The Florida Adult and Technical Distance Education Consortium (FATDEC) began in 1999 with one mission: to make education easily accessible for adult learners by harnessing the emergent world of online learning. Many years and many ed-tech developments later, FATDEC has become a leader in leveraging the power of collaboration to support adult learners.
FATDEC, a member of our Digital Promise Adult Learning Beacon Project, is a group of public schools, school districts, and community colleges who work together to deliver curriculum in a web-based environment for adult education and career technical programs in Florida. The consortium leverages the buying power of the larger group to provide digital solutions and professional development to members at greatly reduced costs.
In 1999, Florida was just starting to experiment with virtual schools for high school students. Adult education program administrators in Orange County had a different vision. They saw online learning as a way to bring education to adult learners, who so often have barriers that make coming to a physical classroom difficult. They pulled together a group of state adult education leaders to discuss the potential for collaborating, both in manpower and, more importantly, in putting their minds together to envision what this online endeavor could really be.
At this meeting, FATDEC was born.
Today, FATDEC is a collaborative of 25 schools, districts, and colleges in Florida across a wide range of geographical areas, from small, rural areas to bigger, suburban and urban areas.
Consortium members share the cost of the digital products and offerings the consortium provides each year. Kim Gates, FATDEC’s Coordinator, says, “The members have a huge say in the programs and the products we purchase each year. We look to our members to say, ‘We are happy with what we have as our existing curriculum,’ or, ‘We feel we should look at different vendors, different products.’”
One of FATDEC’s greatest impacts is its buying power. As Gates explains, “When you go to a vendor and you say, ‘I’m interested in buying a thousand or 25,000 seats,’ you’re going to get a much better price per seat than if you go and say, ‘We’d like to buy 25 seats or 40 seats.’”
This buying power is especially critical for the smaller towns without a big adult education enrollment or budget. They can provide digital opportunities for their learners at the much lower cost that comes with FATDEC purchasing thousands of user logins or “seats.” This buying power is a benefit to vendors too. A vendor can show their product to 25 different organizations at once rather than trying to have 25 individual contacts.
FATDEC understands, as research has shown, that the key to integrating technology in support of adult learners is teachers and administrators who are willing to try something different. FATDEC leverages its community to provide free or low cost professional development. Gates says FATDEC members are very willing to share their wisdom and experience with each other “because the stronger each member is, the stronger the consortium is, and it really is about serving the students statewide and offering the best service that we can.”
Experienced members send their teachers to programs that are just beginning to use a technology to help get the new program up and running. Consortium members also set up on-site training for nearby members. The ethos of the consortium members is that such training benefits both new and existing members because, by making sure everybody feels comfortable with the product, the product will get used. This in turn drives the feedback loop that is so important to FATDEC’s yearly buying decisions – the consortium members will know if a product is worth continuing to buy.
Overall, FATDEC provides a way to enter the world of online learning for programs that are new to it and might not know where or how to start. A member has access to all FATDEC has purchased, but they can start with just one product and grow that in six months. As Gates says, “It’s not something where they join, and we say, ‘Ok, here you go, good luck with everything.’ It’s really something where there is a ton of support from start to finish, which I think is very comforting, especially for programs who are just starting this.”
In the end, FATDEC’s biggest impact is on the learners, the heart of their mission. As Gates explains, “Looking at our membership and how it covers a variety of areas is really exciting because students have the opportunity, whether they are in Key West or up in Pensacola, to sign up and take an online class. And the growth in membership really benefits the students in that, when they move, there is this whole network of people who are knowledgeable about online opportunities. We really can serve the students well regardless of where they are.”