Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

After Career Preparation Mastery, Getting through the Digital Gauntlet to a Job Interview

January 7, 2018

Competency-based adult education and backward (curriculum) design approaches are effective ways to create curriculum content that adult learners need to prepare for careers.

Competency-based adult education is an instruction system in which intended learning outcomes and performance measures are defined and made clear in advance to students who then are given the time they need to learn and to demonstrate that they have mastered the competencies. Increasingly, some industries, post-secondary education institutions, and some adult basic skills program are moving toward competency-based education systems.

Backward design is an approach to creating curriculum that begins with what the designers want learners to know and be able to do when they have completed their curriculum, that is, when the learners have mastered the learning objectives, or have attained the learning outcomes. Curriculum designers then “work backwards,” identifying the instructional activities and resources that will enable learners to master the objectives and attain those outcomes. Developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, this is now a widely embraced and effective approach to curriculum design. However, do competency-based approaches and backward design curricula go far enough if the learner’s goal is to get on a career pathway leading to a family sustaining salary? Is well-designed instruction, with excellent teachers managing it, and students’ commitment to mastering the content all that learners need to get hired for jobs in their chosen career pathway?

If the adult learner has identified a career pathway to pursue, an important if, then it’s not enough to just prepare by completing a well-designed occupational training course and/or a higher education certificate or degree program. Here’s why. The way in which employers, especially large corporations, choose candidates has changed, and this is not a new phenomenon; it’s been moving in this direction for at least a decade. You may have noticed that these jobs all require submitting online applications. A major reason is that they include an applicant tracking system (ATS) a human resources database that sifts large numbers of applications for a job and organizes them into categories, ranking them by keywords (e.g. skills, competencies, titles of positions held, found, degrees, etc.) Typically this takes the software seconds at most to sort each application. Accomplished adult learners may have mastered the intended outcomes of an education or training program, but may be rejected as a candidate for a position by the Applicant Tracking System because they haven’t described themselves using words or phrases that the software understands.

To be asked to a job interview for the position, applicants need to be taught how to look at a position description and identify the key words that the ATS is likely to recognize. This implies that the applicant has access to a computer or portable digital device and the Internet, and the ability to:

  • Use an online job board such as Monster or Indeed to find the right jobs to apply for and to upload a carefully prepared resume
  • Accurately research what a position requires both from the position advertisement and also from O*NET descriptions of what position descriptions that have this or similar titles usually require
  • Select key words to include in the online application for the position
  • If possible, review the online application without completing it to understand the questions, take notes on them, and record verbatim questions not understood which may require further research
  • Accurately complete the application

These are new competencies for finding good jobs that require good research and problem solving skills as well as computer and Internet comfort and competence. These competencies include not only the required knowledge and skills for the position but also the digital literacy skills to get through the ATS digital gauntlet to a job interview in which they can demonstrate that they have the required knowledge and skills for the position.

For more information, see: What do Corporate Recruiters Want? and Applicant Tracking System Definition

Formative Assessment Practices of a Teacher of Occupation-related Basic Math in an Integrated Education Program

December 22, 2017

This is a lightly edited excerpt from Teaching, Learning and Assessment for Adults Improving Foundational Skills, by David J. Rosen and Inge De Meyer, case studies in formative assessment in adult basic skills education in Belgium, published by OECD.[1] It is a description of an adult basic skills math teacher who teaches in a math lab, and who focuses on occupation-related math skills, using formative assessment and a learner-centered, blended learning model that incorporates some online instruction.

Formative assessment practices

The most important player in this case study is the mathematics teacher from the center for adult basic education who is out-stationed in the public employment service (VDAB). She uses several formative assessment practices to address the specific educational needs of each of her students and to help them acquire the skills they lack for their future job. Furthermore she keeps every party involved in this project informed about the participant’s progress and problems. Without such a dynamic, communicative math teacher with experience in teaching adults with basic skill needs, the program wouldn’t be as successful.

Formative assessment practices the teacher uses include:

  • Formative assessment. For each learner, the teacher assesses which of the skills needed to follow their chosen vocational training they lack, and she works with each individually towards acquiring those skills. During this process she doesn’t use the general summative approach used in basic mathematics courses. Instead, learning and assessment are carried out through individual tasks, which she discusses with the learners. This personal, informal feedback helps the learners to clarify their knowledge and proficiency level without formal testing.
  • Dialogue with the learners (individual conversations during which the individual learner’s problems are discussed). During these individual conversations she sometimes refers to other learners in the group to encourage the person she’s working with (“He/she also learned to do this. Was it very difficult to learn?”).
  • Peer learning. When learners in the math class are following the same (or a similar) vocational course and have similar mathematical needs the teacher gives them tasks they can work on together.
  • Teacher “log” – for each learner the teacher notes the learner’s progress and his/her further needs so she can adapt the tasks in the next class to each learner’s actual numeracy level.
  • Learner progress communication – in writing  – with the learner, vocational teacher (VDAB instructor) and VDAB counselor. This way everybody involved in the program can take the problems and progress for each learner into account in the activities within the individual trajectories for which they are responsible.


When we observed experienced, out-stationed mathematics teacher Heidi D’Haene working with learners at the VDAB, there were two brightly-lit rooms, one with tables where learners worked independently, and a small computer lab. On one of the tables were neatly arranged binders and resource materials for the afternoon’s learning. The binders included, for example, math for builders, metal workers, plumbers and electricians, and vocationally-specific math assessments. The materials included an original copy of each competency-based instructional module or exercise, copies that the learner could write on and keep, and an answer sheet that the learner could use to correct her or his work.

Learners in the vocational courses at the VDAB found their way to the open mathematics lab in different ways. Their vocational teachers referred some to improve specific math skills that needed to be strengthened. Some were referred after having taken a math diagnostic test as part of their seeking a vocational course, for example as plumbers, electricians, builders, or metal workers. Others found on their own that they needed to strengthen certain math skills or, placed on a job, found a work task that required better facility with certain math skills.

Typically learners come to the math lab once a week, for two hours in the afternoon, for as many weeks as they need to accomplish their goals. Most learners finish their trajectory in around three months, after approximately 30 hours of instruction. On the day we observed there were six learners, all men aged 18-25.

In our interview with Heidi we learned that her primary interest is to help learners think in math and process it – not just learn the math facts and algorithms. She said that over time she has learners in the lab who have a very wide range of abilities, and her challenge is to be able to quickly and effectively adapt to that range, to their individual needs and goals. She explained that when possible she groups learners with the same goals who are at the same level, or she uses peer-learning methods. However, since this is not always possible, she always has materials for individually-paced learning related to each learner’s goals. Furthermore she doesn’t always know in advance who will be in the open lab for a given session, and she may have only one or two learners one day, and up to 15 on another. This makes adapting to learners’ needs challenging.

When learners begin in the open lab they often plan to attend up to 10-12 times, but they have the option of attending up to 30 hours before they are placed in a job. Occasionally a learner who is placed on a job comes back to work on a particular math task. A new learner may take (the relevant parts of) a mathematics diagnostic assessment, although sometimes there isn’t time for this. Heidi also experienced that several learners find taking a test difficult; they fear that it’s “like school.” Many of the learners, she said, rely on formulas and “tricks” to do math and have no real understanding of how to think mathematically. So she relies on direct, systematic observation of their learning as they try specific math tasks. For example, she hands a learner a worksheet and says, “Try this out. It may be too easy or too difficult. We’ll see.” Afterwards she closely observes how they are doing and adjusts the kind and level of instruction accordingly.

Using computers is integrated into the instruction, usually for 15 minutes at a time. Learners use educational software from a CD-ROM or from a web page. Heidi observes what they are doing, and together she and the learner assess whether they are ready to go on. She does not use learning management tools such as those that might be found in large integrated learning system software. She prefers direct talking with learners and poses questions such as “What do you want to learn here in the lab?” “Have you seen this (module, computer instruction program, etc.) before?” “Does it look like something you can do?” “Does this look like what you need to learn in order to…?”. She considers dialogue an important part of the formative assessment process; “it captures their motivation”.

Heidi tries to incorporate project-based learning whenever possible. This way the mathematics skills are grounded in situations that the learners find vocationally relevant. One of the projects Heidi described is making a plan of a garden house. This can be done as a team or as an independent project. It involves linear and area measurement, reading the instructions for and mixing cement, planning a budget and other numeracy or mathematics, reading and writing skills.

When there are only a few learners this method of working is not difficult. However, when there are more learners, she must move quickly through the lab, and back and forth between the two rooms to stay in touch with how each learner is doing and assign new work – a model sometimes referred to as “teaching on roller skates.” It requires a high degree of expertise in mathematics knowledge, teaching strategies, and the ability to mentally keep track of how each learner is doing.

Immediately after each session Heidi takes careful notes on what each learner has accomplished and what the learner needs to do next time. She discusses her notes with the learner at the beginning of the following open math lab session. She also sends a copy of the progress notes, immediately after the session, to the VDAB instructor who teaches the vocational course the learner attends and to the learner’s counselor at the VDAB. This communication accomplishes several things. First, it keeps the VDAB instructor and counselor informed of the learner’s progress. Second, it builds and maintains good relationships between the job skills training, VDAB counseling and basic skills staff.

Heidi also sometimes suggests ways in which, in the vocational classes, the numeracy skills could be reinforced. Collaboration with the professional VDAB training instructors is also practiced as new assessments are developed. Heidi works one-on-one with the vocational instructor to assess the numeracy skills and knowledge needed for training and for the job. In some cases this includes understanding math theory as, for example, understanding the binary system is important for certain kinds of electrical work. Heidi also works with the VDAB vocational instructors to tailor the curriculum to the needs of the vocational training, and the needs of the learners. For example, often a curriculum needs to have more levels added to address a wider range of learner needs.

This case is an excellent example of a multiple-partner, work-based, formative assessment model where all the elements are in place for participant success: a strong education and training skills agency partnership, an experienced and effective teacher, a well-developed competency-based curriculum that is related to participants’ goals, a well-developed formative assessment process, and basic skills learning embedded or contextualized in the highly-motivating training context.

[1] Rosen, D.J. and I. De Meyer (2008), “Case Study: Belgium (Flemish Community)”, in Teaching, Learning and Assessment for Adults: Improving Foundation Skills, OECD Publishing. 2008 Last downloaded December 22, 2017.


Online Technology Teacher Training Resources

August 26, 2007

Looking for Technology Teacher Training Resources online?

The Adult Literacy and Technology Network (ALTN) and Sacramento County Office of Education sponsor the National Institute for Literacy Technology Training Special Collection. You’ll find it and all the free resources online at


Also, check out Tech Savvy, a free online assessment (with an professional development planning process and with online and face-to-face teacher learning resources) This is for adult education teachers who want to improve their knowledge and skills in integrating technology in their classes.

Photo Logs (Phlogs)

August 26, 2007

Phlogs (Photo logs, or blogs with photos) have a lot of appeal for adult education/ESOL. They could be used as part of a classroom virtual visit, for example. Students using regular, digital, or even throwaway cameras could do phlogs of their neighborhoods. (I did one of my neighborhood several years ago called “from my window .” Every photo was taken from a window of my house or car. Then I wrote short captions underneath — a perfect beginning level ESOL activity.) You’ll find it at

Picture taken from window in home of David J. Rosen

Students at project Hope in Boston a few years ago did a history phlog, Dorchester Now and Then, comparing photos from their neighborhoods now — and earlier. You’ll find it at

Codman Square then and now

Immigrant students could also document their passage from their first country to their neighborhood in North America — scanning photos which were taken earlier. All students could document what they like — and don’t like — about their communities. And phlogs could be used for action research/social change projects — documenting urban or rural environmental hazards, poor public services (trash not picked up, street signs missing, giant pot holes, etc.)

Software Publications

August 26, 2007


I am the author of Harnessing Technology and The Literacy List , two Web-based resources for adult basic education (including ESOL) practitioners. I update both from time-to-time, and would welcome your recommendations. Have you bought software in the past two years that you especially like? Do you (and your students) have favorite instruction/learning Web pages? Email me your recommendations at

Australian Project-based Distance Learning

August 26, 2007

For those who are interested in project-based distance learning I
recommend Eunice Askov’s chapter on Australian Distance learning in the
NCSALL Publication on adult education DL, _Expanding Access to
Adult Literacy with Online Distance Education_

For example, at the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Institute in New South Wales, students use WebCT to do Webquests, just one of many
interesting examples Askov describes. Also, the appendix of this
publication has an excellent set of descriptions of major DL products.

Project-based Learning: The International Classroom Virtual Visit Project

August 26, 2007

In a post to the National Institute for Literacy Technology discussion list on July 17, 2003, Irshat Yusupovich Madyarov wrote:

I’m looking for a platform to be used for an internet-based intercultural communication between two schools with kids from different cultural backgrounds. This would involve user-friendly message board, posting pictures, etc. There will be a web site as a part of this project, so we could as well integrate all communication tools we need into this website. i know some websites that offer this type of service. I would like to hear about your experience.

I replied:

One example of project-based (constructivist) distance learning, which involves matched classes, groups or schools from different countries is the International Classroom Virtual Visit project. Susan Gaer, an ESL instructor at Santa Anna College in Southern California, and I developed the project in 1999. Since then we have helped teachers and their classes, from various countries, to match up and exchange information about themselves and their cultures. Students introduce themselves, their class/school and their communities through student-and teacher-made Web pages. They ask each other questions using group or individual e-mail. Most of the classes are adult ESL/ESOL students, but some are K-12 students, and some are adult basic skills students. Some of the matches have been cross-generational.

It’s a great way to encourage production of writing, cultural learning, and increased comfort and experience with the internet. For some (teachers and students) it’s also an opportunity to learn about web page design, including graphics.

For more information about this project, and to see the Web pages the classes have developed since 1999. you can go to the Virtual School Visit section of Susan’s E-mail projects Web page at:

To join the International Classroom Virtual Visit project, go to:

An inexpensive platform which you might be interested exploring for project-based learning, that has a message board, a place for posting pictures, and many other virtual learning environment features is Community Zero


Supported (Hybrid, Blended) Distance Learning

August 26, 2007

In a post to the National Institute for Literacy Technology discussion list on July 16th, 2003, I wrote:

The term “distance learning (DL),” for many people, suggests
correspondence courses, video broadcasts, or more recently independent
web-based courses. This is what some, Jere Johnston for example, call
“pure distance learning.” Hybrid distance learning or “supported
distance learning (SDL)” (Lennox McLendon used “supported distance
learning” in a discussion on the NLA e-list a couple of years ago and I
have used it since) is something different. It is a combination of
real-time learning, usually face-to-face but not always in the same
room (e.g. videophone has been used in Delaware’s adult high school
diploma program,) and independent, asynchronous learning, which is
provided by videotape, TV broadcast, the Web, computer software, and/or
print materials. The face-to-face instruction with a teacher or
tutor provides the “support,” makes pure distance learning into a
hybrid model. Supported distance learning is, of course, for people
who cannot, for a variety of reasons attend classes. But it is also
for those who do attend classes but want more instruction (greater
“intensity of instruction”) than is available through their class-based
learning. Supported distance learning can be provided by schools,
education programs, and higher education but it can also be offered by
companies and other employers, organized labor, libraries, and other

Given the long ESL/ESOL waiting lists in many parts of the U.S. (L.A.,
Boston, New York, and in other cities and towns) it seems to me that we
should consider ESL/ESOL which may be provided in this innovative way
as one way to help us reduce waiting lists. But we also need to look
at how effective DL or SDL is — for whom, and under what circumstances
it is and is not effective, and how much it costs to deliver it

How Low-literate Adults Read and Navigate Web Pages

August 26, 2007

On the National Institute for Technology Technology list in May, 2003 there was a discussion with health literacy researcher, Christina Zarcadoolas, about her study Unweaving the Web, in which she and her co-investigators, Andrew Pleasant and Mercedes Banco, looked at how low-literate adults read and navigate Web pages.

The discussion began with this post, #2825, and ended I think, with #2855.

Discussion moderator Emily Hacker wrote:

In preparation for our discussion next week on “Unweaving the Web: An
Exploratory Study of Low-Literate Adults’ Navigation Skills on the World
Wide Web,” Christina Zarcadoolas e-mailed me the following introduction and
some questions to think about. We will get officially get started with the
discussion with Christina, Andrew and Mercedes on Monday. Please get ready
to jump in with your comments/questions/ideas so we can have a rich, active


Hello all,
Thank you for taking an interest in our work and more importantly, in the web and literacy. Emily said it might be useful for me to post some questions related to web based comprehension that we think about. These questions certainly have propelled our research. We’ve only begun to answer our own questions. I have asked 2 co-authors, Andrew Pleasant, a communications expert (Brown and Cornel) and Mercedes Blanco ( Maximus Inc., a cultural competency expert, to join the discussion. I am a sociolinguist ( studies how people use all forms of language – spoken, written, visual) to make meaning. I’ve spent the last 30 years working in literacy and health and environmental issues. With so many people online and going online it’s clear we need to know far more about the usability of this stuff. N. Jakobson’s wonderful work ( is ongoing and rich. However there is very little research getting published on how less literate people manage on the web nor on how literacy and web reading interface. Here are some questions you might want to keep in mind for our discussion next week. We look forward to your questions and the dialogue.
* How are print and web based information similar?
* How are they different?
* What can web based info do that print material can’t?
* What “principles” of readability may defy what we know about reading in hard copy?
* What do we assume users can do when they’re using our websites?
* What are common problems in websites?
* What characteristics of the web do “we” like – are these preferences shared by low literate users?
* What are some principles of written and spoken language at work on the web?
* What are some technology fixes to the barriers that the web presents?
* Who should be on a web design team?
* What areas of future research and discussion are needed to identify how to tailor web sites for comprehensibility?


Christina Zarcadoolas, PhD
Center for Environmental Studies
Director, Environmental Literacy Initiative
Box 1943
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
(401) 863-7347
fax (401) 863-3503

I replied:

The “Unweaving the Web” Study is very helpful. Below are some of my
initial thoughts about it:

The study confirms the widely observed importance of (and my 1995-1996
research on) content interest such as: health information,
school/homework information, child care/parenting, Web-based job
searches, Web-based apartment searches, and home country information.
“News” “weather,” “history,” “church/religion”, “maps,”
“literature/poetry,” “real estate/finance,” “languages” and
“chat/e-mail” did not show up in my early research.

The observations on the kinds of assistance Web users sought was
interesting: e.g. reminders needed to scroll, and to look for action
buttons. The scrolling and action button problems are not a surprise to
me, but it was good to see these issues are confirmed.

I was reassured to see that unlabeled graphic links was found to be a
problem. I have observed this problem with many new Web users,
especially low literate users.

I hadn’t thought about pull down menus as a problem. But, of course,
they would be if one had not seen this feature before.

I didn’t know back arrows were a problem for some people. Of course,
typing Web addresses is a problem for many people — especially for
those who do not write well. The observation that typing Web addresses
was experienced as a difficult transition, the ‘dynamic jump from the
body …to the small URL address window,” was new for me.

Searching, of course, has many challenges, some of which your study
documented, as does judging reliability of Web information.

Your study supports the Children’s’ Partnership study findings that busy
Web pages are not attractive to low literate adults, and that they
present multiple barriers.

The problem of translation mirror sites which you raised was interesting
— I hadn’t thought about this.

The whole Further Study and Recommendations Section was great — I
especially liked the user path history suggestion.

The Literacy List

August 26, 2007

Periodically I post messages about one of my publications, in this case The Literacy List:

You will find an updated version of _The Literacy List_ at

The Literacy List is a large collection of free Adult Basic Education
and ESL/ESOL Web sites, electronic lists (“listservs”), and other
Internet resources for adult basic skills learners and teachers. The
resources have been suggested by adult literacy and ESOL practitioners.

If you would like to recommend a high-quality, free Internet resource to
include on _The Literacy List_ please e-mail me the URL and briefly
describe why you like it.

I would be delighted to see your comments, questions or suggestions.

David J. Rosen