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Implications of New Learning Technologies for Adult Literacy and Learning

Volume 4: Chapter Four
Regie Stites

In Chapter 4, Regie Stites reviews the research literature on new learning technologies, focusing on the effectiveness of learning with computers and the Internet, the patterns of societal access to computers and the Internet revealed by research, and barriers to effective application of, and expanded access to, new learning technologies. As the author notes, relatively little study has been done of the particular ABE population, however the findings of research in K-12 and higher education may still apply to adult literacy. In discussing the effectiveness of learning technologies, Stites reports on a number of studies (meta-analyses) that synthesized the findings of smaller research studies and pointed to the generally positive effects of computer use on learning. Stites notes one particular study that found the overall impact of new learning technologies in improving learning to be mixed but identified four fundamental characteristics of effective applications of learning technology also considered by many to be effective in adult learning in general: 1) active engagement of learners; 2) participation in groups; 3) frequent interaction and feedback, and 4) connection to real-world contexts. 

In the next part of the chapter, Stites focuses on the issue of access to learning technologies. He presents data showing the increase in access to computers and the Internet in recent years and highlights the relatively limited access to, and use of, computers and the Internet by the target ABE population. Research, as he notes, has highlighted several challenges to providing adults who are learning basic literacy and English-language skills with opportunities to benefit from the new learning technologies. Among these challenges is the fact that the information available on-line may not be at the right level for adult literacy students and may not fit well with their learning goals and interests. In addition, information available on the Internet may not relate well to curriculum content, so teachers may have to invest considerable time and effort to adapt existing learning technologies to the needs of their students. Stites points out what research suggests for the professional development of teachers and offers a useful list of principles and indicators to assist in the development and evaluation of technology-based materials, including examples currently available on the web. 

Stites concludes the chapter with some implications of the research review for future research, practice and policy. First, he suggests research to investigate the application of new learning technologies that incorporate principles of good adult learning design and strategies for overcoming barriers to broader access to learning technology for adults. With respect to practice, he calls for the effective integration of new learning technologies into adult education and teacher professional development, noting the need for teachers to increase their competence in using new technology to support their own and their students' learning. Finally, Stites cites key findings of research in K-12 education that can be applicable in expanding access to, and designing effective technologies for, adult literacy and English-language learners. These include a focus on learning with technology, not about technology; emphasis on content and pedagogy, not just hardware; special attention to professional development; realistic budgeting; ensuring equitable, universal access; and initiating a major program of experimental research on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of learning technology. 

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL