Adult Learning Design Day - Digital Promise

Adult Learning Design Day

Designing a Better Future for Adult Learners

On Nov. 18, Digital Promise held its first ever Designing a Better Future for Adult Learners design challenge in five locations across the country via simulcast web conference.




150 attendees began the day learning about the adult education market, the unique needs of adult learners, and the potential of educational technology for these learners. Our kick-off panelists, Matthew Muench of the Joyce Foundation; Michael Levine of the Joan Gantz Cooney Center; Alison Ascher Webber an educational consultant and entrepreneur; and Ricardo Estrada of the Instituto del Progreso Latino, each brought their own perspective to the question of the needs and challenges of adult learners.

Design Day 4 photo (1)


The bulk of the day was dedicated to the design challenge. Twenty teams of educators, researchers, and investors at each location took on the challenge of designing new digital solutions for adult learners. The results were impressive, not only because there were over 20 ideas generated but because of the quality and sensitivity of the ideas that focused on the real issues this population faces. Teams tackled ways to teach literacy skills on mobile devices, ways to provide coaching services online, ways to create peer-to-peer networks to support adult learners, and ways to integrate literacy and language skills with relevant job skills as students learn.

Each team developed a three-minute pitch to showcase their idea. Two pitches from each location were then selected to share with the full, nation-wide audience and our panel of investors. Watch the videos of the “pitches” here.

Our panel of investors included Rusty Greiff of 1776, Deborah Quazzo of GSV Advisors and Matthew Muench of the Joyce Foundation. All three were encouraged by the emphasis on core problems of adult learners and by the solutions that leveraged existing programs and available technologies. They also were enthusiastic about the integration of coaching, mentoring, and community building.

Ultimately, as our respondents pointed out, the ideas were well-grounded in the real lives and core problems of these learners, which is a testament to the power of connecting researchers, practitioners, and technologists in this effort.


Finally, we’ve compiled a set of resources for those interested in dipping their toe into the Adult Education market, including our new primer that we announced at the event, Accelerating Change, the Tyton Partners two-part report on the market, and several other useful resources.

A special thanks to our host locations, GSV Labs in California, 1776 in DC, LearnLaunch and Nutter in Boston, LEAP Innovations in Chicago, and Edge in New York City, and to the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, the MIT Media Lab, and the Joyce Foundation for their support.

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