

    Best wishes,

    Vinod

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