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Adult Ed Lagging Way Behind in Tech Use

While schools have placed a great deal of attention on technology in the classroom, one instructional segment that has been left behind, it appears, is adult education. Although 86 percent of adult education administrators and practitioners said they believe that technology solutions can "effectively support" adult education, only 54 percent of students in those programs always have access on site to computers for instructional purposes. Another 36 percent have only "occasional" access, and the bulk of the remainder have even less.

Two-thirds of these same professionals said they believe that technology-enabled instructional resources could provide practice opportunities for students outside class time. More than six out of 10 noted that technology could provide personalized instruction for students and help their students proceed through material at their own pace.

These results come out of a survey of 1,000 program administrators and practitioners across the adult education system done by Tyton Partners, which provides investment banking and strategy consulting services. According to Tyton's new report, "Learning for Life: The Opportunity for Technology to Transform Adult Education," that system currently educates 4.1 million adults in adult basic education, adult secondary education, English as a second language, basic adult literacy and similar programs.

The primary hold-up for giving those students broader access to technology is budgetary. As the report explained, "Program administrators must contend with covering basic needs — e.g., staff salaries, utilities and basic supplies — and instructional investments tend to be a lower priority when juxtaposed with the fundamental elements required to operate an adult education program."

As a result of financial obstacles, 85 percent of adult education professionals reported that they turn to free online technology resources, such as Khan Academy and Google Docs to support their instruction; 90 percent said they leverage free open educational resources.

An area that deserves more scrutiny, according to the report, is the use of smartphones to deliver instructional support. The authors estimated that between 2.3 million and 3 million students — about 55 to 75 percent — own smartphones. Those have the potential, according to the majority of respondents, to deliver instruction outside of the classroom, improve student engagement and improve classroom instruction, among other benefits.

The paper encourages four "key groups" to take action to help spur innovation in the segment:

  • Policy makers should consider running regular technology audits of adult education programs and establishing incentives for program improvement;
  • Program administrators and practitioners need to develop a programmatic vision for the use of technology;
  • Foundations and private-sector funders could serve as catalysts for policies and programs that support experimentation and collaboration in adult education; and
  • Suppliers and entrepreneurs could seek ways to adapt existing education solutions for the adult education market and develop channels for "supplemental, mobile-first, out-of-the-classroom solutions."

"Although not a panacea, advanced learning technologies have shown enormous potential in K- 12 and university settings, and arguably offer even greater value for busy adults trying to build essential skills to improve their lives," said Matt Muench, program officer at the Joyce Foundation, which supported the research project. "If there is any area of the education market that would seem most to cry out for new thinking and new tools, it would be this enormous slice of American learners. Yet few entrepreneurs are engaged with the challenges, venture capital dollars ignore the problem and when we go to the education innovation events around the country, there is almost no discussion about this problem and how technology and new thinking might solve it."

The project was done in partnership with the Commission on Adult Basic Education. The report is available for download on the Tyton Partners Web site.

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