Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why the Tech Not, Adult Ed?

When technology initiatives launch in adult ed, they inevitably run into road-blocks, seemingly at every turn.  The institutional barriers to 'edtech' implementation in adult ed undermine ambition and innovation on so many levels, our field sometimes feels like a virtual time-machine, as anachronistic as a paper-pencil standardized test (just kidding, high school equivalency credentialing bodies... sorta).   Obviously, funding is always an issue in our field, and any non-monetary issues can nonetheless be overcome if price were no object.

That's 'the man' in the chair, not you, of course.
But, more often than not, it's the political will (and personal will) to break the mold and see a new idea through that makes the biggest difference (we touched on this idea before).  Too often, that's where an edtech initiative most often stalls out and is ushered off to the sidelines to make way for tried and true tradition by way of standard operating procedures.

So, what are the true barriers to effective and edtech integration in adult Ed?  Whether it's a matter of 'us' or 'them,' let's make a list.  Add your biggest pet-peeve stumbling block with a comment, or 'second' one of those listed here and I'll delve into it deeper (with the help of your thoughts) in future blog posts where I hope we can come up with some solutions.

  • Out of date hardware
  • Narrow list of approved online learning programs/software
  • State buys software (no local choice)
  • State controls online learning (centralized service gives local programs a pass)
  • Firewalls block access to instructional tools
  • Teacher/staff familiarity with the latest options  
  • Too few adult ed appropriate publisher offerings (and those that exist have too many shortcomings)
  • Nothing is offered en Espanol
  • Not enough low level material
  • Learner computer skill level is too low (or software is just not intuitive enough)
  • State won't fund computer skill instruction
  • Need more training/support, but no money to fund it
  • Need paid teacher time outside of class to monitor online learning
  • State cannot 'endorse' products
  • Screening/placement is subjective, need assessment tools
  • Need effectiveness data to determine software choices
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer on all the machines - many programs not compatible
  • Strict adherence to the K12 program year doesn't allow for self-directed options for learning during breaks. 
  • Antiquated sources of authoritative information on distance learning for adults

Okay. Now, it's your turn. Contribute your own issue here. Ask for clarification on any you want to explore further.  Now that's we've identified the problems, we'll just go down the list and solve them.  But first, we need to prioritize them. Why the tech not? 


  1. At least 50% of the list reflects hardware challenges. It is less of a tech issue, but rather about behavioral and organizational change. In particular, I feel adult education teachers need to reflect on their attitudes towards using technology in the classroom. It is too easy to shift blame on the hardware rather than accept the fact they have not taken the steps to truly change their behaviors in adopting technology.

    1. If we're going to point to the personnel, I'm curious what level needs to change its behavior: teachers? program managers? regional and statewide admins? Usually, people will accept responsibility for neglect like it was a hot potato. I think policies that govern adult ed personnel at every level would help move beyond the usual sticking points around people's preferences and comfort levels.

  2. In SC, many if not most adult ed instructors are part-time employees. Many are retired teachers, some come to adult ed after a long day in a K12 classroom.
    These teachers are paid for the hours they spend in front of students with little or no prep time. Two or three times a year sending them to training (if they can attend) is not enough to bridge the gap from current practice to best practice utilizing technology.
    If we were more serious about educating adults, we would find a way to hire full-time adult ed instructors and include training and plenty of planning and development time.

    1. Question inspired by this comment (anyone can answer): Is there a significant difference between full-time and part-time instructors when it comes to technology integration. Furthermore, is it necessarily the instructors' dictating the tools that students will use for their preparation? Especially with a big change to the GED and computer-based testing, I would think those choices will be made by local and regional managers, if not state admins and staff and staff development choices would have to follow with updated position descriptions.

    2. Hi Jason -
      As a full time ABE/GED Instructor at our community college, I can tell you I am in a much better position to keep up with, learn and integrate technology in my instruction. Our college offers PD technology days twice a year, I get tuition reimbursement for courses I take that will improve my instruction and I tend to get scheduled into the smart classrooms that have technology readily available. Our part timers, through Herculean effort on their own time, do what they can, but I think we expect far too much of them. Our state requires 8 hours of PD per year, so far this semester, we have offered over 24 training hours on different topics - including technology - but what is the motivation after the 8 hours? The rest are basically volunteer personal time. Those who take advantage of them view it as personal professional development, but the expectation is that they will attend without pay or acknowledgement of the extra hours they receive. It doesn't impact assignments, as we have an adjunct union with GFO contract obligations. As an adjunct for 17 years before the full time opportunity came up, I know how much time I put into my own development, but I don't think asking people who work full time already and come in to work part time for us to put in the necessary training this GED transition is requiring is a reasonable or viable alternative. As MrTaylor above put it: "If we were more serious about educating adults, we would find a way to hire full-time adult ed instructors and include training and plenty of planning and development time."
      Adjuncts are professionals, not indentured servants. It's the system that needs a complete overhaul.

  3. "Barrier" is a metaphor that assumes a desire to get somewhere, in this case to help learners use technology well. One of the challenges is helping teachers see technology as so useful to them or their students that they _want_ to overcome barriers such as you have listed. Although students very frequently see technology as essential in their lives, their teachers don't all share that perspective. This is changing, of course, but slowly. The GED(r) 2014 exam -- on computer -- is helping many teachers appreciate the importance of computer literacy. Some teachers now see that their students are finding helpful ESOL and ASE instructional videos through YouTube searches. More teachers realize that for their students to get jobs (even to apply for them) students need good word processing and Internet skills. How can we accelerate teachers' awareness of these important needs that their students have? Teachers who see their role as helping students meet these technology needs are more likely to perservere to overcome these barriers.

    1. "How can we accelerate teachers' awareness of these important needs that their students have?"

      I think we need to make attitude and aptitude for technology an important criteria that is assessed during all adult ed hiring decisions. But, can it be learned? Can old dogs learn new tricks? I think so. Inspiration is a good starting point.

  4. I agree with comments that note the challenges of implementing program improvements with a predominantly part-time staff. For these reasons, building economies of scale can help work with these challenges. For example, I work in Minnesota's Adult Basic Education (ABE) system. A majority of our teachers work part-time. When some programs tried to pilot distance learning on their own, they struggled. However, when the state worked with leading local programs to purchase a statewide license (statewide purchase of software is listed as a challenge or drawback), paired with organized professional development that had both one-time events and embedded training opportunities, distance learning has taken off amazingly! Statewide control (professional development and policy) can be too limiting if inappropriately defined and implemented through restrictive policy, but it can also serve as needed guidance for local programs when made flexible enough. Both state purchase and control can be opportunities to enhance local programs if the relationship and feedback flows frequently and effectively both ways.

    1. This is some dense wordsmithing by B-Rad. But, I love this comment. Be sure to read over it a couple times, because there's a lot here. Note the exclamation: "Distance learning has taken off amazingly!"

      I agree that state-level purchasing can be a catalyst, but local programs need to feel like they have a say in that process and not that they're limited to only what is provided to them by the state.

  5. Love the title (and topic), Jason!

    I've long been taken aback by how many "adult educators" do not embrace learning when it comes to their own professional development.

    At too many local, regional, and state conferences, I've encountered verbal expressions and attitudes to this effect.

    If one is truly a lifelong learner, then "Tech on!" is the only attitude to strive for (my opinion).

    I've been on an incredible learning journey with technology for years now, and am heartened that the tide seems to be turning, that more and more adult educators (and administrators) ARE now seeking to learn, explore, to "go for it."

    Being a "guides on the side" and seeking other "guides on the side(s)" has enriched my life in myriad ways over the past decade and more.

    If you want the guidance, it's easy to find and nurture. Find and develop your own PLN (personal/professional learning network). Push yourself to be more than a lurker in/on at least one social media platform.

    Tech on!

    Holly Dilatush

  6. Hi - I'm teaching a GED Technology Preparation course this year in order to teach the skills necessary to navigate through the new computer-based GED tests.
    I'd LOVE to collaborate with others to see what else everyone is doing out there. I created a group on Edmodo (here's the URL to join: to discuss such issues (creating my own PLN).
    With one trimester under my belt, I'm still looking to perfect my course so that students get exactly what they need from my class. I'd love to discuss. My students are typing, and learning all of the skills (including practicing with an on-screen TI-30xs calculator so that NOTHING is new to them tech-wise when they sit to take their CBT tests.) Once they've got the skills, I'm leading them to online GED-type practice such as Spark3000's online leveled reading program, and TV411, and, I'd like to see what you are all doing and share some ideas. Join my group on Edmodo!

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