New Technologies for Literacy and Adult Education: A Global Perspective

This short book, using a global perspective, explores ways in which technology can support adult literacy and adult education, with an emphasis on those living in poverty.

D. Wagner
R. Kozma
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
International Literacy Institute
National Center on Adult Literacy
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

The book takes two approaches to utilize Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in teaching literacy. One approach stresses teaching the traditionally conceived of aspects of literacy (e.g., decoding text, text comprehension) using technology as a delivery and instructional tool, the other, builds on literacy as a skill base to incorporate comprehension and application of knowledge to problem solve and create new knowledge. In the latter, technology becomes not just a delivery method but a skill learned by the adult literacy learner, thereby linking technology and literacy. Wagner and Kozma outline new skills that should be incorporated into the definition of literacy and, therefore, literacy curricula. The authors provide a landscape of what already exists in the field and then they move on to the rationale for technology use and how to incorporate and make technology relevant to a variety of literacy programs around the world (specific examples are provided). They finish with implications and options for the field, as well as, changes needed and policy recommendations.

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What the experts say

This is one of the best sources that addresses both adult literacy and technology.  It  addresses and makes recommendations in the areas of literacy, adult education, and lifelong learning in non-formal and formal learning as related to the potential benefits of utilizing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). It is geared towards and should be valuable to policymakers, researchers, practitioners and donors and focuses on international programs.

The primary goal of the book is to explore ways that technology can support the development of youth and adult literacy.  Although the main thrust of the book is policy, it contains numerous ideas and suggestions for how technology can and should be used in literacy programs.  These suggestions are as applicable in the U. S. as they are in developing countries.

The first section is packed with information on literacy and development and changing definitions of literacy within a global and technological context.  At the core of the book, literacy in the traditional sense is addressed, however, the authors approach the topic from the standpoint that an expanded vision of and recognition of multiple literacies is of value to nations, communities, and individuals in terms of furthering education, improving society, and bettering economic standing in a knowledge economy.

The technology section gives some interesting background on technology and internet use internationally.  This resource was written in 2005, therefore some of the information is dated, however the authors' approach towards the use of technology, as well as the topics that they address are relevant in 2010 and will be into the foreseeable future. The teaching suggestions are also creative and valid.

Key issues and valuable insights:

  • They provide background on the UN Literacy Decade and international efforts and information on global literacy trends;
  • They provide background on definitions of literacy—traditional and expanded views;
  • They point out that adults learning to read have the advantage of increased experience and more sophisticated language skills than children;
  • They show that information and communication technology can be invaluable in increasing the cognitive skills of adults;
  • They see writing as an integral part of the literacy process. This is a valuable insight that is not often recognized in the field;
  • They look at technology as facilitating a broader vision for literacy that encompasses social and economic development and is community centered.  This counters the academic content based approaches found in many US programs;
  • They address implications for the use of emerging technologies;
  • They enumerate the ways in which sophisticated computer programs provide feedback to the learner and result in active engaged learning;
  • They stress the use of all types of media from radio, television, CD’s to networked computers in delivering literacy services. This again is overlooked by many practitioners;
  • The critique of online and e-learning is extremely helpful for practitioners and programs who are thinking of going that route;
  • They look to the future where sophisticated voice recognition and text-to-speech software can be used in ESL programs.  As costs come down this may even be feasible for some programs;
  • Addresses costs of technologies and provides examples and analysis of existing programs;
  • They offer criteria for the adoption of technology into programs and even offer a formula for cost effectiveness.
  • They point out the need for accountability in literacy programs, but do acknowledge the difficulty in evaluating and assessing progress;
  • They make the case for a broadly defined technological literacy that involves building knowledge communities.  This means creating and sharing knowledge and the skills needed to do this;
  • They suggest that Community Technology Centers that are multigenerational and multipurpose go a long way to making literacy and technology available even in poor communities.  If literacy is embedded in the highly relevant content such as employment, nutrition and health information it becomes much more relevant to the learner;

They end with five types of investment and four policy recommendations that really are intended to influence national decision makers.

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