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[Note: other ALE Wiki technology pages which may be of interest include: DistanceAndPersistence, ClassroomPractices and TechGlossary ]


What does research tell us about how low-literate adults use the Internet?

  • 2015 California Adult Learner Survey Results on students' use of technology
  • Dillon-Marable, Elizabeth Putting Research to Work: Practical Strategies for Georgia's Adult Educators: Integrating Computers in Adult Basic Skills Education Volume 1, Issue 1, Summer 2005
  • Silver-Pacuilla, Heidi. Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning. National Institute for Literacy, October 2008. This summary of previous research about the language and literacy thresholds required for online learning appeared as a report for the National Institute for Literacy. In it Silver-Pacquilla describes her investigation of surveys, literature, and reports of practitioner experience. Her primary point is that there is no one threshold for success with online learning. No matter their literacy level, all learners can benefit when online environments and implementation take into account the following: task, skill-level, and supports available to the learner. Silver-Pacquilla wrote that her findings are suggestions, not definite conclusions, because of the limited research done on the topic and the rapid pace of change of learning technologies.--Jenvanek (talk) 21:16, 26 February 2013 (CST)
  • Means, Barbara. Technology and Education Change: Focus on Student Learning.Volume 42 Number 3 | Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 285 Copyright © 2010, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)
  • Adult Learners and Digital Media -- Exploring the usage of digital media with adult literacy learners 28, September, 2012. AlphaPlus, CA There is currently a dearth of research on the use of digital media in adult literacy programs. This research reports on the perceptions and experiences of ten adult learners with digital media as they work through small group sessions to create their own digital texts and then reflect on whether and how they think that digital media might help them build digital literacy skills and whether they might be able to apply these skills in their daily lives.
  • Nielsen Findings, 2005 Summary: Lower-literacy users exhibit very different reading behaviors than higher-literacy users: they plow text rather than scan it, and they miss page elements due to a narrower field of view. Lower-literacy users' approach to web-page reading is radically different from higher-literacy users. This research, conducted by Jakob Nielsen, is sponsored by Pfizer, which is trying to make its consumer health information understood by a broader audience.
  • Children's Partnership Studies, 2003. The 2003 study "includes research and recommendations to encourage the creation of low-barrier content and the careful evaluation of existing content, to ensure that low-income and underserved individuals find a wide array of the online resources they want most."
  • Zarcadoolas Christina, Mercedes Blanco, and John F. Boyer. "Unweaving the Web: an Exploratory Study of Low-Literate Adults' Navigation Skills on the World Wide Web. Journal of Health Communication, 7 (2002): 309­324. " This study is available on the Web, but at a charge, unless you access it through a library service. It is one of the most systematic studies of how low-literate adults use the Web.
  • 'Stites, R. (2004) Implications of New Learning Technologies for Adult Literacy and Learning. Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 4, 109-153. Retrieved from ' This literature review was published by the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy as a chapter in Volume 4 of the Review of Adult Learning and Literacy. The author includes research that illustrates how learning technologies (LTs) present both challenge and opportunity for adult literacy learners. The lit review explores the issue by presenting research on the characteristics of effective online learning tools and curricula, access to computers and the Internet, and programmatic or institutional requirements for effective implementation. Stites is clear that the use of LT to support adult literacy development is imperative for improving educational and occupational prospects of learners. To that end, he presents strategies for design of effective LT tools, teacher professional development, access to programs, and programmatic reform. Teachers, administrators and designers of LT for adult literacy learners are the audience for this article, though much of the research is drawn from work done to support K-12 learners. The dearth of specific research on the use of LT with ABE learners is a call for action, necessary, Stites says, to prevent these adults from being left on the wrong side of the digital divide. --Jenvanek (talk) 21:16, 26 February 2013 (CST)
  • Jacobson, Erik. (2012) Adult Basic Education in the Age of New Literacies. New Literacies and Epistemologies. Vol 42. Lankshear C. and Knobel M. (Eds.). Peter Lang Publishing. New York. This short book is a survey of academic writing about the impact of digital technologies on the field of Adult Basic Education. The book has three parts covering student learning, best practices for instruction, and the impact of policy and discourses regarding digital technologies. The first section addresses definitions of literacy in a digital age and the potential of digital technologies to increase ABE service capacity. It also explores the tendency to use technology as a new tool in an old model and provides some suggestions for how ABE programming itself can change to better make use of technology. The second section, about teaching, refers to many useful resources and strategies for integration of new technologies and the professional development required to successfully implement them. Finally, the book discusses systematic issues: agency of learners, impact of policy, environmental impacts of the proliferation of computers, and more global issues of equity and development. --Jenvanek (talk) 21:16, 26 February 2013 (CST)

What do research and professional wisdom tell us about the value and impact of integrating technology into the classroom?

  • A 2003 study by the Program Evaluation and Research Branch of the Los Angeles Unified School District looked at computer use in the adult education classroom. Among the findings were that while "the effect of computer use on student promotional rates or earned CASAS benchmarks was not statistically significant", "Students in computer use classrooms were more likely to find better jobs, get their GED/HS diplomas, and increase their community involvement", "Students in computer use classes also demonstrated greater articulation within their goal development", and "the benefits and effects of computer technology on student learning included lesson reinforcement, practice opportunities, ability for self-direction, and self-monitoring of progress". For the complete report, "A Study of the Effectiveness of LAUSD's Adult ESL/CBET Program"go to
  • A 2014 report by Linda Darling-Hammond, Molly B. Zielezinski, and Shelley Goldman from Stanford University, substantiates the value of integrating technology into projects with high-risk youth. However, their findings may hold the same promise for many adult learners and their teachers. The report speaks to the use of technology with a project-based learning approach and teacher support. This approach "has shown great potential to facilitate shifts in school culture and strengthen students’ twenty-first-century skills.” For example it shows how, by using a systemic approach, one high school that trained teachers to use project-based learning and integrate technology over the course of two years increased in graduation rates from 63 percent to 87 percent and college acceptance rates climbed from 33 percent to 78 percent. This report also touches on other related topics such as flipped learning. For the complete report, go to "Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning"

What do research and professional wisdom tell us about the use of Online and Distance Learning?

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

U.S. Department of Education 2009. Note page ix: "The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."

2014 IES-reviewed study of (higher education) Interactive Learning online

The summary below was posted by Donna Brian on the LINCS Career Pathways Group on July 9, 2014

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) reviewed the report “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from a Six-Campus Randomized Trial” and concluded that the study "meets WWC (What Works Clearinghouse) group design standards without reservations". The review can be accessed at

What is this study about?

The study investigated the effect of interactive learning online (ILO), a form of online course instruction in which computer-guided instruction substitutes for some, though not all, traditional face-to-face instruction. The study used data from 605 students enrolled in an introductory statistics courses at six public university campuses—two each from the State University of New York (SUNY); the City University of New York (CUNY) system; and the University of Maryland system.

Of the 605 students in the study, 313 were randomly assigned to hybrid ILO course sections, and the other 292 students were randomly assigned to sections taught via traditional face-to-face instruction. Based on data provided by the participating universities, the study authors examined the impact of ILO on the course pass rate (i.e., course completion with a passing grade).

What did the study find?

Pass rates in both the intervention and comparison course sections were similar (80% vs. 76%, respectively). There was no statistically significant difference between these rates.


Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., & Nygren, T. I. (2013). Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from a six-campus randomized trial. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(1), 94–111.

Project IDEAL

This is a multi-year, USDOE-funded consortium of over twenty states that are using distance learning in adult basic education, adult secondary education and ESL/ESOL Working Papers, Pennsylvania Distance Learning Project Reports, and other publications will be found at

Working Papers include:

  • Petty, L. I, Shafer, D., & Johnston, J. (2004). Beyond the Classroom: Six States Develop Distance Programs for Adult Learners (Working Paper 6). Download (54 pages, 717k)
  • Johnston, J. (2004). A Pilot Test of Study Groups: Professional Development for Experienced Distance Teachers (Working Paper 5). Download (33 pages, 1.4mb)
  • Petty, L. I., Shafer, D., & Johnston, J. (2004). Exploring Policy Issues and Options in Distance Education for Adult Learners (Working Paper 4). Download (25 pages, 314k)
  • Petty, L. I., (Ed.) (2004). Using Assessment to Guide Instructional Planning for Distance Learners (Working Paper 3). (1) P. Carmen and L. Forlizzi, The Use of Checklists to Assess Adult Learners: Examples from Pennsylvania; (2) K. McCoy and L. Reese, Using Portfolios to Assess Student Progress: Ohio Uniform Standardized Portfolio for Adult Education; and (3) J. Johnston and S. Lonn, Using Online Quizzes to Assess Student Progress. Download (34 pages, 399k)
  • Johnston, J., (2004). Measuring Seat Time and Educational Progress in Distance Education (Working Paper 2). Download (34 pages, 501k)
  • Young, S. J., Johnston, J., & Hapgood, S. (2002). Assessment and Accountability Issues in Distance Education for Adult Learners (Working Paper 1). Download (37 pages, 472k); Executive Summary (4 pages, 207k)

Pennsylvania Distance Learning ProjectResearch Reports include:

  • Petty, L. I., & Johnston, J. (2003). Adult Education in Non-Classroom Settings: A Pilot Test in Pennsylvania. Phase III: October, 2002-June, 2003: Executive Summary. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (6 pages, 148k)
  • Petty, L. I., & Johnston, J. (2002). Adult Education in Non-Classroom Settings: A Pilot Test in Pennsylvania. Phase II: October, 2001-June, 2002. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (49 pages, 238k); Executive Summary (4 pages, 254k)
  • Petty, L. I., & Johnston, J. (2001). Adult Education in Non-Classroom Settings: A Pilot Test in Pennsylvania. Phase I: Jan-June, 2001. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (23 pages, 52k); Abstract (1 page, 11k)

Other resources include:

  • Askov, E., Johnston, J., Petty, L. I., & Young, S. J. (2003). Expanding Access to Adult Literacy with Online Distance Education. Cambridge, MA: NCSALL, Harvard University. Download (109 pages, 672k)
  • Johnston, J., & Toms Barker, L. (Eds.) (2002). Assessing the Impact of Technology in Teaching and Learning: A Sourcebook for Evaluators. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (191 pages, 424k)
  • Johnston, J. (2001). The Potential of Technology in Adult Basic Education. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (4 pages 54k)
  • Johnston, J., Young, S. J., & Petty, L. I. (2001). National Field Test of Workplace Essential Skills. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (74 pages, 147k); Executive Summary (7 pages, 25k); Abstract (2 pages, 16k)
  • Johnston, J., Petty, L. I., & Young, S. J. (2001). Using TV411 in a Facilitated Group. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (72 pages, 147k); Abstract (2 pages, 12k)
  • Johnston, J., Petty, L. I., & Young, S. J. (2000). Using TV411 at Home: A Pilot Test of Home View and Outreach Models. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (87 pages, 786k); Abstract (1 page, 7k)
  • Johnston, J., & Young, S. J. (1998). LiteracyLink Pilot Test, Fall 1998. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Download (83 pages, 356k)
  • Johnston, J., Brzezinski, E., & Stites, R. (1996). Executive Summary of the Evaluation of the Pilot Implementation of Crossroads Café. Download (7 pages, 2.31mb)
  • Johnston, J., Brzezinski, E., & Stites, R. (1995). Crossroads Café: Evaluation of the Fall 1995 Pilot Implementation. Download (41 pages, 1.41mb)

Massachusetts Anywhere Anytime ABE DL Project

Meeting of the Minds Symposium

December, 2004. Sacramento, CA

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)

Studies of Adults using online learning in Postsecondary Education

If you know of other citations of adult education distance learning research that should be listed, please add them here.

What do research and professional wisdom tell us about the use of Distance Learning (DL) in the classroom?

But....isn't this a contradiction? If distance learning has the teacher and learner separated by space and possibly time, what does it mean to have distance learning in the classroom? Here are some examples of how distance learning is used in adult literacy education (including English language learning) classrooms:

  • In the classroom or computer lab, students learn how   to use distance learning, and then they can enroll in distance learning courses when they complete classroom learning, in between classes, or while they are enrolled in class. Students who learn how to use distance learning in the classroom can, if they need to "stop out," stay enrolled in the program using its distance learning option, and then return to class when their schedules and lives can accommodate this.
  • Students take college prep (or regular college) courses online, while they are enrolled in a GED or adult diploma preparation or transition-to-college program. They do this from their program's computer lab, from a computer in their classroom, from home, from work, or in a library or community computing center.
  • An ESOL student who wants supplementary instruction could use videotapes, CD-ROMs or, in some cases, on-line instruction from:

For more information on these and other adult education distance learning products see

Is blended or hybrid learning effective?

Note: the emphasis of this question is on classroom or face-to-face tutorial plus  online or video instruction. Blended learning could be offered anywhere, inside or outside class: in a lab at the same or different site as the class or tutorial; viewed on a cd, dvd, videotape player, on an electronic tablet, e-reader, smart phone or on a computer or other device at home, in a library or community computing center, or at work; or anywhere on a portable dvd player, ipod or other portable learning assistant.

Early studies from California and Pennsylvania would suggest that it is effective:

1. A 2003 Sacramento County Office of Education TECH21 study comparing four learning approaches found that those which showed the most learning gains used distance learning materials:

  • Learners studying English For All (EFA) online with an online instructor for several hours per week were second only to a classroom course using supplementary EFA materials that met for 15 hours a week, and
  • A second classroom and computer lab, which did not use EFA materials, were included as control groups. The study concluded that "…adult intermediate level ESL students in all models made better progress using English For All than did the control groups in classroom and lab settings using other curricula.'" Porter, Paul English For All: Comparing Four Models of Delivery Working Paper, Year 1, September, 2003. Sacramento County Office of Education, San Juan Adult Education. TECH21.

2. A 2003 report on the use of California 5% funds by Dennis Porter (no relation to Paul Porter) had similar findings (see below):

“Conclusions. Over the last eight years the California Innovation Program initiative and distance learning have become well accepted parts of adult basic education. The data reported here indicate that the original goal of increasing access to learning opportunities continues to be addressed. The program has increased access to a variety of groups who would have a difficult time attending traditional in classroom courses. The Innovation Program Initiative has offered significant and meaningful alternatives for adults —

  • needing more practice of skills to achieve mastery,
  • having work and family obligations that make attending a regular class time difficult,
  • lacking the full confidence to participate in a large classroom setting in front of other students,
  • wanting the participation, assistance, and support of their families in their learning,
  • learning more effectively from video, audio, and web–based media when moving at their own pace, and
  • other groups who can not access traditional classroom programs.

Comparative looks at classroom data indicate that the Innovation Programs are particularly successful in providing ESL learning opportunities and that the number of ESL learners successfully served in Innovation Programs has increased by over 16,000 in the last year alone where data are available (2001 – 2002).

Video and audio checkout programs were the most common delivery modalities followed by online instruction. Telecourses may serve the largest numbers per class, but only anecdotal data are available on overall numbers.

English as a second language instructional programs represent the bulk of the Innovation Program enrollments (93.3%) in 2001 – 2002. Los Angeles County adult schools dominate the enrollment statistics (75.7%). Women represent two thirds (65.4%) of the basic education participants in the 2001 – 2002 Innovation Programs.

In 2001 – 2002 age group participation was balanced between the 21–30 (30.2%) and the 31–40 (29.6%) age groups. Hispanics accounted for 60.2% of the 2000 – 2001 enrollments with Asians being 21.3% of the enrollments. Spanish accounted for 66.6% of the primary language spoken.

Over 43% of the Innovation Programs participants reported having nine or less years of schooling. Over half (52.9%) of the 2001 – 2002 Innovation Program participants reported having no earned degrees with 24.8% having high school diplomas or GEDs. Over 71.5% of the learners reported that improving basic skills or their English skills were their primary reasons for enrolling in 2001 – 2002.

ESL participant progress was better than adult school classroom programs for the same period. Overall Innovation Program ESL/ESL citizenship programs’ reading mean learning gains and ESL/ESL citizenship listening gains with one scoring range exception were better than the classroom programs. (Emphasis added)

Tested learners in the Innovation Programs’ ESL/ESL–Citizenship programs showed higher mean learning gains for the <180, 181–200, and 211–220 CASAS scoring ranges than the traditional classroom learners.

The Innovation Programs show greater gains in the < 180 and 181–200 scoring ranges in the CASAS pre–post listening tests than classroom based learning. However, the adult school classroom programs show the same mean learning gain (6.7 points) overall.

The Innovation Programs follow the same accountability requirements as class–based apportionment programs. Over the past two years the Innovation Programs have been successful in standardizing their reporting procedures, while still maintaining alternative instructional delivery methods. All Innovation Program students are now in the TOPSPro system, and all programs are using a standardized format for both program applications and annual evaluation. This format makes gathering of data and program monitoring more substantive and meaningful. Pre and post testing is more difficult than in traditional settings.

In our judgment the Innovation Programs continue to meet the three crucial benefit–cost criteria necessary to be accepted by adult education practitioners and the California Department of Education. They are:
1. Effectiveness — CASAS pre – post test data indicate that the Innovation Programs’ ESL program participants, on average, show substantial learning increases in reading and listening. The ABE/ASE participants show learning gains consistent with historical data.
2. Efficiency — Participant and program cost data indicate that the Innovation Programs are cost effective.
3. Equity — Reported years in school, primary language, reading and listening scores on entry, and ethnic data indicate that lower level, often hard–to–serve learners are the primary participants in the Innovation Programs.
This is the third year that these similar summary conclusions have been reached. This indicates the continued success of the initiative.

One major missing piece of information is the extent to which learners are served in distance learning programs only and the extent to which they are enrolled in both classroom and Innovation Programs. We refer to this second option as blended or supplemental learning when combined with classroom instruction. Both interventions are useful and appropriate. However, we would like to draw more informed conclusions about them. Another area for future study might be effective ways to form consortiums or other methods to bring Innovation Programs via distance learning to more remote locations.

In addition to increased access and service to underserved populations, reports from participating adult education sites have also indicated numerous “spin–off” benefits to the continued development and provision of Innovation Programs. These benefits have included:
• Development of an ever increasing number of excellent video programs, particularly for ESL, developed both by private firms and by programs themselves.
• Establishment of an effective practice for some students of enhancing classroom instruction with video check out (termed “blended instruction”) and other distance education methods to supplement their in–class learning.
• Fewer ESL “no–shows” for students enrolling in Innovation Programs (10.1% to 16.6%) than the traditional classroom programs.

Local Innovation Program operators have many stories of how their programs have introduced adult education to people who would not otherwise attend classes, enabled learners to meet the complex demands of family, work and learning, and introduce the possibilities of multi–media learning to classroom teachers.

After eight years these programs can no longer be considered “demonstrations.” It is time to more fully integrate the traditional classroom and the innovative distance learning programs into the overall adult school instructional strategies.”

Porter, Dennis, The California Adult Education 2001-2003 Innovation and Alternative Instructional Delivery Program, A Review Published by the California Distance Learning Project, California State University, Dominguez Hills School of Education June, 2003 Pages 42-44

Also see: Porter, Dennis, California Adult Education 2000 - 2002 Innovation and Alternative Instructional Delivery Program OTAN Doc. Code/Section DE0021 / PT05 Outcomes and Scores Section

More information on supplemental/distancelearning research from California 5% projects will be found at Innovation and Alternative Instructional Delivery Program

Here's a description of what's available:

On July 1, 1993, AB 1943 became law (Education Code 52522), allowing adult education programs, after approval by California Department of Education, to use up to 5% of their block entitlement for innovative techniques and nontraditional instructional methods with new technologies.

Learn more about CDE's Innovation and Alternative Instructional Delivery Program:

3. Computer-Supported ESL Instruction For Adults: A Quasi-Experimental Study Of Usability, Listening Skill Gains And Technological Literacy, a study by Dawn Hannah, Ricardo Diaz, Lynda Ginsburg, and Christine Hollister, NCAL (2004) "was conducted with a group of adult English language learners at the intermediate level (although a 'relatively well-educated sample,' based on years of schooling, who valued independent learning and technological literacy skills), nearly half of whom had never used a computer to learn English before. A quasi-experimental design was used, and though substantial data were collected, the sample size was small enough to limit this to what would be termed an exploratory study."

The findings from the study by Hannah et. al show that those ESOL students who used any of the three listening software programs (whose costs ranged from high-end to free) made greater gains than those who only went to class.

4. 2014 data from the Arizona Department of Education also found that students in hybrid learning do better. "Our data show that students who engage in both online work and classwork, even when they are not coordinated, are making more progress that those who do the face-to-face instruction alone. When students put in extra time beyond the typical 6-hour per week class, they do better than those who don’t.” John G. Stevenson, an Education Program Specialist at the Arizona Department of Education, quoted with permission in personal correspondence,February, 2015.

5. Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies This 2010 meta-study, largely of adults in higher education, concludes "The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."

6. One good source of information on the effects of blended learning in K-12 schools is Learning Accelerator,

What is m-learning, and is this an effective DL and classroom tool?

Attewell, Jill. Mobile Technologies and Learning: A technology update and m-learning project summary. Technology Enhanced Learning Research Centre. Learning and Skills Development Agency 2005 which can be downloaded in .pdf from

David J. Rosen
May 9, 2005

Subject: [NIFL-TECHNOLOGY:3591] Telephone Language Learning Software
Date: May 20, 2005 10:44:15 PM EDT

NIFL-Technology and NIFL-ESL Colleagues,

I found this article, in the May 20th eMedia Wire, about a toll-free telephone learning system capable of processing student essays by telephone, and returning instant holistic scores, intriguing. The article gives the web site (a moodle application) which has the assignments and the toll free number. If you want to try it, you will be asked for a pin number. I punched in 1234 on my phone and it worked, so you may be able to use this to try out the system. (You will not get the results -- you have to be registered for that.) The phone number of developer, Miami Dade College Professor Stephen Donahue, is given in the article in case you have questions.

Here's a paragraph from the article:

"The telephone learning system consists of 11 activities covering a spectrum of learning: Spelling, Multiplication Tables, Dictation, Tongue Twisters, Background Knowledge ("What is the capital of California?, etc.") and free responses for writing and speech topics. Activities involve both listening and actual voice output. The Web is an integral part of the phone system, and allows students to pre-view assignments, and get post-results, which are then emailed to them. Once the student's audio writing samples are converted to text, they are processed using an automatic essay evaluation program called California Electronic Writer, currently in use in California school districts. "

Free or low-cost internet telephony (by computer) and free evening and weekend minutes on some mobile phone plans means that a technology like this (even if the phone number weren't toll free) might be available for free to students who have cell phones or access to computers at home or work -- or in (some) program computer labs,

I am intrigued by this. I see it as just the beginning of language learning applications by telephone.

Would your students use this? And what do you think of this?

David J. Rosen

Where can I find research on the use of technology in adult education?


Five Burning Research Questions on adult education and Technology


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