Thursday, October 31, 2013

Toward a Learner-centered Adult Ed Experience

It felt like I'd been talking a mile-a-minute for 3hrs at a GED Academy training and 2014 GED(r) overview in Southwest Virginia, when I stopped at the end and asked the crowd of teachers what they'd gotten out of the session.  Silence... Why do I put my attendees on the spot like that?  Ugh.  And then the answer came. A woman spoke up and made sense of it all better than I could have. "It sounds like we'll have to help our learners do more on their own from now on."  The simplicity of her synopsis took a minute for me to absorb.

Ding! Ding! Ding!  The mission of facilitating self-directed learning, putting the right tool in the learners' hands, comes right out of Essential Education's mission statement (and mine too, going back as long as I've been in adult ed).  What this teacher was synopsizing weren't just the words I'd been speaking during our three-hour training. She was seeing the impact of important tools for both assessment and instruction designed with the learner in mind and made accessible over the web.  In the presence of these disruptive innovations, the role of the educator changes to include more facilitation, more 'guide on the side.'

I've talked here about the ways GED Academy motivates online learners with student-centered instructional design. Now, the GED Testing Service's new MyGED portal is assembling an array of tools to give the learner control over the process of their education, rather than the process having control over the learners. Anyone who's worked in adult ed has a sense of the sometimes counter-intuitive bureaucracy we often contend with.          

Learner-centered Assessment:

The imminent debut of GED Testing Service's MyGED portal represents a major step toward learner-centered adult education services.  A GED tester receives immediate feedback on their test with green/yellow/red indicators for each assessment target.  What will they do with that information? Open a book? Study online? Sign up for a class? It's an exciting prospect.  The learners are in the drivers' seat, and they've got a good set of directions.  But it gets better. A prescription follows the diagnostic, letting learners choose learning plans from a range of publisher's products.  Teachers and adult education program staff need to be ready to help their learners take appropriate action with this information in hand.

This kind of national portal has been called for by numerous adult educators across the country for years now (okay, maybe different kinds of national portals have been suggested, but this one actually has a release date, and its a kindred spirit).  According to the GED Testing Service, the site will link learners to their testing center, local classes, higher education and career services.   There are other providers of high school equivalency exams now (HiSET and TASC), but GEDTS has set a very high bar.  Will the other two tests create similar student-centered services or seek to outdo GEDTS in this area? I hope so. It's about time that educational publishing companies really competed to better serve ABE/GED learners. How else will we reach the 40 million people who need a credential?  In the meantime, GEDTS has charted a new direction for adult education services that has the potential to accelerate learning and credentialing, bring in larger numbers and possibly a more qualified cross-section of students than typically turn out for adult ed services.

Learner-centered Diagnostics:

Essential Education's GED Academy has long consolidated the necessary direction, feedback and instruction for every learner, so they have it all in one place.  But your student's GED transcript has never given any indication of what they needed to work on.  Why not? Isn't that the purpose of an assessment? To identify needs?  Welcome to the adult education service-provider business, GED Testing Service.  Kudos for making such a grand entrance!  I can't wait.  This will be a catalyst for many learners passing their GED test, and teachers will have a clearer idea about what topics need to be taught or tutored.     

Learner-centered Prescriptives: 

About half of all GED test-takers never set foot in a classroom en route to their equivalency test. For those people, a prescription of the precise lessons they should be studying is going to be a major improvement over the guesswork and frustration of past attempts at DIY credentialing.  Essential Education is one of many publishers who are handing over alignments of our content to GEDTS to inform their "How I Can Score Higher" prescriptive report that suggests lessons from books and software.  See below that our new Essential Math Skills workbook lessons are recommended in this sample prescriptive.     

For many learners, this kind of supportive technology will help them become more self-sufficient.  And isn't that the goal with adult ed?  However, for many, these score reports will have the most potential when interpreted by their teacher at their local adult education program.  So, the MyGED portal will drive learners back to their local provider, which will also be a tool on the page (with a 'find my local adult ed program' locator). 

Critics of the 2014 GED's higher price tag ($120 minus $40 credited back to the test center) should probably take these additional services into consideration when weighing the value of that test-taking fee.  Alternatives to the GED test would probably cost more too, if they were assembling this kind of infrastructure. And maybe that's where we're headed as all three HSE test are striving toward the same goals of certifying College and Career Readiness, promoting digital literacy, and reducing barriers to participation for the hardest to serve learners in our country... though, each doing so with their own timelines and priorities for serving adult ed students' interests.

Getting back to that synopsis from my GED Academy workshop, "It sounds like we'll have to help our learners do more on their own from now on."  With instructional supports that really teach, give motivational feedback and point the way through a rewarding process, maybe our learners won't be completely 'on their own' after all.

Semantic update: I went back through this piece and changed all the instances of 'student-centered' to 'learner-centered.'  There are lots of reasons why (student implies youth, for instance). Originally, I'd found more hits for student-centered online, so I figured it made sense to hop on a term that was already established, but now I'm thinking that I'd rather put my efforts behind an adult-ed centric term.  But, let us not get distracted by semantics and minutia. I'm on team innovation. Period.  

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