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


This section includes recommendations for supporting learners; curriculum, learning, and assessment design; program providers; technology developers; employers; and policymakers related to distance learning in adult education.

Supporting Learners

  • Educators and program providers should first and foremost respect adult learners, their unique characteristics, and their past experiences (Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Halpern & Tucker, 2015; Miles, 2021; Roumell, 2021; Schultz, 2012; Turner et al., 2018).
  • The role of the adult educator is to act as a facilitator and guide through the learning experience. In digital spaces, adult learners might need more guidance at first, especially if it is an unfamiliar setting (Askov et al., 2003; Blondy, 2007).
  • Educators should engage in multiple forms of consistent communication and meaningful feedback with learners (Askov et al., 2003; Bin Mubayrik, 2020; Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Murphy et al., 2017; Schultz, 2012; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008) and among peers (Blondy, 2007; Cercone, 2008).
  • Other recommendations for educators supporting adult learners in digital learning and distance education programs include establishing individual learner goals (Blondy, 2007; Johnston et al., 2015); establishing clear expectations (Blondy, 2007; Digital US Coalition, 2020; Schultz, 2012); creating adaptable (Blondy, 2007), technology-based lessons (Schultz, 2012) with a modular structure (Schultz, 2012); incorporating learner input (Blondy, 2007; Turner et al., 2018); conducting open-ended surveys to better understand learner motivations (Chametsky, 2018); encouraging learners through direct, personalized communication (Belzer et al., 2020; Sharma et al., 2019), and making assessment data actionable and relatable to learners (Digital US Coalition, 2020; Sharma et al., 2019).

Curriculum & Learning Design

  • Provide flexible learning opportunities and personalized learning pathways (Belzer et al., 2020; Blondy, 2007; Chametsky, 2018; Digital US Coalition, 2020; EdTech Center @ World Education, 2020; Falowo, 2007; Miles, 2021; Murphy et al., 2017; Rosen & Vanek, 2020; Schultz, 2012; Sharma et al., 2019; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008).
  • Facilitate self-directed learning (Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Halpern & Tucker, 2015; Schultz, 2012; Sharma et al., 2019) and use scaffolding to support individual learners as needed (Cercone, 2008; Murphy et al., 2017).
  • Design authentic, learner-centered experiences (Blondy, 2007; Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Miles, 2021; Roumell, 2021; Schultz, 2012; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008; Williams, 2017).
  • Provide practical connections between curricular content and career or real-world experiences (Blondy, 2007; Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Digital US Coalition, 2020; Halpern & Tucker, 2015; Schultz, 2012; Sharma et al., 2019; Turner et al., 2018; Williams, 2017).
  • Engage learners in problem-centered learning (Cercone, 2008; Halpern & Tucker, 2015; Turner et al., 2018).
  • Provide opportunities for self-reflection (Cercone, 2008; Chametsky, 2018; Halpern & Tucker, 2015) .
  • Utilize technology in meaningful and purposeful ways (Falowo, 2007; Johnston et al., 2015; Olesen-Tracy, 2010) that are aligned with curriculum goals (Digital US Coalition, 2020; Porter, 2004).
  • Provide opportunities for academic and informal discussion (Blondy, 2007; Chametsky, 2018; Halpern & Tucker, 2015) and peer-peer interaction (Halpern & Tucker, 2015; Schultz, 2012) to help learners develop relationships and foster cultural competence (Blondy, 2007).

Program Providers

  • Program providers must address issues of digital equity and inclusion (Roumell, 2021) and help connect learners with funding sources for devices and connectivity (Murphy et al., 2017).
  • Program providers should be deliberate and thoughtful in planning, designing, and implementing distance education programs (Falowo, 2007; Lotas, 2021; Miles, 2021; Porter, 2004; Roumell, 2021). Programs should include adequate infrastructure and learner support, including social support and wellbeing (Belzer et al., 2020; Lotas, 2021; Roumell, 2021). Administrators need to recognize that launching and sustaining programs takes time (Murphy et al., 2017; Porter, 2004).
  • Distance education programs need to include basic digital literacy skills development for both learners and educators (Askov et al., 2003; Chametsky, 2018; Miles, 2021; Murphy et al., 2017; Rosen & Vanek, 2020; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008; Smythe & Breshears, 2017).
  • In addition to basic digital literacy skills, educators need professional development in effective technology integration (Belzer et al., 2020; Miles, 2021; Murphy et al., 2017). As one study shared:
  • 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 (Askov et al., 2003, p. 72).
  • Program-level recommendations for supporting learners include creating learning contracts with individual learners to hold them accountable and better help them meet their goals (Cercone, 2008), creating learner portfolios to document the learning process (Porter, 2004), using digital badging systems to track learner achievement (Finkelstein et al., 2013), and using competency-based assessments and texting as recruitment tools (Sharma et al. 2019)
  • Other program-level recommendations include facilitating “educative spaces” (Lotas, 2021), maintaining good data and recordkeeping (Porter, 2004), and collaborating with employers to ensure alignment between curriculum and in-demand skills (Finkelstein et al., 2013; Sharma et al. 2019).

Technology Developers

  • Learners participating in adult education have unique needs from learners in K-12 and higher education. As such, technology developers should use human-centered design (Sharma et al., 2019) to consider the adult learner in the design process (Cercone, 2008; Sharma et al., 2019; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008). This design process may result in new tools or adaptation of existing tools for adults with cognitive limitations or low-literacy skills.
  • Technology developers should partner with content matter experts, adult education program providers, and employers for better alignment between digital tools, skills development, and workforce readiness (Finkelstein et al., 2013; Murphy et al., 2017; Sharma et al., 2019).
  • In designing digital content, technology developers should use clear graphics, multimedia, and embedded videos to supplement text-based content (Murphy et al., 2017; Silver-Pacuilla, 2008).
  • Digital tools should provide learners with options for accessing technical support when needed (Murphy et al., 2017; Sharma et al., 2019).


Employers should:

  • leverage digital tools and mobile or online learning to hire, train, upskill, and advanced their employees (Sharma et al., 2019);
  • look beyond traditional resumés to hire new workers based on demonstration of needed skills (Sharma et al., 2019); and
  • partner with adult learning providers (Askov et al., 2003; Digital US Coalition, 2020; Sharma et al., 2019).


Changes in federal and state funding to facilitate growth and innovation in adult education and digital learning might include:

  • Stronger social policies toward digital equity and inclusion (Roumell, 2021) that ensure family-sustaining wages and meaningful careers (Lotas, 2021).
  • Decision-making should include policymakers, practitioners, and researchers (Askov et al., 2003).
  • Public computer spaces should be seen as “new public spaces to enact collaborative and critical pedagogies that forge a more inclusive society” (Smythe & Breshears, 2017, p. 79).

As the Digital US Coalition shared:

Creating large-scale change will require large-scale shifts to current approaches and policies, levels of investment, and innovation to develop new delivery models to expand access to technology inclusion and digital skills development (2020, p. 30).

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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.