Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Down with Waiting Lists and Summer Break

Schooooool's out. For. Summer!  Schooooooool's out. For. Ever! 

That first line is the refrain in adult education this time of year (the latter sentence, unfortunately, may be our learners' response).  Many adult ed programs operate on the K12 schedule, closing up shop for the summer.  It's not uncommon to turn clients away. Our programs are small and underfunded, often we're basically guests in a school building owned by more robust educational institutions.  When our classes are full, we put people on waiting lists or tell them to come back at a later date. Our primary tool is the classroom, and when that tool is all locked up til fall, our learners are out of luck.  Have you noticed this?  Got a solution to share?

He's no Alice Cooper, but this little guy runs straight into the woods when you cut him loose.

It's time that we addressed the summer down-time and at-capacity classes as an opportunity to promote self-directed learning. The learners who step up will really set themselves apart, and the same goes for the teachers. Back when I answered the GED Helpline for the state of Virginia, I gave out telephone numbers for adult ed programs that I knew were closed.  How frustrating, especially considering that Virginia is hardly the only state where this is the case.  To try and salvage those missed opportunities, I spread the word to learners about the GED Connection TV show and various free study sites.  And in more recent years, I paired eLearn Virginia's online mentors with summer studiers and those seeking opportunities to study online.  

That run into the woods ended up with a personal escort for the second half.

What is preventing adult ed from providing services during the summer and winter breaks?

Closed facilities: If the public school building is locked for the break, have the learners study at home. If that's not an option, help them make arrangements to use community computer labs (libraries, etc), relatives' houses, etc.  Removing barriers to participation is the goal here, and our learners' motivation often goes up when they see us making efforts to accommodate them. 

Staff on break: An online mentor or facilitator of online learning can oversee dozens of learners' work in just a 5-10 hours per week. So, keep a part-time teacher on the payroll for supporting online learners.  Email and telephone is sufficient follow-up and support for many learners if their learning platform and study skills are a good match.  If the issue is a desire for control over the learning process, then try adjusting to a new relationship with your learners. The summer and winter breaks and the period of time learners spend on waiting lists, all of these are opportunities to approach adult education from another angle. Experiment. Put the ball in the learner's court and see what comes back to you. As seen in the picture above, the result may be deeper engagement, increased affinity, and a great bonding experience.

Need proctored assessments: Even though most online learning platforms begin with prescriptive pretests, online learners still need to come in for an assessment in order to be reportable.  That's no excuse for denying services. Don't let the process stop anyone from making progress.  Although I'm for letting learners start ahead of assessment (I think the TABE needs to be administered within the first 6 hours - freeze their account then until they come in, if you like), there are tons of non-reportable activities that you can give learners during an interim period. How about contributing some here with a comment?  Or, how about just working with them as non-NRS-reportable learners and identifying short and long-term goals that you can count: GED, CRC, NEDP, obtain employment. Serve enough people that way and you'll make a bigger impact in the community, elevate your organization's profile, and have more proof of effective services for your grant proposals.


  1. My program is one that operates 12 months, but as demand increases, limited funds keep me from increasing capacity. Therefore, at any given time I have between a 3-6 mos. wait for ABE/GED. I would love to provide something like GED Academiy to students who are waiting. Problem is I can't report them therefore I cannot designate staff hours to support them. While distance education is designed to be self-supporting, I have found students need some guidance in the beginning. Granted, these may be issues directly related to NY and our funding parameters. I've got an idea about using GED academy as an open lab concept for students on waiting lists and staffing possibly with volunteers or an "aide." If i'm not pulling down funds, I can get away with not having an instructor. This is all still floating in my brain, and once I have some idea about FY13 funds I can make some plans- so we'll talk. Oh- the blog. I like it. I think it has the potential to get people sharing and come up with some great, innovative ideas. And your crazy cute kid doesn't hurt!

    1. Rockstar: Thanks for illustrating the gray area in all of this. I'm sure you're not the only 12 month program out there. But, I'm also sure that you're not the only program whose hands are tied by the limitation of narrowly defined reportable hours (proxy hours, using OVAE's term). This is probably a topic for another blog post, but those lists of "approved programs" that some states have adopted often serve as barriers to local/regional distance education efforts.

      Innovative approaches to adult ed generally start small and decentralized. State governments need to make it a priority to keep pace with the latest technologies that will help adult ed take off in new directions. And that's my vote for healthy competition, not simply a plug for GED Academy (though, I'm definitely excited to help you implement it in NY).


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