New white paper highlights intersection of technology with literacy and workforce services

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, June 20, 2016

A recent white paper highlights the use of technology to support adult education and workforce services in California and Hawaii. Literacy, Technology, Community: The Importance of Smart Technology in Workforce and Adult Education is a joint publication of the O’ahu Workforce Development Board, National Association of Workforce Boards, the (Fresno) Central Adult School, and Aztec Software.

The paper draws on data from the international Survey of Adult Skills (known as the PIAAC) to demonstrate the substantial need for basic skills among American adults. It further notes that only a fraction of these adults are served via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The authors add:

Access to technology, be it a laptop, a smart phone, or a tablet, has increased to the point where significant numbers of people can now engage in educational learning experiences and workforce training using a “bring-your-own-device” model of service delivery. We need to utilize and exploit the computing technology that is already in the hands and pockets of today’s 21st century learner. This model needs to be expanded throughout the education and workforce systems in order to meet the demands of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Perhaps anticipating the question of whether WIOA-eligible individuals have meaningful access to technological devices, the authors cite a 2015 Pew Research Center report that found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners. Many adult learners are among them: a different 2015 report found that at least 55% of adult education students own smartphones.

The paper also notes a Pew finding that smartphone owners with incomes under $30,000 are especially likely to use their phone during a job search, and concludes: “This is also the segment of the population that is most likely to access adult education and workforce services under WIOA.“

The authors use two examples from the field to demonstrate how technology-enabled resources can help to expand the number of people served by adult education and workforce development providers. 

The first example comes from Fresno, California, where the Central Adult School (CAS) has adjusted its adult education program away from a textbook-centric approach following a program evaluation and strategic planning process. Among CAS’s new practices are co-teaching; flipped and blended classroom techniques; and a comprehensive data system to track student progress.

Co-teaching consists of adding additional teachers to adult education classrooms to assist students in accessing technology-enabled learning stations. Flipped/blended classes refer to enabling students to work on class assignments online from home, and then receive face-to-face assistance on specific tasks in the classroom. (Other research has affirmed that learners are far more likely to benefit from blended approaches that combine in-person instruction with technology-enabled independent learning, rather than tech-only approaches.)

Consistent with the Pew data cited above, the paper notes that while “a majority of [CAS] students do not have internet at home…a significant amount have internet access through their smartphone.” Finally, the software now being adopted at CAS is cross-platform – accessible via laptop, tablet, Android, or iPhone – and enables teachers and the school principal to easily access data on student progress.

The second example highlighted in the paper comes from an American Job Center (known as a one-stop center) in Hawaii. The O’ahu WorkLinks one-stop views it as “essential” to provide wi-fi access for jobseekers visiting the center. The authors explain:

This allows people attending workshops and briefings to connect with their own laptops, tablets and smartphones to download workshop handouts, power points and briefing materials. The “bring your own device” (BYOD) model [allows people to access technology] on their own devices, and doesn’t require the center to be a hardware provider. Customers can follow along in live-time to instructions about websites. For those without their own tools, the center does have a computer lab from which people can search for jobs, write resumes, and fill out application forms.

In addition, jobseekers who are registered at O’ahu WorkLinks can access skill-building software from home, enabling them to learn and be tested on job skills via products such as WorkKeys, My Future My Skills, Aztec and others.

Finally, the WorkLinks center has made robust use of social media, going beyond traditional “broadcast” announcements of their events and services to forming individual connections with employers via LinkedIn and with jobseekers across a range of social media sites. Connecting individually with the center’s customers has a multitude of benefits, the authors explain:

One challenge of connecting with customers is keeping updated on their contact information. Many times, phone numbers are changed, disconnected or even [were provided incorrectly to begin with]. “People change phone numbers, but they don’t change Facebook,” [said case manager] Cristal Garan. Having multiple ways of keeping in touch with customers is important in today’s fast paced world. Using their smartphones, customers can immediately see updates from [WorkLinks], including job leads, workshop registration and reminders of upcoming events.

The paper concludes with a short series of recommendations for adult educators, workforce boards, and other stakeholders. Read the full white paper, or listen to the National Association of Workforce Boards podcast interview with author Mitch Rosin.