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


The primary objective of this literature review was to curate and synthesize existing research on digital and distance learning in adult education. The results of this literature review informed the writing of the California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance.

Research Methods

Inclusion Criteria

To be included in the literature review, sources were required to

  • be peer-reviewed (e.g., scholarly journal article) or from a reputable noncorporate source (e.g., educational research nonprofit, government agency;
  • be published within the last 20 years (2002 or later);
  • focus on digital learning or distance education;
  • focus on adult education (or nontraditional learners in higher education);
  • use an andragogical lens; and
  • support the aims of the Guidance

Search Process

The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), an educational research database sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, was used to locate sources for inclusion in the literature review.

To conduct a comprehensive search, the following search terms were entered into ERIC in various combinations:

  • General terms: adult education/learners, nontraditional education/learners
  • Subject terms: Adult Basic Education (ABE)/Adult Secondary Education (ASE)/High School Equivalency (HSE), Career Technical Education (CTE)/Integrated Education and Training (IET)/Vocational Education (VE), correctional education, citizenship education/ELL/ESL
  • Focus terms: digital learning, distance education, distance learning, online learning, nontraditional

The final list of sources for the literature review included 25 academic journal articles and 11 research reports.

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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.