Learners' Engagement in Adult Literacy Education (NCSALL Research Brief)

This research brief describes a qualitative study conducted by NCSALL researchers to identify and examine contextual factors that contribute to engagement in adult education.

H. Beder
J. Tomkins
P. Medina
R. Riccioni
W. Deng
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

The purpose of the study was to examine how learning contexts shape learner engagement. Data collection for the research included video recordings, ethnographic observations, and interviews in 6 adult education classrooms. In their analysis, the researchers found that the Individual Group Instruction (IGI) model was used in a majority of the adult education classrooms that were studied. The brief summarizes the results of the study into 3 categories of learner engagement: engagement with materials; engagement with teachers; and engagement with other learners. In the IGI model, instructional materials are the object of engagement and the instructor serves more as a facilitator than as a ‘conveyor of content’. Many of the brief’s recommendations for future research and related professional development are specific to the IGI model. The brief concludes with questions in the cognitive and social domains that might be posed in future research on learner engagement.

What the experts say

Reviewer 1: I think this research brief may be of significant value to the AE field, but perhaps not so much for the findings it reports as for the recommendations it makes related to further research and professional development needed. The brief itself is clearly written and presents its information simply and directly. I do wonder, however, if its title might not be misleading; the learner engagement being described in the brief is a characteristic, not necessarily of “Adult Literacy Education”, but of one delivery system being used in the field, Individualized Group Instruction (IGI). Nevertheless the information presented on 3 forms of learner engagement and the factors that shape each was interesting.

What I think is much more compelling is the brief’s articulation of the research that is currently missing and sorely needed around the processes (cognitive and social) of engagement and the effect and outcomes of individualized group instruction for adults (especially in contrast to other “group” models that feature more substantive learner/learner and learner/teacher interaction). I was also really pleased to see the focus on professional development that would support teachers in enhancing learner engagement in the context of the IGI system. If we are, as the authors suggest, to accept the IGI system as the norm for instructional delivery given limited resources and multiple other environmental challenges to quality ALE teaching and learning, then it only strengthens the brief’s usefulness that it suggests specific content for future teacher education related to that system.

Reviewer 2:  The reality is that many adult education programs use the Integrated Group Instruction (IGI) model of instruction, where students work individually with pre-selected materials and the instructor goes from student to student, working in a one-to-one situation.  This type of classroom is common for reasons of necessity, attrition, waiting lists, and open enrollment.  This paper provides some needed background information for teachers who are working in the IGI classroom and provides recommendations for further study and areas of professional development, all within an easily accessible resource.

This resource sheds light on the factors that may help to shape student success in an IGI classroom. For the novice instructor who has little training in the methods utilized in an IGA classroom, this paper illuminates what may work and why it may work.  Professional development for teachers in this type of classroom should focus on understanding the choices of instructional resources and materials available in texts and software so that the best decisions can be made regarding selections of materials for use in the classroom. In an IGI classroom, instructors need to know when students disengage or are in unproductive engagement and be able to effectively address these challenges.

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