Digital Literacy and Blended Learning in Adult Literacy Education

By: David Rosen, Ed.D

21st century, adult literacy education (including English for immigrants) must integrate digital literacy, a new set of core literacy skills, with existing curricula. While reading, writing and numeracy are still essential, adults now also need to be comfortable and competent in using technology for daily living, work, higher education and lifelong learning and training. However, many adult literacy education teachers are not well prepared to integrate the use of technology in their classes, and many adult literacy education programs and schools cannot afford and/or do not know how best to use state-of-the art technology. The effective use and integration of digital technology in teaching and learning is now essential to prepare adult basic education learners for opportunities in work, vocational training and apprenticeship, and post-secondary education.

There are important lost opportunities for adults who lack the ability to use technology for living, learning and working, and for the communities in which they live.   For example, adults without up-to-date skills, knowledge and experience in using technology to meet their daily needs:

  • Cannot as easily access government and private sector services
  • Miss opportunities to find jobs, and apply for college. Increasingly jobs are advertised and applied for online. In some cases only online applications are accepted. College admission applications and financial aid application are now most often made online.
  • Miss the opportunity to learn online.  Adults who do not have digital literacy skills cannot take advantage of free or inexpensive, high quality online and blended learning through which they can improve their basic skills, including English for immigrants.
  • Cannot engage with and are isolated from local and global communities and family members. Children use text messaging, social networking websites such as Facebook, and Twitter:  parents need to keep an eye on those activities.  Schools reach out to parents by email, and community groups use online networking and social media to organize and promote community events.   Immigrants use Skype to make free calls and to videoconference with relatives in their home countries.  Each of these is an example of the ways that the inability to use technology will limit adults’ ability to be active, engaged parents, family members and members of the broader community.

The following policy recommendations might help to address this problem:

Digital Literacy

  1. Require that programs receiving public funds integrate digital literacy skills in their curricula and instruction;
  2. Require that programs offer all adult learners basic digital literacy skills (including, for example: how to navigate the worldwide web; search for and evaluate information online; send and receive email; make good use of online learning; and use basic tools such as word processing, spreadsheets and email) so that they can be competent and comfortable in computer based testing; apply online for, and succeed in, post-secondary education; and use computers and other web-accessible devices in the workplace.
  3.  Provide funding to increase program access to computers and the Internet
  4. Provide funding for teacher training and for hardware and software  to enable programs to successfully accommodate those with learning disabilities, through assistive technology and universal design.

Blended Learning

  1. Provide funding to Increase programs’ hours per week of instruction) through blended (face-to-face and online) learning that will enable learners to progress more quickly. Learners who have more time for learning, because of unemployment or other reasons, can increase their basic skills learning intensity through online learning.
  2. Provide funding for web-based professional development for teachers who want to be effective in blending online and face-to-face instruction.
  3. Provide funding to develop adult basic education open education resources that support blended learning.

Rachel Higgins: The Uses of Technology in Education From GED Completion to College

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It would be hard for anyone to deny the many ways in which technology has penetrated our society, but according to some, connectedness is more than just a habit or a hobby — it might also be changing the way we think. In the next article, Rachel Higgins looks at these assertions and talks about ways modern education might be able to capitalize. Rachel writes full-time about the intersection of technology and higher learning, and devotes most of her time to providing information regarding accredited virtual schools.  Her insights today should be very valuable to readers in the adult education and literacy communities who might be looking for ways to make use of the Internet or other high-tech tools in the course of their work.

The internet has radically changed how students think, research and retain information. Yet, despite the revolutionary shift, many educators have yet to adapt their curriculum to better suit the modern student as the debate over the efficacy of new technological tools is still hotly debated.

In the BBC2 program “The Virtual Revolution,” Professor David Nicholas of the University College of London details his recent study about the way interaction with online media impacts our brains. The study found that the internet encourages users to dart between pages, using what is referred to as “associative” thinking whereas traditional methods of research encourage students to concentrate on one source, like a book, a more “linear” thinking strategy. Researchers assert that the shift to associative thinking has essentially rewired the minds of students, leaving many without the discipline necessary for linear activities such as reading and writing at length.

In the study, 100 volunteers were asked a series of questions on a computer. Of those tested, the 12 to 18 year-olds answered after looking at half the number of web pages and only one-sixth of the time viewing the information as their elders. “There is empirical evidence now that information overload and associative thinking may be reshaping how [young people] think” says social psychologist Dr. Alex Krotoski. “For many, this seems to be a bleak prospect — young people bouncing and flitting between a thoughtless, throwaway virtual world.”

However, many educators assert that these results only enforce the importance of utilizing technology to engage young learners. At the The Atlantic’s 2012 Technology in Education Forum, Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS, argued for using technology to educate and engage children in learning.

In 2011, nonprofit CFY conducted an experiment in which home computers and training were provided to every sixth grader, their parents and their teachers in New York’s Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School. At the school year’s end, the school reported that the percentage of sixth grade students with learning disabilities who met or exceeded standards in math increased by 36%, while the percentage of students who had been below standard decreased from 23% to zero.

Technology has also enabled multimodal teaching and spawned new forms of online research and collaboration. NYU’s tax law program, for instance, classroom courses are filmed with three cameras and a sound mixer, ensuring the course can be made available online in 30 minutes. “Within 24 hours, students interested in reviewing a certain case or topic can click an online index that charts the content of the entire class and [can] view the portion that interests them,” says Tom Delaney, associate dean and CIO of the New York University School of Law. In a survey executed by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 52% of respondents state that online collaboration tools will make the greatest contribution in terms of improving educational quality over the next five years. Respondents also point to increasingly sophisticated learning-management systems and enhanced presentation tools as innovations that will have a profound effect on the learning experience.

Through the use of technology, “teaching will become more outcome-based and student-centered,” says Polley Ann McClure, CIO of Cornell University. McClure suggests that instead of focusing on rote memorization of material, technology can aid students in focusing on the application of knowledge to particular problems.

While developing minds may be the most susceptible to the effects technology, individuals can utilize technology to further their own learning at any age. Online resources from the Adult Literacy and Technology Network or the Educator’s Reference Desk offer GED completion information, literacy testing options and other academic pursuits that anyone with internet access can utilize. The Concord Consortium, a non-profit organization, also develops free open-source technologies in math, science and engineering that teachers, students or interested laymen can use to model complex concepts in a variety of ways.

The global interconnectedness that today’s technology has provided current and future generations is almost assuredly changing the way our minds think that, if harnessed correctly, may provide humans with the the tools needed to solve the world’s problems.

Donna Johnston: Did you say digital literacy?

Donna Johnston is an Americorps* VISTA with the Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee. Learn about her process to develop a computer lab for her community. 

Donna Johnston

What is digital literacy? A good question, especially since the trend seems to be to add “literacy” to just about anything from health to finance to digits. I think digital literacy is a positive way of saying we are addressing the digital divide through some form of education. Sound good? Further, we do this by creating internet access and computer training opportunities for targeted populations, who otherwise would be left behind.

In providing this access to populations who do not have access, we are obliged to not only open the door, but to keep it open. Pulling together a beginners’ computer class, though a challenge, is actually only the beginning. Partner with your local library or church or community center that has a computer technology center (CTC) and find a volunteer who will teach a beginner’s class once a week. There are lesson plans all over the country that are free and easily accessed on the web. I’ve listed a few at the end of this blog.

Now the part about opening the door and keeping it open; and by this I mean empowering the people whom you are serving. This is what we at the Family Literacy Academy (FLA) of Immokalee have done on the road to building a sustainable digital literacy program at Farm Worker Village in Immokalee Florida.

From surveys that are completed by the families in the Family Literacy Academy, we know that the families we serve, with one or two exceptions, do not have access to computers; that most of them have a cell phone but very few use the text feature – bottom line we are dealing with a population that is digitally challenged.

We need a computer center that the Village residents can call their own. We have two programs moving in this direction: one is the Family Literacy Academy and the second is building a CTC for the whole of Farm Worker Village.

First the Family Literacy Academy: at the end of the last two academic years, the FLA has scraped any left over money together and bought laptop computers to the tune of 6 laptops for adult instruction. This past summer the goal was to raise enough money to buy 6 tablets for the 3, 4 and 5 year olds. We identified 39 “friends” of the FLA and did a mailing. The letter gave an update of fundraising activities and how the Academy had leveraged the funds to increase grant moneys and how this ‘friend’ has helped in building a stronger program that serves more families, and so on, concluding with a big, personal “thank you”. We proceeded to identify the digital challenge our 3, 4, and 5 year olds face when they enter the public school system. The ask for $200 to buy one Nexus 7 tablet followed. In the same envelope we included a brochure we had created for the FLA, and a self-addressed envelope. Though we did not raise enough to buy 6 Nexus 7 tablets, we did raise enough to buy 5 Archos Child Pads. We added a little extra and made it 6.

We now have the base for a digital literacy program for the Family Literacy Academy. Beginning classes on the laptops for the Moms started last week. Beginning classes on the tablets for the children will start either this week or next – just as soon as we have a good understanding of them. Alright – as soon as we are done playing with them we will share them with the children.

Now the second challenge: open a Community Technology Center for the Village; a CTC that will be managed and run by the residents. First, resident volunteers to serve on the CTC committee. I found more than enough eager to serve by asking in the ESOL – Healthy Living class. Actually, every one of the adult students volunteered! Second, computers and printers. We put the word out and one donation came our way that consisted of 4 laptops; 1 CPU with a flat screen, keyboard and mouse; 3 printers; 1 large computer desk; and a box full of software, cords and cables. Putting the word out also connected us with a volunteer instructor and a volunteer tech person. We are now planning our first Committee meeting for next week, where we will all come together to evaluate or learn to evaluate the donations and start to set up the Farm Worker Village CTC.

The CTC is what I mean by keeping the door open. Just offering the classes does not help if there is no place to practice and further develop basic skills into mediocre then expert skill levels. The CTC will be managed and run by the residents’ committee. By the time I leave there will be a train-the-trainer program in place and functioning well; a group of residents who are running things; and possibly the start of a recycling business that will bring some cash into the mix.

One stumbling block: we are working to get free internet from Comcast (don’t laugh). I will keep you posted.

As promised, website links to digital literacy sites:

Digital Literacy Basics

It is becoming increasingly harder for those who do not possess technology skills to excel in society.  If you need to pay bills, apply for a job, search for financial aid, or find information, you are at a real disadvantage if you do not have basic digitally literacy skills and access to the Internet. Fortunately, there are a growing number of tools and resources that educators can use to help students understand technology and become connected. Here are a few websites to help with the basics.

If your student is new to computers, start by using one of the several resources that introduce digital literacy. Microsoft Digital Literacy has a three-tier curriculum that starts with a basic introduction to computers and ends with creating an e-mail account, searching on the web and social networking.

The Tennessee Library System offers a free “New User Tutorial” designed to help people who have never used a computer before. It is easy to use and students can work at their own pace. One of the most comprehensive resources for students is the Goodwill Community Foundation’s website, which covers the basics for Apple and PC computers, searching on the internet, using Microsoft features, and other ways to make the computer applicable to everyday life.

You can also check out Larry Verlazzo’s Best Sites for Students to Learn about Computers and Best Places to Learn Computer Basics and How to Fix Tech Problems 

Phishing scams

A few years ago I got an email from a Nigerian business man saying that I had a great great uncle who was doing business with him and I needed to collect his inheritance of close to $5 million. All I needed to do was provide my checking account information. Most of us recognize that this is a scam, but on the other hand we probably think $5 million isn’t too shabby of a deal. The Nigerian letter scam is pretty well known ( it’s apparently the country’s 3rd largest export and scams 100s of people a day), but there are several other scams that get people on a daily basis. These are called phishing scams. So not only does a lesson on phishing and email scams play into a financial literacy lesson, but also a digital literacy for understanding trustworthy websites.

Here is some information on what you need to know about phishing scams from the National Consumers League:

How does phishing work?

  • The most common form of phishing is by email. Pretending to be from a legitimate retailer, bank, or government agency, the sender asks to “confirm” your personal information for some made-up reason. Typically, the email contains a link to a phony Web site that looks just like the real thing. You enter your personal information on the Web site — and send it into the hands of identity thieves.
  • Phishers also use the phone to hunt for victims’ personal information. Some pose as employers and call or send emails to people who have listed themselves on job search Web sites.

How can you tell if the person or company who contacted you is legitimate or a con artist?

  • Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information. It’s a warning sign that something is “phishy.” Legitimate companies and agencies don’t operate that way.
  • Don’t click on links in emails that ask you to provide personal information. To check whether an email or call is really from the company or agency, contact it directly by phone or online. If you don’t have the telephone number, get it from the phone book, directory assistance, or the Internet. Use a search engine to find the official Web site;
  • Job seekers should also verify the person’s identity before providing personal information to someone claiming to be a prospective employer.

What should you do if you got hooked by a phishing scam?

  • If you provided account numbers, PINs, or passwords to a phisher, notify the companies with which you have those accounts immediately.
  • Put a “fraud alert” on your files at the credit reporting bureaus. For information about how to do that and other advice for ID theft victims, contact the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft  Clearinghouse at or toll-free, 877-438-4338. The TDD number is 202-326-2502.
  • Even if you didn’t get hooked, you should report phishing to company or agency that was being impersonated and to the National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center, or toll-free 800-876-7060. The TDD number is 202-835-0778.

For more information on scams or fraud related to literacy, check out our website! 

Keyboarding practice

Part of digital literacy is typing. Typing and keyboarding will get better over time, but it doesn’t hurt to have extra practice. Many people already have the desire to be better at typing, but giving fun incentives will speed up the process. I didn’t do too well at keyboarding in school, but as soon as instant messaging became big, I became a master.

Here are some fun FREE websites for your students to practice their typing skills.

Power Typing (note: QWERTY is for traditional keyboard- check out the top left row)


Free Online Typing Games


Top Stories in Literacy: June 4

Top Stories in LiteracyJourney pays off for adults seeking education
About 40 graduates were recognized at the ceremony, held at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology auditorium, while 150 qualified for graduation, and more will qualify after General Educational Development (GED) testing is completed June 23.

Many job applicants lack basic literacy and office skills
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 93 million U.S. adults have basic and below basic literacy skills, well below the skill level necessary to perform many jobs. Recent studies revealed that 4 out of 10 working age adults don’t have functional literacy skills.

Grad rate debated as standards get higher
Looking at Flagler’s and Volusia’s federal graduation rates, it is estimated that “well over 20 percent” of Flagler students could be considered dropouts, while “over 30 percent” of Volusia students could be dropouts, or someone who is unlikely to earn a diploma or GED within the next few years.

Why Steve Jobs would have loved digital learning
In the wake of Steve Jobs’ passing, many wrote about the statements he made throughout his adult life about how to improve the U.S. education system. Some noted that for much of Jobs’s life, he had, ironically perhaps, been skeptical of the positive impact technology could make on education.

Top Stories in Literacy: May 29

Top Stories in LiteracyClay County Literacy Coalition ‘visionary’ receives state award
The Florida Literacy Coalition recently named Lisa Leiby of Clay County as Outstanding Literacy Volunteer for her work with the Clay County Literacy Coalition. The award recognized a literacy volunteer who has demonstrated exceptional service and commitment in either tutoring or program operations

Connect2Compete Announces the Ad Council’s First Campaign to tackle Digital Literacy
Connect to Compete (C2C), Inc. today announced a national three-year Ad Council campaign to promote the importance of digital literacy and motivate individuals and families to access free community resources and training. The multimedia public service campaign, which will be developed in both English and Spanish, will begin in January 2013.

InCharge Receives $148,750 Grant from Chase to Provide Financial Education and Counseling
InCharge® Debt Solutions was awarded a $148,750 grant by Chase Card Services, a division of JPMorgan Chase & Co., to help support an educational program focused on providing financial education and counseling to local community members.

High school diplomas presented at IRSC ceremony
Throughout the 2011/2012 school year, the graduates earned high school credits in IRSC’s Adult High School or completed preparation and passed the General Educational Development (GED) exam at IRSC Adult Education sites throughout St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties.

Protesters Gather to Oppose Cuts to Adult Education
Hundreds of people gathered outside Tuesday’s meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District board to show their support for adult education. If the programs go away, protesters say more than a quarter million people will be shut out of classes they need to make a contribution to society.