The new Institute report, Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning, was undertaken to investigate the threshold levels of literacy and language proficiency necessary for adult learners to use the Internet for independent learning. The report investigates the interaction among learners’ skills, opportunities and the supports available. It also discusses what students already know about existing and emerging technologies and identifies whether and how these technologies fit into the adult education classroom. Join us to discuss the report findings and what instructors need to do in order to support students in learning online.
Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Senior Research Analyst, American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Heidi Silver-Pacuilla is the primary author of the report Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Needed for Independent Online Learning. The report includes knowledge developed with the Technology and Literacy Discussion List in the summer of 2007.
Heidi Silver-Pacuilla is a senior research analyst at American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Washington, DC, where she is also the deputy director of the National Center for Technology Innovation. Heidi’s research and technical assistance work at AIR has focused on applying best practice research from the special education literature to digital environments for students of all ages with disabilities. She has delivered many national presentations and published several articles and chapters on teaching youth and adults with disabilities, particularly those who struggle with literacy. She was the recipient of a Mary Switzer Fellowship from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research to study the introduction of assistive technology into adult education programming and the recipient of the AERA Early Scholar Award from the Adult Literacy and Adult Education SIG, 2005.
Introduction of Part I: About the Report
From Heidi Silver-Pacuilla
The research that forms the basis of the report “Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning” was undertaken to investigate the threshold levels of literacy and language proficiency necessary for adult learners to use the Internet for independent learning. As the investigation unfolded, it became apparent that the interaction among the learners’ skills, the opportunities they encounter, and the supports available determines those thresholds. Understanding how to balance those elements can create new options and opportunities for learning, instruction, program planning, and content development.
This report is structured around three distinct sections that contribute to the investigation: learning from large-scale surveys, learning from the literature, and learning from the field. (Hey, Tech Listserv, that’s YOU! The time I spent guest moderating in the summer of 2007 resulted in a whole section in the report, Learning from the Field, reflecting your experiences, expressed needs, and the deep belief that adults can and will learn with technology.)
Triangulating from the three major data sources affords this report solid footing on which to draw key findings from the guiding research questions. The search for thresholds revealed that such thresholds did not exist: Learners at even the lowest levels of literacy and language proficiency can engage with online learning content. Moreover, all reports indicate that they are eager to do so and that they benefit in important ways, such as self-confidence, self-directedness, and independence. Adult learners across the literacy and language spectrum show strong motivation to gain computer literacy skills, perceived as key to work advancement.
Limitations of this report are several, including a lack of direct user research, now an out-of-date literature review, and a chronically under funded research and evaluation sector that leaves many questions unanswered. However, it is hoped that the report can contribute to the conversation being engaged in the country around the use of technology to scale up and boost teaching and learning for adult students and their instructors.
The full report Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning is available as a PDF file at:
Please read the Executive Summary of the report on pages 1 and 2.
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