Dr. Larry Mikulecky Response to Questions from the Workplace Discussion List October 2000

Dr. Larry Mikulecky Response to Questions from the Workplace Discussion List

October 2000


Hello Subscribers, I am happy to announce that on October 9, 2000 we will have a

distinguished guest speaker joining us to discuss workplace education. During

this week, we will look at some topics to discuss and begin formulating

questions for our speaker.

I am honored to have had Dr. Larry Mikulecky accept this opportunity

to speak with us. Below is some information about Dr. Mikulecky so that

we can begin to get know him.

Larry Mikulecky works for the School of Education at Indiana University.

His email address is: MIKULECK@Indiana.edu

Dr. Mikulecky is Professor of Education at Indiana University-Bloomington.

His research examines the literacy requirements for success in business,

the military, universities and secondary schools. He currently teaches

a course in Young Adult Literature to teachers all over the world through

an Internet based graduate course. His most recent research examines literacy

and technology-- especially in School-to-Work transition programs. He has

served as principal investigator on over twenty research projects funded

by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor as well as foundation and

corporate sponsorship. Dr. Mikulecky has published over 100 journal articles,

textbook chapters, and textbooks.

Dr. Mikulecky is lead author on Simon & Schuster

series Strategic Skill Builders for Banking

as well as the basic skills series On the Job,

published by Cambridge Publications. He has also been Project Director

for nearly a dozen computer assisted instruction study skills programs

designed for college students with funding from the federal government

and corporate sponsors.

Dr. Mikulecky has also served as an international training, evaluation,

and document design consultant in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

He has worked on or directed projects for the U.S. Military, the U.S. Departments

of Labor and Education, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, the Ontario

Ministry of Skills Development, the Queensland Board of Teacher Registry,

the American Bankers Association, United Auto Workers/Ford, the Business

Council for Effective Literacy, several Fortune 500 corporations, and over

100 school districts and corporations.

Some publications from the past few years include:

Mikulecky, L., & Kirkley, J. (1998).  Changing

workplaces, changing classes: The new role of technology in workplace literacy.

In Reinking, D., McKenna, M., Labbo, L., & Kieffer, R. (eds.) The

handbook of literacy and technology: Transformations in a post-typographic



Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ. pp. 303-320.

Mikulecky, L. (1998). Adjusting school writing curricula

to reflect expanded workplace writing.  In Garay,  M. & Bernhardt,

S. (eds.) Expanding literacies: English teaching and the new workplace.


University of New York Press, Albany, NY, pp. 201-224.

Mikulecky, L. (1997).  Too little time and too many

goals: Suggested remedies from research on workplace literacy.  Focus

on Basics.


1, Issue D (December, 1997), pp. 10-13.

Mikulecky, L. & Lloyd, P. (1997).  Evaluation of

workplace literacy programs: A profile of effective instructional

practices.  Journal of Literacy Research

, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 555-585.

Mikulecky, L., Lloyd, P., Siemantel P. & Masker, S.

(1997). Transfer beyond workplace literacy classes: Twelve case studies and a

model.  Reading Psychology

, Vol.18, no. 4.  pp. 352-368.

Mikulecky, L. (1996) School-to-work transitions for

middle school students. In Lapp, D. and Flood, J (eds) Spotlight on the

Middle School

.  New

York: Macmillan/McGraw Hill.

Mikulecky, L. Lloyd, P. Kirkley, J. & Oelker, J. (1996). Developing

and Evaluating Workplace Literacy Programs: A Handbook for Practitioners

and Trainers.  Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.

Mikulecky, L., Lloyd, P., Horwitz, L., Masker, S. &

Siemantel, P. (1996) A Review of Recent Workplace Literacy Programs and a

Projection for Future Changes

. Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.

Mikulecky, L., Lloyd P., & Kirkley, J. (1996). 

Assessment Approaches and Impact Results in Workplace Literacy


.  Philadelphia,

PA: National Center on Adult Literacy.

Mikulecky, L., & Lloyd, P. (1996) Effective

Workplace Literacy Programs: A Guide for Policymakers

.  Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Adult


Mikulecky, L. (1996) Family literacy: Parent and child

interactions.  In L. A. Benjamin and J. Lord (eds.)  Family

Literacy: Directions in Research and Implications for Practice

.  Washington D.C. 

U. S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Moderator: NIFL-Workplace subscribers, I asked our guest speaker

what possible topics within workplace education he might be interested

in discussing. This was his answer. Maybe we can come up with some statements

he could speak to beginning next week.

1) What role does workplace literacy play in adult literacy education

and what role ought it to play?

2) Problems and solutions when developing and delivering workplace literacy


3) How are workplace literacy demands changing in light of new technologies

and new ways of operating in the workplace?

Speaker:  I appreciate Heidi Watson's invitation to respond to questions

and join in discussion of workplace literacy issues on the Listserv over

the next two weeks.

My name is Larry Mikulecky and I am a professor of education at Indiana

University. Over the years, I've been involved in several workplace literacy

research and development projects. My most recent work has examined the

impact of technology on workplace literacy demands.

Many of the questions forwarded to me and posted recently on the listserv

have related to evaluating workplace literacy programs. Among these were

questions from:  Ajit Gopalakrishnan asking about how one determines

if programs make a difference for organizations and learners; Walter Wallace

asking seven different questions related to-- well just about everything;

and from J. Salembier about evaluation of programs. I guess we should start


Subscriber: Please tell us about some models of evaluation and samples

of surveys that can be used?


I recommended some models developed by Nickie Askov, and I think these are very

good. I've also published a program model and a handbook for program development

and evaluation which can be downloaded for free from the University of

Pennsylvania Online Literacy site at: http://ncal.literacy.upenn.edu/pubs.html

Click on the "search our site" button on the top of the page, then "detailed

search" and type in Mikulecky or anything else you wish. Typing Mikulecky

will get you to a list including the evaluation publications.

These publications include my ideas about choices and limitations for

evaluating workplace literacy programs and how to best match evaluations

to both program and learner goals.

In addition to more traditional discussions of evaluation, I do present

a method for monitoring important changes in learners:

§ Beliefs about literacy (Do they expand and become more sophisticated?)

§ Literacy practices (Does the volume and breadth increase?)

§ Literacy processes (Do the strategies employed by learners become

more sophisticated?) and

§ Literacy plans (Do new goals emerge as a result of program involvement?)

Most workplace literacy programs do not have sufficient time with learners

to make much impact on standardized tests. The programs can, however, positively

influence fundamental learner literacy beliefs, practices, and strategies,

which can lay the groundwork for continued improvement at home, on the

job, and in the future. It is important to note these positive changes

and to give credit to teachers and programs for making them.

The workplace evaluation models also include some ways for assessing

impact on productivity and ways to customize assessment to match workplace

related reading.

Moderator: (Quoting the Speaker) "Most workplace literacy programs do

not have sufficient time with learners to make much impact on standardized

tests.*snip* It is important to note these positive changes and to give

credit to teachers and programs for making them."

Larry, Are we giving the credit to administrators/teachers of programs

or the student? Whether we have enough time with students or not we are

often required to give standardized assessments anyway. From these scores

the quality of our programs are judged. I believe this creates a real struggle

for many workplace education programs.

Speaker:   The face-to-face contact time in workplace literacy programs,

indeed in most adult literacy programs, is usually less than 50 hours.

This, all by itself, isn't sufficient practice time to make much impact

on general literacy standardized tests. If a general literacy standardized

test is the ONLY measure of success, there is a problem. The evaluators

aren't measuring enough to capture all that a program is doing.

I think part of the solution is recognizing that learner literacy practice

must also occur and increase outside the literacy classroom (at home and

on the job). This means that one aspect of program success is the degree

to which the learner's goals have been engaged and the degree to which

habits have been changed to include literacy away from the classroom. A

person with changed habits and goals is likely to continue with literacy

growth and this is an important program goal. These things can be assessed

and I think ought to be.

In addition, a good deal of research has documented that gains with

the sorts of literacy one has been practicing with occur long before transfer

to broad, general literacy occurs. For this reason, part of program and

learner assessment in workplace literacy programs should also include measures

of increased comprehension and mastery with the specialized materials which

have been integrated into the workplace literacy program.

I don't think the problem is that general standardized tests are being

used. A fifty contact hour program which has also gotten students to practice

a couple of hours outside of class for each hour inside may have impact

on general literacy. I think the problem is that in some programs ONLY

standardized tests are being used and other program goals (e.g., Improved

ability with workplace literacy, changed goals and behaviors, improved

literacy strategies, improved productivity, increased confidence and willingness

to take further training, etc.) are not being assessed and taken into account.

Subscriber:  "Most workplace literacy programs do not have sufficient

time with learners to make much impact on standardized tests.” This is

true whether one is using standardized tests or some form of portfolio

or authentic assessment. And, too, whether one is working with basic education

or professional adult learners.

One of the real challenges I face in developing and delivering non-clinical

workplace curriculum with residents in a teaching hospital is the matter

of time. Residents are on a three to five year program booking between

60 to 80 hour work weeks during their training. Much of their training

must focus on clinical practice. Yet there is also the need to integrate

non-clinical workplace skills into their rotations: communication, ethics,

practice management, negotiation, risk management, critical thinking, systems

thinking, etc.

Non-clinical workplace training for residents is not a frill nor only

an add-on in those teaching hospitals who deem it necessary to integrate

quality-oriented programming in rotation cycles. The national accrediting

organization for graduate medical education (the Accreditation Council

for Graduate Medical Education, or ACGME) requires each specialty to have

non-clinical workplace training as an integral part of residency programs.

This is a relatively new requirement. As individual programs are reviewed

for re-accreditation, a lack of non-clinical courses, seminars, workshops,

conferences, or Grand Rounds will now jeopardize a program's accreditation

no matter how world-class and cutting edge the clinical curriculum.

Similarly, continuing medical education requirements for doctors already

in practice (and who have 50 to 80 hour work weeks) will soon require similar

non-clinical workplace skill training and assessment through the Accreditation

Council for Continuing Medical Education outcome guidelines.

There is some real shoe leather that can be applied to ensure the implementation

of non-clinical workplace training. In either case, without accreditation

the hospitals or individual practices are ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid

funding. And if they are ineligible, they generally become ineligible for

any third-party billing from other sources.

The problem is clear: where do we find the time to provide meaningful

non-clinical workplace training opportunity? How do we assess skill development

and attainment? How do we benchmark outcomes? How do we design and implement

feedback loops to tie identified outcomes with training improvement?

Speaker: In the health care situation you describe, I agree that: "The

problem is clear: Where do we find the time to provide meaningful non-clinical

workplace training opportunity? How do we assess skill development and

attainment? How do we benchmark outcomes? How do we design and implement

feedback loops to tie identified outcomes with training improvement?"


Some hospitals with which I've worked have tried to partially integrate

literacy training with the on-going technical training. This could mean

a mix of time spent on non-work related learner goals which incorporate

some of the same skills which will be called for in up-coming clinical

training classes. Charts and tables used in clinical classes have their

correlates in lots of other information.  Following moderately complex

directions for hobby activities overlaps, to some degree, with following

directions in training settings.

At the secondary school level, reading specialists sometimes work with

science teachers, math teachers, and social studies teachers on modeling

the skills and thought processes needed to successfully comprehend and

use literacy material in those classes.  Though it may somewhat violate

the concept of "non-clinical class," a literacy teacher in a health care

clinical program could try to work with other instructors as well as learners

to support the special literacy challenges learners will and do face in

the clinical training.

Assessment, benchmarks, and feedback end up being a direct outgrowth

of what you and the other instructors want to happen. (What changes in

literacy related behaviors, attitudes, habits and accomplishments do you

want to occur?) If it is higher success with the literacy demands in one

of the clinical programs, you can either compare the clinical performance

of previous classes on these tasks to performances of students who've received

the special support. If more rigorous documentation is required, pre and

post performance on a literacy related class assignment can be gathered.

If increased practice with personal materials which parallel the demands

of workplace materials is a goal, having students keep track of this practice

in journals can be used. If journals don't work, weekly in-class writing

assignments can serve a similar purpose.

Subscriber: (Comment) I would add that the program evaluation should

demonstrate that the requisite transfer skills were included in the curriculum.

It is unjust, I think, to assume that the participant will figure out how

to make the transfer by him- herself given that the workplace behavioral

norms frequently support literacy.

Speaker: I agree. The key to transfer is in the head of the learner.

The skills/activities need to be in the curriculum AND the connection between

the class activities and challenges real to the learner must be highlighted

on a regular basis.

Subscriber: I think that you are "right on" with your analysis of what

happens, what doesn't happen, and what is not going to happen in workplace

literacy programs.

A couple of years ago, I was involved in a workplace literacy project

in the urban (Halifax-Dartmouth) area of Nova Scotia. I was, technically,

assigned to prepare employees in health care facilities to pass the GED.

In one particular workplace, I had a class of 15 students with highly-varied

backgrounds. This was the third group of a three-chance program, so I had

the "last" possible applicants -- the ones who had either failed to qualify

before or were too scared to sign up for either of the two previous GED

offerings. One woman had only a Grade 6 academic background, and had been

out of school for almost 50 years! My students were an absolutely WONDERFUL

group. During our ten weeks (40 hours) the students changed from being

fearful, reluctant or dependant learners, to working 2 hours outside class

for every hour spent in class -- and asking for more! Supervisors reported

increased confidence levels, increased independent thinking, and greatly

increased inter-departmental communication.

Nevertheless, over half my class failed the GED and I felt devastated.

When I re-frame the experience using your criteria, I can see that we really

accomplished a great deal. Thanks for the insight.


Thanks. In addition to the behavioral and attitudinal gains

you report for your student, I am willing to bet that she also made literacy

gains. About a decade ago, I did a literature review for the U.S. federal

government. One of the things examined was program data for adult literacy

programs. On standardized tests, most programs reported 100-120 hours of

practice time in programs per grade level gain in reading. This is pretty

fuzzy data, but does indicate that literacy gain usually takes a long time

and lots of practice. Your student probably read more than she ever had

before during your 10 week program (i.e., maybe as much as 100+ hours).

Still, if she began at a 6th grade level it is probably unreasonable to

expect she would show literacy gains much above a 7th-8th grade level on

a standardized general reading test. This gain is important and a good

deal to accomplish in 10 weeks. It is not enough, however, to meet the

higher criterion of the GED test.

I think part of our job is to educate both learners and program funders

about how much effort it takes to accomplish different goals. Even though

this may be daunting to some adult learners, I think we owe it to them

to treat them like adults and let them know what it will take while at

the same time suggesting some intermediate goals.

For funders-- especially business people-- I think we can help them

reframe the problem. Many business people tend to think of literacy like

more typical human resource classes-- you should get it done quickly. I've

found it helps to remind them that it probably took them and their children

180 school DAYS to make a one year gain in literacy ability.  Adults

can do better than this (i.e., 100 hours), but it is unreasonable to expect

4-5 years of growth in 40 hours.

Subscriber: There are some powerful learning programs that are partnerships

of union and management (Harley-Davidson, Saturn, UAW-Chrysler, etc.).

What advice do you have for getting folks from the "opposing camps" to

begin this collaboration? --Particularly post-strike when the union leadership

sees collaboration as caving in or comprising to their position? 

Do you know of documented case studies that might shed some light on this?

Speaker:  The ERIC system has some program descriptions of successful

collaborative union/management programs. The steelworkers Management/Union

collaboration has a great program operating in northern Indiana. 

There is a menu of classes of personal interest to learners on everything

from taxidermy to home repair.  Skills in the classes overlap with

job skills-- they are carefully designed to do this.  My favorite

class involves workers refurbishing a house for a women's shelter. 

I'd try the ERIC system and put in search descriptors like "steel and basic

skills" or "automotive and basic skills."

I think the key to talking with union and management is the same in

any negotiation.  Are there areas where both can win?  Classes

that are a mix of learner goals and management goals is one way. 

Classes that address learner topics of interest and incorporate skills

also called for on the job is another way.

Moderator: Tell us about your work with workplace literacy and technology


In 1998, the Peabody Journal of Education published several pieces on Literacy

Education in the 21st Century. Jamie Kirkley and I did a piece that examined

this issue in relation to workplace literacy instruction. Below are some

scenarios of workplace literacy/technology demands, which I believe have

significantly changed during the past decade.

What Literacy Demands Look Like in the New Workplace

 Restructuring and technology have changed the nature

of many job descriptions from the factory floor to the corporate office. These

changes place new literacy demands upon workers and transform the way jobs are

done. To demonstrate how new technologies and organizational changes are

affecting workplace literacy skills, we offer several vignettes based upon

current jobs.

New Demands on the Factory Floor:  Using Statistical Process and

Quality Control in Manufacturing

 Because new

technology produces products so rapidly, the costliness of mistakes is greatly

multiplied. Hourly workers must monitor the quality of what is produced, make

adjustments, and communicate compiled information so that system-wide

adjustments can be made. The example below is from an hourly job in a

wood-products plant.

Several times an hour, the machine operator takes samples of length

of planking and measures the length of each unit. This involves using and

reading a digital printout. The data are then recorded by keying results

into a data management program. This is done each quarter hour, and then

data from several trials are tracked. The machine operator uses a computer

with menu choices to calculate means and the range of the sample values.

This information is graphed, and the worker must interpret the graphs in

terms of how much measurements exceed acceptable parameters for quality.

The worker needs to decide whether production is sufficiently within pre-set

parameters and, if not, by how much to adjust the settings on the machine.

Too small an adjustment will not solve the problem, and too great a change

will turn under-weight into over-weight, producing a new production problem.

Keep in mind that the machine is still in production while all this is

happening, and the worker's speed in dealing with the sample and making

the decision will avoid costly wastage of materials and production time.

Because of the rapid speed of machinery, a thirty-minute delay can mean

the waste of several thousand dollars of product. Toward the end of the

day, the worker will use a word-processing program to type a brief end-of-shift

report describing decisions, anticipated problems, downtime, and reaction

times if help was requested from another department to perform minor repairs

upon a machine. These reports are sometimes e-mailed to a central site

where patterns of machine problems are examined and decisions made about

replacement and major repair.

New Demands: Managing Production in Quality Control


One way in which the workplace has become more democratic is in the

way teams of workers make decisions about how to achieve goals of higher

quality and more rapid response. This form of workplace democracy calls

for greater literacy, communication, and problem-solving skills. Quality

monitoring and just-in-time production also figure into most team decisions.

The example below is from an ISO certified sub-contractor producing electric

motors for the automotive industry.

 Six hourly workers representing activities at various stages of

production meet once or twice weekly in what are called "quality assurance

teams.” The purposes of such teams are to identify problems, jointly set

new productivity goals, and discuss the results of monitoring productivity

at various stages of production (i.e., where are the mistakes or slow-downs

happening and what can be done about it?).

 A typical team problem is too much inventory (i.e., skids loaded

with parts or finished product) on the floor. A major productivity goal

is "just in time" production so material is ready for the next stage of

production or for the customer exactly when it is needed. This reduces

inventory stored on the floor, saving warehouse space and reducing spoilage,

breakage, and pilfering.

 To solve problems like this, team members may call up inventory

graphs on the computer and either print them directly or use desk-top publishing

programs to arrange them in meaningful handouts. These are often line graphs,

which record the amount of inventory in various locations at various points

in time (i.e., by the hour, day, week, or month). Synthesizing information

from these graphs can allow the team to determine when build-ups of excess

inventory (i.e., parts or finished product) are occurring. Team members

will offer problem-solving suggestions on why the build-ups are occurring.

Additional information is then gathered on suggested possibilities. For

example, what would happen if a worker at stage 3 went to help at stage

4 every other hour?  This can involve computations using simple calculators.

In some cases, custom-designed data management programs do calculations

and plot graphs. Alternative computations of output might involve computing

half-day splits of time or two hour splits of time. Speculations about

machine breakdowns might involve checking when the machine was last overhauled

and re calibrated, looking up projected times between maintenance, and

computing time to go. Pulling up machine records of the questionable machine

during a comparable time during the last maintenance cycle would provide

information to justify a call for early maintenance. New and old work orders

would be scanned to see how many parts are called for to complete a special

order which took a machine off line. Based on performance so far, computations

and estimates would be made for how long it would remain off line.

 The culmination of all this brainstorming and quantitative information

gathering would be a provisional plan which would be typed into the word

processor for distribution to workers not at the meeting, but involved

with various stages of production. This agreed upon plan would identify

which workers and machines would do what tasks during which times. It would

involve setting goals, counting and making measurements at regular intervals,

and recording data to monitor the various stages of production. After 5

days time, the quality assurance team would meet again briefly to determine

how well goals had been met and how well problems had been solved.

New Demands for Solving Problems in Customer


 Customer service and sales are two of the more rapidly growing

occupational areas. Increasingly, competition for business is based upon

the quality of service provided. This usually means that good decisions

must be made by the person who is providing the initial service. Workers

without a great deal of training and education are now expected to use

technology to gather information, rapidly answer questions, and often make

decisions formerly made by managers. In the example below, computer technology

and retrieval makes accessible to every customer service representative

the equivalent of thousands of pages of information. Rapidly accessing

accurate information, updating the information base, and making good decisions

have now become integral parts of many jobs.

 A customer service representative (CSR) handling billing inquiries

receives a telephone request for late payment. After asking for the customer's

name, the CSR can pull up the whole of that customer's record on a computer

screen and check on the payment history. Rapid screen reading of print

organized in blocks of information is required. At this point, there is

an initial decision to be made: How reliable is this customer? Can any

extension of time be given? Written policy guidelines may be accessed via

a hyper-text help screen to guide the CSR. If an extension seems to be

in order, the CSR then keys another hyper-text screen to consult a set

of rules concerning the length of such an extension and whether some percentage

of the bill must be paid immediately. After calculating the effect of the

rules (in this case using another function of the computer), the CSR tells

the customer the result-and probably generates a discussion on the possibility

of the customer paying as required. If the CSR is unable to answer the

questions during the brief time the customer is on the phone, a letter

will need to be sent. A word-processing program with several dozen form

letters will be called up on the screen. The CSR will be expected to select

an appropriate form letter from menus, modify the address and body of the

form letter appropriately, and print a letter and envelope to be mailed

to the customer.


Managing Information in the Office of Today

A secretary at a middle-sized corporation begins her work day by turning

on her computer. Much of the staff communicates through electronic mail

rather than by memos or phone calls. She uses her computer system as both

a mail and information manager. After she opens her e-mail account by typing

in her name and password, she finds 15 new messages. She first scans the

computer screen for the e-mail addresses and determines which messages

are most important to read. She skips over less important messages until

she has more time. As she reads each message, she makes handwritten notes

of actions she needs to take, such as reserving a conference room and ordering

word processing software for the new computers. She then composes an e-mail

message to the work team to which she is assigned informing them of an

upcoming meeting, and then sends the message to them. She saves each message

in an appropriate folder on the computer. Her computer's folders are similar

to folders in filing cabinets--she uses them as a place to save or store


 Her next task is to prepare charts for a team presentation to

be made later today. She reads instructions from an e-mail sent by a team

member requesting her to make a chart that shows the fluctuating prices

of oil over the past two years and then create a graph that will show the

patterns of prices over the past 12 years. She opens her computer's spreadsheet

software, which consists of small boxes or cells that enable her to create

tables and graphs and store the information. This is a complex, multi-step

process which requires her to use hyper-text help screens several times

to clarify questions she has.

 The day will continue with requests for information, documents

to be designed, meetings to be scheduled, and two or three emergencies

arriving via fax, e-mail, and telephone call. The secretary's day will

be a stream of information to be understood, processed and communicated.

Patterns Across Jobs

 The jobs highlighted in most of these vignettes are held by individuals

with little or no post-secondary education. The pay is above minimum wage,

but not by an extraordinary amount. Over the past decade, most of these

workers have seen a steady increase in the skills and flexibility demanded

of them and they have also seen fellow workers released as employers "down-sized"

to become more competitive. Because there are fewer of them in a given

department, they have less social support and must function independently

much more often. When they spend time with others, it is often in a scheduled

meeting with its own new set of literacy and communication demands. When

work demands increase beyond their capacity to function, they face the

additional chore of informally training temporary workers. The most competent

and highly trained of these temporary workers may be offered full-time

positions. On top of all this, newly arriving technologies keep the new

demands coming. The variations of change and demand across occupations

and locations makes it difficult to generalize, but some patterns of changed

demand do seem apparent. Technological support has made it possible for

lower paid workers to do some of the tasks formerly performed by more highly

trained workers. In one sense, the technology "dumbs down" the skill needed

to do a task since it walks a lesser trained individual through how to

perform complex tasks. In another sense, the technology makes jobs more

complex since individuals without much training are expected to perform

multiple tasks and roles which are often far beyond the few simple tasks

which were part of former job descriptions.

 In health care, for example, some of the monitoring tasks formerly

performed by nurses are now performed by Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA's)

or Patient Care Technicians (PNT's) who use technology to gather information,

directly enter data into bedside computers for central storage and examination,

and make some decisions based upon information gathered. Patient charts

are no longer at the end of the patient's bed. Down-sized staffs of doctors

and nurses examine records on-screen from a centralized location. Nursing

assistants with new responsibilities are the most immediate point of contact

with patients since nurses and doctors see patients less often. In addition

to monitoring and entering information into data-bases, nursing assistants

must be able to process information and make decisions in emergency situations.

Nursing assistants provide some therapies, answer some patient questions,

and have increased responsibilities for patient care. They also participate

in team meetings where they are expected to provide information, take notes,

and help make decisions based upon information from a variety of sources.

Laboratory work in many health-care facilities has also changed with technology

making it possible for a few professionals and a cadre of lesser trained

technicians with technological support to perform analysis work previously

done by many professionals.

 Though rules for decision-making are still evolving, the pattern

in health-care is similar to patterns in manufacturing and other service

industries. Cost-containment has led to downsizing and job restructuring.

Fewer highly trained individuals process more information, which is gathered

by others. These others are not trained to a professional level, but are

required to have broader skills and training than previously required.

Technology has increased the job demands of lower skilled workers who are

expected (with technological support) to perform some tasks previously

performed by professionals. The lowest skilled, who are the first point

of contact in many service occupations, must perform an expanded set of

job tasks, participate in decision-making teams, and even perform some

professional level tasks while being paid relatively low wages.

Subscriber: This is in response to an earlier remark you made about

the need to educate the people who hold our purse strings about the amount

of time that is needed for adults in literacy programs (in our case in

an ESL literacy program) to make progress. Yes, absolutely, but how do

we do this? As you know well, the move is all towards holding us accountable

( i.e., performance -based funding) for having students reach the stated

goals in as short a period of time as possible. Increasingly I find vocational

training programs are "creaming" and taking only those students who they

are sure will be successful in the short period of time. It's quite disheartening.

Moderator: In the October issue of Forbes Magazine an article was published

called "The Crisis That Isn't." This article claims that the rates of functional

literacy are untrue. Here is the link to the article on line  http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2000/1002/6609086a.html.

I encourage everyone to read it. Feel free to comment to the list or

otherwise write to the author.

Subscriber: Thank you for pointing out this article. My comments:

1. The author clearly does not believe that government either can or

should do anything to help improve the skills of the less-skilled among

us.  This despite the fact that he may support public education at

the K-12 level (though he may not).  His criticism of the literacy

"problem" should be viewed in light of this, so that we (on this list)

don't start a very long debate about his politics v. the legitimate criticisms

that he raises.  While we all appreciate the opportunity to vent our

frustrations at those who would remove any and all public funding for literacy-related

efforts, it would be preaching to the choir for all (or many) of us to

chime in with why we disagree with his politics.

In short, I propose that we recognize that (a) if you're subscribed

to this list, then (b) you probably agree that something can be done to

address literacy deficit issues, thus (c) we do not need to explain to

each other why we disagree with the author on this point.

2. The author correctly points out that "literacy" is a less-than-ideal

appellation to apply to the diverse skills classified by the NALS. 

I agree with him wholeheartedly on this point. Whenever I am speaking to

anyone outside of the adult education field, I have to use other terms

such as basic skills, etc. (This of course is a topic that long-time subscribers

to this list will note has been discussed numerous times.) My personal

perspective is that professionals in this field (as well as NIFL) run the

risk of marginalizing themselves by constantly referring to "literacy problems"

as opposed to some other name. The key, of course, is coming up with an

alternative that is better than "literacy.” I personally prefer "basic


3. The issue of how much government can do to help those with low literacy/basic

skills is an open one. While there are many anecdotal success stories from

the adult education field, the lack of systematic evidence provides a daunting

challenge to those in the adult education field who would like to argue

for more (or even sustained) resources. I have seen enough anecdotal and/or

incomplete evidence to believe that interventions can and do work. But

until there is more systematic scientific evidence available, adult education

professionals will have a difficult time defending themselves against attacks

such as this author's. (For a review of the research, I encourage everyone

to take a look at Hal Beder's report for NCSALL: "The Outcomes and Impacts

of Adult Literacy Education in the United States" NCSALL Report #6, Jan

1999.  This is available for downloading at: http://gseweb.harvard.edu/~ncsall/research/reports.htm

Speaker: I am going to try to rise to Alec's challenge that we not respond

to all of the barbs and implicit assumptions in Dan Seligman's piece in

Forbes. It is difficult since the piece is written as a heavy opinion piece

designed to elicit those very reactions. I doubt that even Seligman wishes

to dispense with all prison education because we do not really want qualified

bank robbers.

He does touch on a rhetorical vulnerability of literacy educators and

policy advocates. We have used figures from the National Adult Literacy

Survey as a fairly simplistic call to action. This survey, as well as similar

surveys in Canada, Australia, and England all show about the same general

distribution of low, middle, and high performance. For years, Tom Sticht

has commented on this and the same pattern in previous surveys.  He

wants us to recognize that general intelligence is partly at play, here.

It is also true that those in the lowest SES groups of each country are

more heavily among those performing at the bottom. This suggests opportunity

may have something to do with it, too.

We educators have argued and will continue to argue about how much performance

on such tests is the result of innate abilities and how much the result

of real educational opportunities in schools and homes. My judgment is

that it is a mix and pretty close to 50/50. We do know that individuals

can improve and that it sometimes takes a significant amount of effort

beyond the average. Without that effort, the normal curve is not tilted

very much.

Seligman also chastises the NALS survey for going beyond a simple definition

of literacy. I have a colleague who claims that "pure" literacy is simply

recognizing sound/letter correspondences and how to make out the meaning

of simple sentences. The rest beyond that is learning to think, draw inferences,

and having access to increasing large knowledge and vocabulary bases. I

will not argue. It seems to me that the point is we expect people in developed

societies to make critical sense of these more complex things and that

many cannot. It also seems pretty clear to me that many people can't due

to lack of opportunity or because they were never taught how to use specific

skills or master specific knowledge bases. (Some people can teach these

things to themselves and others clearly need additional help). As a taxpayer,

I'm very interested in monitoring who can do what and much less interested

in holding to a simple definition of literacy for aesthetics’ sake.

We search and scout for athletic talent in all sorts of places and provide

substantial support to develop that talent-- mostly for our own entertainment.

Given the fact that innate ability is partly at play in being able to perform

complex literacy tasks, I agree with Seligman that we will probably never

bring everyone to the highest levels. It is also true, that unless we want

social splits in developed nations to widen to very dangerous levels, we

need to help as many people as possible to perform at levels high enough

to increase their life choices. Education is part of this mix. Technological

supports to help people gather information and make decisions are probably

also likely to be part of this mix. So, too, is a recognition that as things

change ALL of us need to continue learning.

The sub-text of Seligman's message-- ain't no problem here and even

if there were it couldn't be fixed is in my judgment dead wrong.

Subscriber: Is there a national listing of potential funding for workplace

literacy issues? Where do workplace literacy programs go for funding?

Speaker: I know of no single national funding list and funding has tended

to move from the national to the state level. In addition, funding in most

states is often found in several different areas (i.e., Departments of

Education through Adult Education, Departments of Commerce through special

training program funds, and in some states special set-aside funds for

workplace literacy support). On top of this, some funding comes from employer

and union sources.

A majority of workplace literacy (basic skills) programs draw funding

from more than one source. Since funding tends to have strings and requirements

attached (i.e., equipment or materials can sometimes only be used by learners

accepted by a funders criteria), program providers with multiple funding

sometimes have to be very flexible and creative.


I am looking for workplace education professional development

programs. Do you have any recommendations for interesting models or certification


Subscriber: There is a model program in Illinois administered by The

Center, which provides 40 hours of training resulting in a Workplace Basic

Skills Instructor certificate. The program director and developer is Linda

Mrowicki, who can be reached at 847/803-3535.

Indiana University has a series of distance education courses, which

focus upon adult literacy, workplace literacy, and family literacy. I believe

Penn State has a similar adult literacy oriented program.

Speaker: I don't know of programs which focus purely on workplace education

professional development.  Indiana University has a series of distance

education courses which focus upon adult literacy, workplace literacy,

and family literacy.  I believe Penn State has a similar adult literacy

oriented program.

Moderator: I would like to thank Larry for being our guest speaker.

His participation has been very interesting and helpful. I hope subscribers

enjoyed his time with us; and we will continue to look for additional guest