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
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.”
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.
Digital resilience signifies having the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered
users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands.
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.” 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.
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.
Experiential learning model: Learners cycle through stages of concrete
experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active
experimentation. 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.
Self-directed learning: Learners vary in their preferences toward self-directed learning depending on a variety of personal factors, including past
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:
- establishing clear expectations and goals;
designing flexible learning opportunities and personalized learning pathways;
- 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.
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;
TPACK: Three core components of content, pedagogy, and technology are the
foundation for quality instruction; and
Triple E Framework: Three components of engagement, enhancement, and
extension help educators implement effective technology integration.
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.
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:
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.