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

Executive Summary

The purpose of the California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance — referred to here as the Guidance—is to enable adult educators in the state of California to design and implement effective digital learning experiences. The Guidance is intended to inform the practice of all California educators, support staff, and school leadership that work with adult learners.

California has a long history of providing adult education, from the early years of statehood in the 1850s to today. The California Adult Education System is derived from two funding streams. Primarily, the California Adult Education Program (CAEP) distributes over $500 million in annual funding to adult education programs across the state. Additionally, over $100 million in supplemental funding is distributed through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Title II, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. CAEP is a uniquely designed program with the CDE and California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) jointly administering the annual allocation to adult education program providers from both K–12 school districts and community college districts who are organized into 71 adult education regional consortia.

The Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN), funded by the Adult Education Office in the Career & College Transition Division of the California Department of Education through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II federal funds, provides “electronic collaboration and information, and support for instructional technology and distance learning to literacy and adult education providers in California.” [1] The Guidance was produced by OTAN.

Contents of the Guidance

In recent years, the focus in adult education has shifted from distance education to digital learning, or learning experiences that utilize digital tools for teaching and learning. Digital learning can happen in any learning environment—whether online, in-person, or blended—but requires adult learners to develop digital literacy and exhibit digital resilience. Digital literacy includes the ability to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate digital information.[2] Digital resilience signifies having the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands.[3]

The Guidance covers best practices across a variety of topics that are foundational to effective digital learning, beginning with access and equity.

Ensuring Equity and Access

Digital equity is defined as “the condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that is needed for full participation in the society and economy of the United States.”[4] Access is an essential consideration to ensure that educational opportunities equitably impact the learners who need them, and it includes access to digital devices, internet connectivity, and digital literacy skills.

In addition to digital equity and access, digital learning must be accessible to all learners. Accessibility measures the degree to which content, programs, or tools support the needs of diverse learners. The Universal Design for Learning framework helps educators design learning experiences that are accessible to all learners through multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression.[5]

Foundations of Adult Education and Digital Learning

The recommendations presented in the Guidance are grounded in adult learning theories that provide a research-based foundation for understanding the unique needs of adult learners, including:

  • Andragogy: Adult learners need to know the purpose of learning, are autonomous and self-directed, connect learning to prior experiences, are contextual and problem-centered, and have an intrinsic motivation to learn.[6]
  • Experiential learning model: Learners cycle through stages of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.[7] Learners' experiences are central to the learning process.
  • Heutagogy: Adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, have varying degrees of capability, and change their actions and beliefs based on learning.[8] 8
  • Self-directed learning: Learners vary in their preferences toward self-directed learning depending on a variety of personal factors, including past experiences.[9]

In addition to these theories, a foundation of research about effective digital learning practices informs the recommendations in this guide. Although distance education presents a set of challenges not faced in the traditional classroom, studies that evaluated the effectiveness of distance education found no significant differences among instructional delivery methods on learner outcomes.[10,11] The benefits of digital learning for students include added convenience and flexibility, increased self-confidence, and development of academic and digital literacy skills.[12,13,14,15] For educators, the benefits of digital learning include the ability to differentiate instruction, facilitate personalized learning, monitor learner progress, and provide feedback.[16,17]

The Guidance focuses on best practices for implementing the best possible learning experiences. Some recommendations for digital learning include: [18,19,20,21,22]

  • establishing clear expectations and goals;
  • designing flexible learning opportunities and personalized learning pathways; and
  • providing opportunities for learner self-reflection.

Professional development is essential for helping educators implement best digital learning practices in the classroom. Effective professional development is sustained, reflective, collaborative, interactive, personalized, includes coaching and peer learning, and models effective technology integration.[23]

Designing Flexible Learning Experiences

Several research-based technology integration frameworks informed recommendations for flexible digital learning models discussed in the Guidance. Each framework highlights different aspects of digitally powered teaching and learning. A sample of these frameworks includes

  • SAMR: Four tiers of online learning including substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition;[24]
  • TPACK: Three core components of content, pedagogy, and technology are the foundation for quality instruction;[25] and
  • Triple E Framework: Three components of engagement, enhancement, and extension help educators implement effective technology integration.[26]

When used in alignment to instructional frameworks, digital learning tools can help educators and learners communicate, collaborate, and be more productive. Choosing the right digital tool depends on learning goals and purpose. Evaluating pedagogical and technical usability can help educators determine whether to implement a digital tool within their classroom. Pedagogical usability focuses on how well a tool facilitates the learning process, while technical usability focuses on the ease of use and interaction between users and the tool.[27]

Adopting Models that Work

Finding the right digital learning models that work for any educational situation may be difficult, and there are numerous learning models that incorporate digital resources and methods. Some of the most common digital learning models are:

  • Distance education: Learning occurs outside of a physical classroom.
  • Blended learning: Learning occurs in both physical and virtual spaces.
  • HyFlex models: Learning occurs concurrently in physical and virtual spaces; learners choose whether to attend class face-to-face or online.

Adult education program providers must be deliberate and thoughtful in all aspects of the planning and implementation process. Program providers must consider which models will work within different program areas and include appropriate levels of funding, time, professional development, and technical support. The Guidance offers strategic advice on how to make crucial decisions about model adoption.

Programs must also follow federal and state reporting requirements, including those cited in the National Reporting System, which includes definitions that determine program participation through contact hours (which can be a combination of in-person, online, and remote communication). Additionally, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act requires states to align workforce education programs with accountability and performance goals.

Data-Driven Instruction and Digital Assessments

The primary purpose of assessment is to inform instruction and improve learning outcomes. Assessments also empower learners to better understand their own strengths and areas of potential growth. Digital assessments provide increased accessibility, differentiation, and flexibility; streamline the testing process; and provide immediate feedback and results. Many different types of digital assessment tools exist including discussion boards, gamified learning, polls, quizzes, and digital portfolios. The Guidance can help teachers, education leaders, and support staff choose and implement the right assessment tools effectively.

Fostering Healthy, Equitable, and Inclusive Digital Communities

Healthy, equitable, and inclusive communities are precursors to deep learning and developing meaningful relationships in online spaces. Cultivating a positive, safe, and supportive classroom community may be challenging and requires effort—it doesn’t just ‘happen.’ Educators must be intentional about creating conditions that actively support learners, especially in a digital learning environment.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning framework defines five core social-emotional learning competencies: [28] self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Educators’ development of these competencies is important to build relationships with learners, establish a positive classroom community, and to model skills for learners. The Guidance offers advice on how to achieve better classroom culture with digital tools.

  1. OTAN Vision
  2. Digital Literacy
  3. Digital US
  4. Public Law 117-58
  5. Universal Design for Learning
  6. The Adult Learner
  7. Experiential Learning
  8. Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning
  9. Teaching Learners To Be Self-Directed
  10. Second Language Studies
  11. GED Preparation
  12. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  13. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  14. Adult Education’s Response to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning
  15. Facing the Future
  16. Use of Newsela PRO in a Precollege Program
  17. Blended Learning Guide
  18. Covid-19 Rapid Response Report
  19. Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce
  20. Adult Education’s Response to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning
  21. State Director’s Perspective
  22. Blended Learning Guide
  23. Best Practices in Professional Development
  24. How to Apply the SAMR Model
  25. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  26. Triple E Framework
  27. A Conceptual Framework Web-Based Learning
  28. California Transformative SEL Competencies

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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.