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Report: Why Tech for Adult Learning So Often Misses the Mark

Student Using Digital Tablet In Adult Education Class

When deploying new education technology for adult learners, is there such a thing as an ideal adoption pathway? Some "key actions," such as administrators using research and data on adult ed tech to inform their purchase decisions, can make the difference, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education-funded LINCS system.

"From Creation to Adoption: How to Develop and Deploy Successful Edtech," written by consultancy Luminary Labs, is the third in a series to look at the state of the tech market specifically for adult learners. The first report examined the many problems that tech faces in serving the unique needs of this user. The second report made the case for further investment in tech to transform the segment. The third report explored why so many ed tech products generate "suboptimal outcomes" in terms of efficacy and use; it also proposed solutions.

The report detailed the three "archetypal" pathways that products roughly follow, from conception to development to testing to use in the "adult classroom":

  • Engaging users end-to-end to generate scalable solutions;
  • Designing for outliers that lead to universal use; and
  • Starting with the problem, not a technical solution.

Each is led by its own set of stakeholders, and each has its own challenges that can often be overcome with some "key process changes." Stakeholders include the developers producing the software; administrators who buy the applications; employers who are waiting to hire adult learners and should be defining the relevant skills for those workers; funders who back development of the tools; and the educators and students who use the tools.

Two broad problems leading to poor outcomes are these: 1) The process of development and deployment "is disjointed"; and 2) primary stakeholders are either excluded or they're "under-involved," leading to creation of "tools that don't suit classroom needs" or are intended for one audience (K-12) and then repurposed for another (adult learners).

To improve outcomes overall, the report offered several recommendations:

  • Better engagement between developers and users during the development process, which requires longer-term relationships rather than the one-off interactions "that dominate the current market";
  • Getting industry involved in the creation and use of tech tools to improve their own hiring efforts and to align instruction to workforce needs;
  • Putting a greater emphasis on professional development for instructors and users, and getting funders, developers and administrators more involved in promoting this; and
  • Funders and developers also need to sponsor and run more research and data collection so administrators and educators know what they're looking at.

The latest report is openly available on the LINCS website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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