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Adult Education: Finally Hip to the Game

25 August 2014
News

EdSurge, a leading site for educators, entrepreneurs and investors involved in education technology has received a grant from the Joyce Foundation to bring more awareness to young adult learning. This article is the third article of a three-part series from Alexander Russo highlighting challenges, opportunities, and trends in the adult learning market.

Alexander Russo

August 19, 2014

Not too long ago, Santa Ana College instructor Susan Gaer found herself in class describing the steps required to obtain a passport. Her students – mostly English Language Learners of varying ages – began typing notes into their cell phones. This alarmed Gaer, given the somewhat complicated process and the limited functionality of the phones her students were using (a mix of smartphones and feature phones).

“I was almost screaming at them that they had to use pen and paper,” she recalls. But the students weren’t convinced. “’Calm down, teacher,’” she recalls one of them telling her. “’We can use our phones just fine.’” And they did.

One of the most exciting innovations/trends in adult education is the emergence of a small but growing set of mobile and/or game-oriented products and programs that allow adult learners to gain skills on their own away from class or as part of a program, without any need for a laptop, desktop, or computer lab.

Mobile learning for adults can deliver instruction in small, bite-sized snacks rather than comprehensive, multi-course meals. Adult education students often don’t have time to sit down and do traditional homework, notes Gaer.

With mobile technology, “everything the teacher can do in the classroom the student can do at home,” says adult education expert Nell Eckersley, who directs the  NYC Regional Adult Education Network and is also a national expert for the LINCS Community Technology & Learning Group.

Estimates of the level of use of mobile technology in adult education range from 20 percent – which could include little more than students texting teachers about being late for class – to 10 percent where mobile technology is a regular part of adult education instruction and student learning. (WorldEd’s Steve Quann estimates it at even lower, 5 percent.)

Advocates like Skylab Learning’s Alex Chisholm predict that adult education will soon experience the same shift in mentality that’s happened in K-12 education, where handheld devices were once banned but are now considered a valuable part of the learning process.

“I wouldn’t say it’s taking over adult ed,” says David Rosen, a  nationally-reknowned expert on adult education. “[But] there are small pockets of activity. It’s definitely coming along.”

Mobile For Adult Learners

In addition to commercial/consumer products being used in some places (like Lumosity, Duolingo, and Rosetta Stone), there are a small but growing number of mobile sites and apps focused on adult learning programs:

One example of a mobile game that already exists is Words2Learn, a vocabulary app for adult learners that allows them to download word lists and exercises onto a phone or tablet and use them offline during breaks or on the way to work. Quiz results are uploaded when students – some of them are health care students – log on, allowing teachers to monitor progress.

The  Johnson Center for Simulation at Pine Technical College in Minnesota has developed a handful of games like this one for nurse’s aide students who need help with soft skills like teamwork and conflict resolution. A game focused on helping students learn how to read and use blueprints is in beta, and a game focused on the manufacturing process is under development. The older games are still in flash, but the newer ones are in HTML5, suitable for mobile use.

Even its most ardent supporters don’t think that mobile and/or gaming are the single best or most important thing to happen in adult education. For a look at other major trends and innovations, see out previous article. But looking at mobile technology in adult education reminds us that there is tremendous potential for innovation that could leapfrog what’s currently going on in K-12 and postsecondary, and potentially even lead the way

The best known example in this area is Skylab Learning (read the EdSurge profile of Skylab). As of August, Skylab is wrapping up first full implementation of a mobile learning pilot partnership with Boston-based Flower Bakery, which has four locations and roughly 40 adult learners in need of improving their English skills.

Skylab is developing courses with SEIU [Service Employees International Union] in Seattle that are slated to roll out in early 2015. It has also proposed an expanded version of the Cape Cod restaurant worker pilot that could provide mobile learning for as many as 600 ELL workers over the next two years.

There are also a growing number of programs that use mobile technology as a key part of a broader effort to help adults acquire new skills and information:

OneAmerica’s  English Innovations effort, funded in part by the Gates Foundation, was piloted in 2011-2012. Students in the 12-week program received free laptops and internet access while enrolled. LiveMocha provided the course, called ActiveEnglish. The new version of the program would feature a full mobile platform.

Another effort, dubbed,  Cell-ED, is an interactive voice and text platform for teaching basic skills. Participants are asked to respond to texts, or listen and respond to voice messages All it takes to get started is to call (or text?) in – from anywhere, anytime. No smartphone is required. Cell-ED is currently embarked on a mobile ESL [English as a Second Language] campaign with the Office of New Americans and Governor Cuomo’s office in New York.

Read the full article on EdSurge.

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