One Step Forward Initiative - Guide to Adult Education for Work: Transforming Adult Education to Build a Skilled Workforce

This guide (based on background and research from the One Step Forward Initiative) informs practitioners, policymakers, and employers about strategies and practices that transform their adult education programs into effective programs that transition low-skilled adults to work and postsecondary programs.

Dr. A. Theis
J. Kraemer
M. Clagett
R. Uhade
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Key Links Inc.
Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL)
Workforce Development Strategies Group (WDSG) at the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type
This guide (based on background and research from the One Step Forward Initiative) informs practitioners, policymakers, and employers about strategies and practices that transform their adult education programs into effective programs that transition low-skilled adults to work and postsecondary programs. Their approach, “adult education for work” describes how a career pathways system could be structured to focus structured by focusing on program quality elements in seven focus areas including:  Program Design; Curriculum and Instruction; Assessment and Credentialing; High-Quality Teaching; Support and Follow-Up Services that Encourage Access and Retention, Connections to the Business Community; and Monitoring and Accountability Systems. Also included in the Guide are benchmarks of promising practices and a self-assessment tool that program administrators can use to evaluate their program and plan strategically for needed change. Study Guide: Study Guide for Purposeful Exploration of Adult Education for Work: Teaching and Learning in a Work Context

This study guide is intended to help LINCS users become more familiar with a resource in the Workforce Education Collection. Adult education practitioners can use it as a professional learning tool. Adaptations may be made to the activities included for individual or program-wide professional development activities. The topic for this study guide is teaching and learning in a work context. This topic was chosen to help build a knowledge base on this timely and critical topic and to introduce the skills needed to apply that knowledge in practice.


What the experts say

Program Improvement Expert Review:

This resource guide is a valuable tool for both local and state adult education leaders who are interested in transforming their current delivery system into one that includes a significant focus on preparing adult learners for postsecondary education or training and family-sustaining employment. Its user-friendly approach lends itself to practical applications.  The focus areas and quality elements can serve as a starting point to determine necessary adaptations to address specific local and state needs.

Specifically, for state and local adult educators:

  • The report itself serves as an effective communication tool to engage local and state adult education practitioners in informed discussions for moving their delivery systems forward.  Through such mechanisms as focus groups, meetings, webinars, discussion groups, study circles, etc., the field can begin or expand a targeted dialogue around the opportunities and challenges of embracing the Adult Education for Work focus.
  • The report serves as a meaningful starting point and common ground for building or expanding the inter-agency relationships necessary to make the system work.  The quality elements provide a structure around which inter-agency planning can proceed in a productive and efficient manner.
  • The seven focus areas (program design, curriculum and instruction, assessment and credentialing, high-quality teaching, support and follow-up services, connections to the business community, and monitoring and accountability systems) provide a good framework for designing strategic plans.
  • The twenty-three quality elements aligned to the focus areas provide the specificity needed to assess current practices and determine areas of improvement or expansion. 
  • The promising practices aligned to the various quality elements provide examples of real life applications with URLs for additional information.  These can serve as a useful resource for local and state programs interested in particular initiatives.
  • The focus areas and quality elements can be used to set clear expectations for program quality and adapted for use within program standards or indicators of program quality, program monitoring tools, and RFPs.
  • By using the quality elements as a self assessment, state and local practitioners can gain valuable information to inform necessary professional development, technical assistance, and policy changes.
  • Since the ‘Adult Education for Work’ concept is relatively new, the report does not include evidence of effectiveness.  The quality elements, however, can be used to inform the data sets that state and local programs will need to begin measuring short- and long-term impact.

Workforce Education Expert Review:

The resource, Guide to Adult Education for Work, is part of the One Step Forward Initiative developed by the Workforce Development Group at the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).  It is intended for adult education practitioners and policy makers who want to shift the goals of adult education programs toward work and postsecondary education.  (The documentation states that another guide, also part of the One Step ForwardInitiative, is intended for employers.)

The Background Paper for the One Step Forward Initiative  provides the theoretical background, extensive citations of research studies (including the work of the National Commission on Adult Literacy), and rationale for the development of both guides.  It makes a strong case for the importance and necessity of systemic change in adult education programming so that it is oriented toward work and postsecondary education.

The strength of the resource is that each benchmark that describes a step in the transition process is accompanied by an example of actual implementation with the names of key persons who may be contacted for further information.  These examples are important because they help the readers understand how to implement policy changes into practice.

The final section provides two case studies of holistic change efforts involving various partners.  The first is at a state level (Oregon), and the second is at a city level (Philadelphia).  At the end of the resource a Self-Assessment tool presents the benchmarks with a 4-point rating scale that encourages partners (adult education practitioners and policy makers, workforce development agencies, employers, etc.) in the process of change to examine their efforts.  The tool can also be used by individual program personnel to rate their program in the process of change.

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