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Leading adult education through support for and the effective application of technology.

California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – Foundations of Adult Education and Digital Learning

Educators cannot provide effective digital learning experiences without first understanding adult learners.

This chapter begins by introducing adult learning theories as a foundation for better understanding adult learners, while also acknowledging the unique characteristics, qualities, and strengths of each individual learner. It also highlights research focused on digital learning in adult education, including recommendations and strong practices for digital learning design and implementation. Next, this chapter introduces the various roles in adult education, including certified staff, classified staff, and the many other individuals that support learners. Then, relevant standards for adult education professionals are briefly introduced, with a connection to how those standards inform practice. Finally, the chapter concludes with a section on how professional development supports educators and support staff in preparing for digital learning.

Adult Learning Theories

Adult learning theories differ from the pedagogical approach of K–12 education, which focuses on educators transmitting content knowledge to learners through prescribed, sequential curriculum and instructional activities.[65] In pedagogical methods, the educator controls what content is learned and how. Alternatively, adult learning theories view learning as a collaborative process, where educators and learners are cocreators of the learning experience. Due to the nature of the adult learner, the learning process is often more self-directed, with a greater deal of choice, control, or input from the learner.


Andragogy is a practical and theoretical approach to adult learning that sees the learner as autonomous and self-directed, and the educator as a facilitator or guide of the learning process.[66] Andragogy provides a useful foundation to better understand adult learners and their unique needs. Andragogy is process-based, meaning that educators focus on the learning process, rather than the specific content to be taught.

Andragogy includes the following core adult learning principles.[67] Adult learners:

  • need to know the why, what, and how of learning;
  • are autonomous and self-directed;
  • use prior experiences as mental models and resources for learning;
  • have a readiness to learn and seek life-related learning experiences;
  • are contextual and problem-centered (rather than theoretical); and
  • have an intrinsic motivation to learn.

The andragogical process model includes the following steps:[68]

  1. Preparing learners for the learning experience
  2. Establishing a collaborative, respectful, and open climate for learning
  3. Mutual planning and decision-making about the learning process
  4. Establishing learning needs; considering both individual and organizational goals
  5. Mutual creation of learning goals and objectives
  6. Designing the learning experience
  7. Participating in learning activities (e.g., experiential or inquiry-based learning)
  8. Evaluating learner outcomes and perceptions of the learning experience

Experiential Learning Model

The experiential learning model establishes a learner’s experiences as central to the learning process.[69] There are four stages to the experiential learning model: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Learners cycle through each of these stages:

  • Concrete experience: Learning occurs by being involved in a new experience. In a classroom, concrete experiences are activities in which learners actively engage with content. In a physical classroom, learners might participate in a hands-on demonstration or engage with relevant case studies. In a digital learning environment, learners might participate in simulations of real-world situations.
  • Reflective observation: Learning occurs through observation (watching others) or reflection (observing the self). In a classroom, reflective observation might occur through small group or whole class discussions, or individually through self-reflection prompts. Using digital tools, educators can facilitate more flexible opportunities for participating in discussions—live video conferencing sessions, chat rooms, discussion boards, or collaborative creation tools.
  • Abstract conceptualization: Learners make sense of their reflective observations by forming conclusions and establishing theories. In a classroom, learners might have the opportunity for abstract conceptualization through collaborative discussions, or in synthesizing content and sharing it with others (e.g., having to present a summary of an instructional unit or topic).
  • Active experimentation: Learners use what they have learned in the previous stages to apply their knowledge to new experiences. In the adult education classroom, this might occur in a lab environment or on-the-job training experiences.


Heutagogy focuses on the individual learner as the center of the learning process. Like andragogy, the educator facilitates the learning process by providing resources and support, but in heutagogy the learner fully owns the learning path and process. Learners work in partnership with educators to negotiate what and how they learn.

The essential principles of heutagogy include:[70]

  • Learner-centered: Learners are autonomous and self-directed. Learners are responsible for deciding what will be learned, how it will be learned, and how it will be assessed.
  • Capability: Learners have varying degrees of capability in communication, collaboration, applying skills to novel situations, positive values, and self-efficacy.
  • Self-reflection: Reflection on both the content learned and how it is learned (metacognition) are essential to the learning process.
  • Double-loop learning: Learners change actions and beliefs based on their learning experiences and what they have learned.
  • Nonlinear learning: Learners choose their own path.

Self-Directed Learning

Before engaging in a learning experience, adult learners need information about the how, what, and why of learning. How will we learn new information? What new information will we learn? Why are we learning this information?

While adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, adult learners vary in their preferences toward self-directed learning. Individual factors that influence self-directed learning include previous experience with content, social orientation, efficiency, previous learning experiences, and locus of control.[71] Some learners are more comfortable with independence, while others seek out support and guidance from their instructors. The educators’ role then focuses on knowing each learner as an individual and taking their capabilities and preferences into account when designing learning experiences.

The stages of self-directed learning include:[72]

  • Stage 1: The learner is dependent on the educator, who acts as an authority figure. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include coaching with immediate feedback, drill exercises, and informational lectures.
  • Stage 2: The learner is interested in the learning process and the educator acts as a guide and motivator throughout the experience. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include inspirational lectures, guided discussions, explicit instruction in learning strategies, and goal-setting.
  • Stage 3: The learner is involved in the learning process and the educator acts as a facilitator. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include group discussions or project-based learning.
  • Stage 4: The student is self-directed and the educator acts as a consultant or delegator. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include internships, individual work, or self-directed study groups.

Digital learning facilitates self-directed learning, because it increases flexibility in accessing learning experiences. Through online or hybrid learning, learners can access the classroom anytime, anywhere—if they have access to a digital device and internet connection. Digital tools may further facilitate self-directed learning by providing options for engaging with content, communicating and collaborating with others, and demonstrating one’s understanding.

Transformative Learning

The goal of transformative learning is to use the learning experience to transform the learner’s assumptions and expectations to broaden their perspectives through dialogue and reflection.

Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference—sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)—to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change.[73]

Where do problematic frames of reference exist? Some examples include cultural biases and stereotypes, fixed interpersonal relationships, ideologies, political orientations, religious beliefs, scientific paradigms, social frameworks, and even aesthetic standards and values. Educators can help address problematic frames of reference by exposing learners to diverse content and perspectives, also through facilitating communicative learning.

A key component of transformative learning is communicative learning, or dialogue that involves empathetic listening, having an open mind, seeking common ground, and perspective taking. In order to ensure effective communication, an inclusive, supportive learning environment must first be established so that learners feel comfortable and open to transformation. Once a positive classroom community is established, then communicative learning can occur through small or whole group discussion, facilitated by the instructor.

Transformative learning can also occur internally through critical self-reflection and reflective judgment (perspective about one’s own perspectives). Educators can help learners foster habits of mind and skills that promote an open mind and willingness to transform one’s own beliefs, perspectives, and practices.

Research-Based Practices in Digital Learning

This section highlights key findings and recommendations from the formal literature review including the effectiveness of different delivery methods on learner outcomes, benefits of digital learning for adult learners and educators, and communication and learning design recommendations for educators when designing digital learning experiences.

Effectiveness of Different Delivery Methods

Studies that evaluated the effectiveness of distance education found no significant differences between instructional delivery methods on learner outcomes.[74,75] Some studies even found that digital learning programs had a positive impact on learner outcomes.[76,77] Rather than focusing on the delivery method, the critical component for impacting learner outcomes is the quality of learning design.[78]

Benefits of Digital Learning

The main benefits of digital learning for learners include:

  • convenience and flexibility;
  • building learner’s self-confidence; and
  • building academic and digital literacy skills.[79,80,81,82]

Digital learning tools provide educators with the ability to:

  • differentiate instruction;
  • facilitate personalized learning;
  • monitor learner progress; and
  • provide constructive feedback.[83,84,85]

Recommendations for Digital Learning

In supporting adult learners within a digital space, educators should first and foremost respect adult learners as individuals and acknowledge their past experiences.[86,87] Adult learners bring more diverse experiences and perspectives into the classroom, including experiences with digital learning. Adult education classrooms often include a wide range of learners with varying levels of access and digital literacy skills.

Technology must be utilized in meaningful and purposeful ways that are aligned with curriculum goals.[88] As with any learning experience, educators should be intentional in curriculum and instructional design in a digital learning environment. Digital learning is as effective as other methods of learning, but only if designed in a way that provides learners with meaningful, purposeful learning experiences.

Curriculum and learning design recommendations for adult educators:

  • Facilitate flexible learning opportunities and personalized learning pathways. [89,90,91,92,93] Flexible learning opportunities means providing learners with options when possible. Educators might consider providing options for engaging with content, participating in class, and demonstrating understanding.
  • Design authentic, learner-centered experiences with real-world connections. [94,95,96] Authentic learning is learning by doing. Real-world connections mean that learning does not happen in isolation but is connected to real-world activities, concepts, or experiences. Example activities to facilitate authentic, real-world learning centered on the individual learner include journals or portfolios, which allow learners to showcase their learning and opportunities for self-reflection and demonstrating their growth.
  • Facilitate self-directed learning with scaffolded individual support as needed. [97,98,99] Digital learning allows educators to facilitate self-directed learning because learners have flexibility in deciding when and where to engage with content. Adaptive software that provides learners with personalized activities and content may provide additional support for learners who are struggling or need extension activities. Educators can help guide learners through this process.

Communication recommendations for adult educators:

  • Establish clear expectations and goals. [100] At the beginning of a course or unit, make clear expectations for participation and success criteria. Provide learners the opportunity to set short- and long-term goals. Some adult learners may have little to no experience with academic goal-setting, so this is an opportunity for educators and staff to provide additional support.
  • Engage in multiple forms of consistent communication and meaningful feedback with individual learners. [101,102] Communication will vary depending on the course delivery method, subject matter, and preferences of the educator and individual learners. Consider when and how you might communicate with learners. Provide options to allow learners to engage with you in a way that is most comfortable to them. Some learners may be more comfortable expressing themselves verbally (either in-person or in a videoconferencing session), while other learners may not feel comfortable speaking and prefer to communicate via email or text. Meaningful feedback provides information that is specific and personalized to the individual learner. Digital tools provide a variety of audio, visual, and text-based options for providing meaningful feedback.
  • Provide opportunities for academic and informal discussion and peer-topeer interaction to help learners develop relationships and foster cultural competence. [103,104] Academic discussion reinforces content, while informal discussions build relationships, establishes a positive classroom community, and fosters cultural competence through perspective-taking. Discussions can be live, either in-person or online, or asynchronous using a digital discussion board or other collaborative tools that allow learner participation.
  • Provide opportunities for learner self-reflection. [105,106] Provide opportunities to reflect on the content learned and the learning process itself. Learners may need guidance and structured activities to engage in self-reflection if it is a new experience for them. Digital journals and portfolios facilitate self-reflection while still allowing learner individualization. Learners choose what learning artifacts to include in their portfolio or choose their own journaling prompts for engaging in self-reflection.

Standards in Adult Education

Educators can use the standards included in this section to inform their practice. The California Standards for the Teaching Profession focus on best practices in teaching for California educators. The ISTE Educator Standards focus on best practices for using technology to facilitate meaningful learning in the digital age. The National Standards for Quality Online Learning include indicators for improving online courses, teaching, and implementation at the program level.

California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP)

The CSTP standards are applicable to California educators in all contexts with varying levels of experience. The standards include:[107]

  • Learner engagement and support: Educators engage learners by getting to know them as individuals; connecting learning to an individual’s experiences, interests, and knowledge; connecting subject matter to real-life contexts; using varied instructional strategies to meet the needs of all learners; promoting critical thinking, inquiry, problem-based learning, and reflection; and employing adaptive, learner-centered instructional practices.
  • Creating and maintaining effective learning environments: Educators promote a positive, respectful learning community; create learning environments that promote diverse perspectives and positive interactions; establish and maintain learning environments that are emotionally, intellectually, and physically safe; set high expectations for all learners while still providing adequate support when needed; foster appropriate learner behavior and interactions; codevelop classroom expectations, procedures, and routines; and use instructional time to optimize learning.
  • Understanding and organizing subject matter for optimal learning: Educators maintain current knowledge of their subject matter; apply knowledge of adult learning theories to better support learners; organize curriculum to facilitate connection; utilize appropriate instructional strategies; and select materials, resources, and tools to ensure equitable access to all learners.
  • Designing inclusive learning experiences: Educators establish and articulate learning goals and desired outcomes; develop short- and long-term instructional plans; and adapt content to learners’ individual needs.
  • Assessing students for learning: Educators utilize multiple assessment methods to differentiate instruction, measure learner progress, and set individualized learner goals; use digital tools to facilitate assessment and datadriven instruction; and communicate assessment data with learners.
  • Developing as a professional educator: Educators reflect on their own instructional practices; establish professional goals; collaborate with colleagues and the broader community; demonstrate lifelong learning; and demonstrate professional conduct.

ISTE Educator Standards

The ISTE Educator Standards provide a framework for educators to rethink teaching and learning using technology, with a learner-centered approach. The ISTE Educator Standards help adult educators to design effective and meaningful learning experiences with purposeful technology integration to empower learners.

The Educator Standards include:[108]

  • Learner: Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. Example activities: setting professional learning goals; participating in professional learning communities; reading adult education and digital learning research.
  • Leader: Educators seek out opportunities for leadership to support student empowerment and success and to improve teaching and learning. Example activities: engaging with education stakeholders; setting a shared vision; advocating for equitable access for all learners; modeling new strategies and tools for colleagues.
  • Citizen: Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world. Example activities: creating community-building activities; establishing a curious, engaged learning community; modeling and promoting the ethical use of digital content, materials, and tools; modeling and promoting a positive digital identity and protecting data privacy.
  • Collaborator: Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems. Example activities: cocreating a lesson or unit; colearning with students to explore a new digital resource or tool; using collaborative tools to expand learners’ perspectives through engaging with others; demonstrating cultural competence when communicating with learners.
  • Designer: Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability. Example activities: using technology to create personalized learning pathways; using technology to design authentic learning activities that maximize active and deep learning; designing digital learning experiences that engage and support learners in achieving their learning goals.
  • Facilitator: Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students. Example activities: promoting self-directed learning; managing appropriate use of digital materials, settings, and tools; utilizing design thinking and problem-solving strategies to engage learners in real-world problems; modeling and encouraging creativity, creative expression, and communication.
  • Analyst: Educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals. Example activities: providing multiple pathways for learners to demonstrate understanding; using digital tools to implement formative and summative assessments, accommodate learner needs, provide meaningful feedback, and inform instruction; using assessment data to inform instruction and support self-directed learning.

National Standards for Quality Online Learning

The National Standards for Quality Online Learning include three separate areas of standards.[109] Each set of standards includes corresponding indicators that can be used to provide guidance in a variety of online learning environments.

  • The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching provide a framework for improving instruction in online teaching and learning. Standards focus on professional responsibilities, digital pedagogy, community building, learner engagement, digital citizenship, diverse instruction, assessment and measurement, and instructional design.
  • The National Standards for Quality Online Programs provide a framework for program providers interested in implementing blended and online learning programs. Standards focus on the following categories: mission statement, governance, leadership, planning, organizational staff, financial and material resources, equity and access, integrity and accountability, curriculum and course design, instruction, assessment and learner performance, faculty and staff support, learner support, and program evaluation.
  • The National Standards for Quality Online Courses provide a framework for improving the quality of online learning courses. Standards cover the following course components: course overview, content, instructional design, learner assessment, accessibility and usability, technology, and course evaluation.


Francisco Pinedo | Lead Instructor | Soledad Adult School
How do you use standards in your teaching practice?

It seems like everything now is a combination of the academic and the digital literacy components, so I embed the ISTE Standards in all my classes. I also use the CASAS competencies and CCRS standards because those are required for testing.

When I’m teaching a lesson, I use an agenda and reference the relevant standards within the agenda. I’ll add the standard number and in parentheses put the key concept of the standard. I’ll also create a guiding question and put the standards in words that they can understand. Now we’re introducing Canvas to all our classes and we’re uploading the standards there as well.

Classroom Educators

In California, the credentials required to teach adult education differ by institution.[110] Adult educators in K–12 school districts are required to be credentialed through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, while adult educators in the community college system are not required to be credentialed. Instead, most adult educators in the community college system are required to hold relevant academic degrees. The difference in requirements adds complications for individual educators who aim to work at both institution types. Possible options for reciprocity include waiving portions of the requirements by verification of hours of experience or performance evaluations.

The primary role of a classroom educator is to design meaningful learning experiences and facilitate learning. Educators guide learners to help them integrate new material into their own personal contexts. Rather than acting as a “sage on the stage,” today’s educators are a “guide on the side.”[111] This idea of educators as a “guide on the side” acknowledges that adult learners enter the classroom with a wealth of experience and prior knowledge. It is therefore the responsibility of educators to provide opportunities for integrating learners’ experience and knowledge into the learning environment. Whether learning occurs in a physical classroom or online learning environment, the role of the educator remains the same. In either case, digital learning has no effect on learner achievement and outcomes—rather, high-quality instruction matters the most.

What makes educators effective, or how can educators provide high-quality instruction? Effective teaching starts with a learner-centered approach or by understanding learners as individuals. This requires educators to be “sensitive to the unique backgrounds, motivations, and goals of individual students,”[112] as well as acknowledging the complex social, emotional, and cultural dynamics influencing a learner’s experiences.

According to the Adult Education Teacher Competencies from the American Institutes for Research, core competencies of instructors in adult education include:[113]

  • Using data to monitor and manage learner progress and performance. Educators assess learners’ needs, help learners set personalized learning goals, and monitor learning through formative and summative assessments.
  • Plan and deliver high-quality, evidence-based instruction. Educators design learner-centered, standards-based learning experiences; understand adult learning theories; foster digital learning skills; and facilitate communication, higher-order thinking, and problem-solving skills.
  • Effectively communicate to motivate and engage learners. Educators clearly communicate high expectations for learners; engage in active listening, dialogue, and questioning to facilitate and support learning; and model cultural competence.
  • Pursuing professionalism and continually building knowledge and skills. Educators possess content knowledge and instructional skills, participate in professional development networks and learning communities, reflect on their own experiences, and participate in program improvement efforts.

Support Staff

Many different roles support learners in adult education. Support staff differ across program sites depending on factors such as budget, specific program offerings, and number of students.

Academic support staff might include:

  • Counselors help adult learners choose courses and pathways for learning; support the development and achievement of individualized learning goals; and provide additional academic, emotional, and social support as needed.
  • Digital navigators s help adult learners with access to digital devices and resources, connectivity, and development of foundational digital literacy skills. They also support adult learners to navigate digital job searches and upskilling opportunities.
  • Instructional aides provide a bridge between educators and students. They reinforce and support learning objectives beyond regular classroom instruction through activities such as academic support, remote testing, and technology integration.
  • Transition specialists provide support to adult learners as they transition among programs; for example, learners who complete their GED and want to pursue postsecondary education.

Classified staff might include:

  • Clerical and office staff oversee the operations of adult education programs, provide information to potential and current adult learners, and constantly adapt to support the demands and needs of the school community.
  • Custodial and maintenance staff work to make sure school facilities are clean and safe for all. They also often develop positive relationships with learners, providing encouragement or a listening ear.
  • Data and accountability specialists ensure that data for state and federal reporting is accurate. They also often support clerical and office staff as needed.
  • Testing coordinators work with program administrators to ensure a smooth testing experience for participating adult learners through scheduling, formatting, proctoring, and other duties as needed. Depending on the institution, testing coordinators may also serve as data and accountability specialists.


Pete Gonzalez | Transition Counselor | San Bernardino Valley College
Beyond classroom educators, who supports adult learners?

I think it’s at all levels. In my experience, the campuses that have the most success are the ones that involve everyone—student workers, classified staff, full-time and adjunct instructors, and counselors. We’re very fortunate to have the Inland Career Education Center, which is the largest adult school in our consortia. They’ve built a system where everyone is in line to help the students transition into postsecondary education once they’ve completed a high school diploma or GED. For instance, they have tutoring staff from the local university that work for them as tutors. The school trains the tutoring staff to help students complete the application process for college, including financial aid and orientation—all the stuff that needs to be done. They also have a transition center with staff that is also trained to support students through all these processes.

As a transition counselor, what is your role in supporting adult learners?

Our role coming into the adult schools is we are the face of the college. We come in and help students walk across the street, per se, but a lot of the work is already done. The motivation, the cheerleading. The advocates have already done their work with the students up to that point. It’s a smooth hand-off to us and we help them continue with their process. We let the students know as well that our role isn’t to get them to Valley College, but that our goal is to help them continue their education, whether it’s at Valley College, a different community college, or trade school.

What role do classroom teachers play in supporting adult learners during the transition process?

At first, teachers were not included in our college counseling transition piece. We would conduct college information workshops for students that teachers would also attend. The teachers were mostly quiet during our presentations, but I quickly realized that our teachers had their own unique educational journeys, and it was important for them to share those stories with their students. Many of the teachers come from the same communities as the students that they teach. They understand what the students are going through and have faced many of the same barriers as the students. Including teachers encouraged the conversation of continuing education to take place, during and after our workshops. It was the teachers’ encouragement that led many students to make their first counseling appointment with me. Teacher participation is essential in the college transition process.

What role do students play in supporting their peers during the transition process?

Many are eager to act as advocates, mentors, and role models for other students. They provide informal testimonials, peer support, and help guide their peers through the application process and show them the path to take.


Suzy Kelly | CTE Instructor | Berkeley Adult School
Beyond classroom educators, who supports adult learners?

When students come to us, they know that they’re part of the “Berkeley Adult School family”. We’re really focused on being student-centered, on supporting adult learning and lifelong learning. We provide a wraparound of services that includes counselors, learning specialists, technical support, and transition support for those who are going on to postsecondary education.

One example—our custodian also works with counseling services for people who struggle with addiction. We’ve had students who have struggled, and he’s gotten them into meetings and given them amazing support. Now he teaches a custodial skills course because that’s a great job market. So, somebody who was a custodian for our school transitioned into being a teacher, and he has a great course.

Digital Learning and Professional Development

Regardless of modality, programs that implement models for digital learning need to include basic digital literacy skills development for both learners and educators.[114] In addition to basic digital literacy skills, educators need professional development in effective technology integration.[115,116] As one research study noted:[117]

Adult educators need to learn more about effective methods of instructing, motivating, and supporting adult students working at a distance. They also need to learn more about how to best use existing and emerging technologies and products to meet student needs.

In spring 2020, WestEd conducted a survey of adult education administrators and educators to learn more about their challenges with teaching during COVID-19. While many respondents (58 percent) reported previous experience using a learning management system, most respondents (81 percent) reported no previous experience teaching a course through distance education. Educators were also critical of their success in the transition to online learning, with 40 percent of respondents rating themselves at 50 percent or lower in their success rate. Only 34 percent of respondents rated themselves at 80 percent or higher in their success rate. These results indicate a lack of self-confidence in educators’ ability to successfully implement online learning. Along with a lack of self-confidence, many educators reported receiving minimal professional development and support in online learning—66 percent reported receiving fewer than 10 hours of training. Popular training topics included how to use their institution’s learning management system and how to use video conferencing tools to conduct live sessions. Educators expressed a desire for more professional development and training in accessibility, addressing equity, and instructional strategies for online learning.

What does effective professional development look like? Effective professional development includes the following qualities:[118]

  • Long-term, ongoing, sustained
  • Opportunities for reflection and self-study
  • Collaborative
  • Applied and interactive—allows educators to engage in practical activities that connect content, design, implementation, and reflection to real-world problems
  • Personalized—differentiated to individual interests and skill levels
  • Building on strong instructional design—models strong teaching practices within the professional development
  • Provides opportunities for coaching and peer learning
  • Digital tools are integrated into the learning experience—technology training is not a separate professional development session but integrated throughout training

Through CDE and federal funding, OTAN offers professional development opportunities in both digital and physical formats. Training topics range from basic digital literacy skills to more advanced topics such as developing online communities, creation and collaboration tools, and other ways to integrate technology into the classroom.[119] OTAN also offers a Digital Leadership Academy (DLAC) for California program providers and the annual Technology and Distance Learning Symposium for adult education professionals in California and beyond.


Elisia Doonan | Adjunct Faculty | San Diego Community College Continuing Education
What professional development has been most impactful for you and why?

The professional development that has opened my eyes has been DLAC. That has been a whirlwind. In this cohort, I think I’m the only one working in AWD and the rest of the cohort is ESL or HSE. I’ve asked my teammates and cohort members what programs they are using, and I’ve shared them with my peers. That’s been one of the best things, just learning from others.

Another great thing is the “Tech Slam” that we do at DLAC, where anyone in the cohort gets two or three minutes to share a tech tip or tool. There’s so many ideas and so little time! Sometimes I can’t use them because it’s too high-functioning for my students, but there’s always something that I can learn.

For our DLAC project, we’re creating a module in Canvas to help students learn the basics of Zoom—What is Zoom? How do you log on? What is the etiquette of Zoom? How do you mute/unmute? How do you sit? How do you turn on/off your video? It focuses on the beginning levels, and it’s all in pictures because it needs to be super simple for my students. It’s an entire module in Canvas about computer literacy and digital literacy basics and our goal is for all instructors to be able to use this with their students. We’re also creating a chart about how to make digital documents more accessible in different programs as a resource for instructors.

Communities of Practice and Professional Learning Communities

A community of practice provides benefits in the following four areas:[120]

  • Domain: The area of shared inquiry and the key issues (e.g., improving adult learners’ transition to postsecondary education)
  • Community member: Professionals committed to a process of collective learning oriented toward achieving outcomes and improving practices
  • Practices: Investigation of key questions, problems and gaps, identification of resources and expertise, sharpening of subject knowledge through professional learning, and development of new resources, processes, and methods
  • Continuous improvement: Reflection on practice, evaluation of impact and outcomes, ongoing inquiry, refinement of practice and methods, development of new resources

Communities of practice have long been used as the organizing principle to problem-solving and strategic positioning in the business community and have more recently been adopted by education agencies and organizations. Communities of practice are beneficial professional learning opportunities for adult educators for the following reasons:[121]

  • Investigate pertinent questions for improving practice
  • Keep informed of developments in research and practice
  • Sharpen subject knowledge and skills
  • Gather resources and build new knowledge around teaching and learning issues
  • Make changes to improve practice
  • Build networks for learning and change

A professional learning community is committed to processes that help all learners succeed. By working collaboratively, these communities explore the following critical questions:[122]

  • What do we want students to learn?
  • How will we know if they have learned it?
  • What will we do if they don’t learn it?
  • What will we do if they already know it?


Merari Weber | Associate Professor | Santa Ana College
How do you help reluctant teachers embrace the learning process?

I think what’s valuable in the learning process is giving teachers space to voice their frustration with change. You must allow them to voice the sadness that they feel for not having the needed knowledge that they are asked to have, and then, shaking it off and moving on. Saying, “OK, we’re going to have two minutes of being really upset, and then we’re going to learn how we’re going to do it in a different way.”

Some adult students come in with a lot more knowledge in technology than the instructor has themselves. For the instructor to be open and receive that strength the student has, and cocreate to make the classroom experience better, is such a gift that I think faculty have learned to receive. They don’t have to be the sage on the stage, they can be cocreators in their classes.

How do you implement meaningful professional development in your context?

Good professional development should have teachers experience what the students will experience. Teachers should themselves experience new tools, go through the process of learning and relearning, and feel what their students will feel. Then, they can be a model for their students—you empower your students that way

How do you implement communities of practice within your context?

The work is really focused and intentional long-term professional development. In communities of practice, you’re coming from an action-research mindset. You’re coming together with other teachers on a common issue/concern, brainstorming, conducting research, and then putting it into practice. That’s professional development. It’s not me in the front of the room telling teachers which tools to use. Real learning takes reflection and deep thinking—if you’re not giving teachers time to reflect, then nothing really changes long-term.

One of the things that we’ve been trying to do with our faculty is create communities of practice. With communities of practice, teachers are more curious and can bring inquiries of practice into the space to discuss with their peers. Then, they can test out potential solutions and come back and say what worked and didn’t work. That iterative process maximizes learning.

At Santa Ana College we’re currently leading an Equity-Minded Teaching and Learning Institute. Over the yearlong institute, we’re doing 10 virtual sessions. Before the live session, faculty are doing remote work in our learning management system. They’re reading, thinking, and reflecting. Then, during the live session, we come together and discuss how our thinking has potentially changed, how we applied our learnings in the classroom, and what were the results, if any, and next steps. For this, you need administrative support and faculty buy-in to make this successful since it takes time to do this well.

  1. Pedagogy vs. Andragogy
  2. Teaching Methodologies to Distance Learning
  3. The Adult Learner
  4. The Adult Learner
  5. Experiential Learning
  6. Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning
  7. Teaching Learners To Be Self-Directed
  8. Teaching Learners To Be Self-Directed
  9. Transformative Learning as Discourse
  10. Second Language Studies
  11. GED Preparation
  12. Evaluating Digital Learning
  13. Blended Learning Guide
  14. Community College Participation
  15. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  16. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  17. Adult Education’s Response to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning
  18. Facing the Future
  19. GED Preparation
  20. Use of Newsela PRO in Precollege Program
  21. Blended Learning Guide
  22. A State Director’s Perspective
  23. Where Do We Go Now?
  24. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  25. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  26. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  27. Adult Education’s Response to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning
  28. A State Director’s Perspective
  29. Blended Learning Guide
  30. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  31. A State Director’s Perspective
  32. Where Do We Go Now?
  33. The Interconnectedness of Learning
  34. Evaluating Digital Learning
  35. Leveraging Technology
  36. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  37. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  38. New Trends in Formative-Summative Evaluations
  39. The Interconnectedness of Learning
  40. Leveraging Adult Learning Theory
  41. The Interconnectedness of Learning
  42. Leveraging Adult Learning Theory
  43. CSTP 2009
  44. ISTE Standards: Educators
  45. Quality Online Learning
  46. Requirements for California Instructors
  47. From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side
  48. What Makes Teaching Effective?
  49. Adult Education Teacher Competencies
  50. Blended Learning Guide
  51. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  52. A State Director’s Perspective
  53. Expanding Access to Adult Literacy
  54. Best Practices in Professional Development
  55. OTAN Training
  56. Communities of Practice
  57. Integrating Basic Skills and Career Pathways
  58. Learning by Doing

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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.