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Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning

This resource reports on a study undertaken to investigate the levels of literacy and language proficiency needed for adult learners to undertake independent online learning.
Author(s): 
H. Silver-Pacuilla
S. Reder
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
National Institute for Literacy
American Institute for Research, Portland State University
Published: 
2008
Resource Type: 
Research
Number of Pages: 
43
Abstract: 

 This resource reports on a study undertaken to investigate the levels of literacy and language proficiency needed for adult learners to undertake independent online learning. Researchers identified that no concrete threshold exists; rather, the relationship among the learner’s skills, the opportunities afforded to the learner, and available supports determines what is needed for the learner to be successful. Learners at all levels of language and literacy proficiency were found to be both eager and able to successfully engage in online learning if the above three elements were present. Furthermore, adult learners are strongly motivated to gain these skills as they perceive them as being related to job improvement. This report offers information on how to balance the elements to optimize adult learning. The authors address creating opportunities for learning, instruction, program planning, and content development.

 

What the Experts Say: 
This report synthesizes findings and data from three types of sources (large-scale studies, research literature, and expert and practitioner wisdom) to draw conclusions that are informative for those who design online learning options and for those who offer or teach online learning for adult education students. The key findings align with research and best practices related to distance learning. The sources cited may seem dated as technology changes outpace the research and reporting process. And, while the literature review is broad it at times lacks depth making it difficult to draw concrete conclusions.

The report concludes with the following key findings:

  • Increased research and development is necessary to guide the design of learning environments and activities that fully utilize technology.
  • Technology is important for work readiness.
  • Community-based, authentic learning environments, activities, and products should tap into adults’ existing family and social networks that have proven critical to learning pursuits with technol­ogy.
  • Adult Education must nurture self-directed skills by providing facilitated access to online, independent learning environments.
  • Access to the internet continues to be a challenge for many adult students.
  • Evaluation data are needed to determine how users are interacting and learning with freely available online sites such as English for All,TV 411, and California Distance Learning Project Online and whether these sites are or could be stepping stones into more formal courses of study.
  • Emerging Web 2.0 technologies have the potential to reach new populations and provide authentic learning and communication.
Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research: Data was gathered using large-scale surveys (such as the NAAL, see pg. 5 of the document for all surveys included in the analysis), an extensive literature review (see pgs. 15-16, 21, 24 for summary tables), and learning from the field (e.g., talking with experts [see pg. 28 for a list], technology list serve discussion forums).  Four primary questions drove the analysis (see pgs. 4-5). Researchers identified themes which were then continually compared and contrasted to discern relevance. 

This document is particularly useful for individuals who design online learning options and for those who offer or teach online learning for adult education students.

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