Posts Tagged ‘distance learning’

What will U.S. adult basic education look like in the future? Ten technology trends that may be transforming it.

July 6, 2014

What technology trends will continue, and perhaps transform adult basic education in the future? Here are ten that could — and perhaps already are beginning to — transform adult basic education (which also includes English language learning for immigrants, adult secondary education and transition to higher education) :

1. Blended Learning. Within the next five years most adult basic education programs will have web-based instruction that supplements what students do in class. For an example of this, read about what the San Mateo Adult School is doing,  and look at their online video clips These videos are actual classroom lessons also made available to their students online.

Blended learning will enable students who have access to the Internet to: put in more time on task, review a lesson that they found difficult to understand when it was presented the first time in class, and to make up a missed class. It may enable students to progress more quickly. It will also enable teachers who wish to, to provide a range of ways to teach the same topic. Online lessons can include video files, audio files, simulations/games that can be accessed from mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, texts, screen captured multimedia presentations and more.

2. Flipped Learning. In flipped learning a teacher develops or finds suitable “homework,” most often instructional videos, that students are assigned to watch before class. A flipped class is no longer a teacher presenting to a large group but a teacher, peer tutor, volunteer tutor or aide working with students who need one-on-one or small group help. In an ideal flipped classroom the teacher has a management information system and knows before the class who has watched the instructional video lesson, and whether they are ready to be assigned more difficult lessons, if or that they need a little or a lot more help. S/he then organizes the class to provide that help. It may be technology’s best answer to the competency-based Mastery Learning model Benjamin Bloom proposed several decades ago, but that teachers have found difficult to achieve in their classrooms.  Flipped Learning, of course, is one type of blended learning. For more information about flipped learning, and to join the adult basic education and ESL group there, go to the Flipped Learning Ning at

3. Pure Distance Learning. This is online learning with little or no face-to-face interaction. It has been around for many years in adult education, beginning before digital technology with well designed correspondence courses that were successful for example in rural areas of new York State. With the help of Project Ideal, a national consortium of many of the states that offer adult distance learning, and with leadership from states such as California, pure distance learning is already a reality in adult basic education and I think it will continue and grow.

4. Mobile Learning (mlearning). Adult basic education teachers who regularly survey their students to learn if they have access to the Internet through computer, and/or smart phone, and/or electronic tablet, are finding that smart phone access is a fast-growing phenomenon, especially among immigrants, but also among other adult learners, including a big growth trend among African American students. Students’ smart phones are not always used for learning, but savvy teachers have designed BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) learning models, and are finding useful language learning and other adult basic education apps. This will continue to grow, but a major impediment in many adult basic education programs and adult schools is the lack of resources to purchase broadband wireless that can be accessed in all the classrooms. For examples of mobile learning with adults, tale a look at Susan Gaer’s web site Also,  note the rapid growth in mobile learning apps for adults, for example those that can be found on “”. As the founder and moderator of the Mlearning Wiggio Group, I would be happy to extend an invitation to those who are interested in joining this online group. (Email me at )

5. Online Curricula Aligned with College and Career Ready (CCR) Standards. A major change in U.S. adult basic education is that for the first time all states are — to one degree or another — using a set of common curriculum standards. The College and Career Readiness Standards, an adult education version of the Common Core State Standards, is now in place, and in many states programs are now expected to create curricula aligned to these standards. One logical outcome could be the development of (voluntary) state and national adult education curricula that if well-developed and can be shown to produce good learning outcomes might be widely used. We’ll see.

6. Computer-based Assessment. The GED® 2014 exam is already offered primarily on computers, and all the high school equivalency tests are moving in this direction. I also expect that we will see more formative assessments being made available online.

7. Digital literacy assessment and instruction. This trend has been growing for several years, and some of today’s examples include:

8. Online Professional Development. With the advent of national curriculum standards, and a raised bar for high school equivalency and college readiness assessment as a result, the current level of online and blended adult basic education professional development will undoubtedly grow. For examples of where this is offered now, see , and for “a video window on other adult basic education teachers’ classrooms”  take a look at the authentic classroom videos in the Media Library of Teaching Skills .

9. Intelligent Tutoring In adult literacy education is new. One example, the Autotutor Intelligent tutoring program developed at the University of Memphis and being used by the National Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, has a fascinating “trialogue” feature that, in addition to an interactive automated tutor who responds to the the learner, provides an interactive online adult learner. This is the closest thing I have seen to an automated (granted, small group) classroom, and can be quite engaging.

10. Online Simulations/games Examples of adult English language learning simulations include Xenos and Skylab Learning . Several years ago a free online adult work-oriented reading, writing and numeracy simulation was developed called The Office. It will be found at

Perhaps you see other adult basic education technology trends, or have comments about the trends that I see. If so, please send your comments.


A quantum Leap for Distance Learning

August 25, 2012

In a May 2, 2012 New York Times article, “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses” Tamar Lewin reported on a significant development in world-scale online higher education courses. A new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, would be offering free online courses to the world. This partnership followed the launching in March, 2012 of M.I.T.’s first massive online course, Circuits and Electronics. 155,000 students, from 162 countries were enrolled, and some 7,000 finished the course and were entitled to a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but, for now at least, not credit.

When questioned about the low online course completion rate in a WBUR Radio Boston interview on August 20th Anant Agrawal, the President of edX, and an M.I.T. researcher who taught the course, explained that many of those who enrolled were just experimenting; although this had been explained before enrollment, others, he said, found that it was a tough course, not at all watered down. He suggested that a different way of looking at the results was that there were 7,200 people from across the globe who had mastered a demanding course and for free. He mentioned that the quality of the results from the online course were comparable to a brick and mortar control group of 20 students. Agrawal pointed out that for M.I.T. to enroll 7,000 learners in this course as a 20-person brick and mortar class would take 30-40 years.

In the Circuits and Electronics class, asynchronous “video sequences” of from three to 15 minutes replaced brick and mortar lectures. These were “interleaved” with interactive exercises, a free online textbook, online interactive laboratories, and simulations (sophisticated online learning games).

Agrawal was asked how they solved the problem of responding to questions from 155,000 students with a staff of seven people, the same number typically available to 100 students enrolled in these classes.. He explained that from the beginning of the course students were told that part of their responsibility, if they understood the material, was to help those who didn’t by responding to questions in the online threaded discussions. Most students’ questions were answered by other students; Agrawal said that students often did not need the instructor.

EdX plans in September and October, 2012 to offer seven courses: three from M.I.T., two from Harvard, and two from the University of California at Berkeley. Subject areas include computer science and programming, public health research, and solid state chemistry in addition to the Circuits and Electronics Course. Enrollment appears to be going well with 5-10,000 students registering each week.

Agrawal was asked if he thought, for cost reasons and others, that online learning would eliminate campus-based learning. He said that online learning doesn’t replace the experience of campus-based learning, where there is face-to-face interaction with faculty and with other students. He thinks that “Online learning is a rising tide that will lift all boats, including campus-based teaching,” that online learning can create multiple, blended models with a campus experience and online courses, in colleges and universities as well as high schools across the world.

Is this an important new development in online learning? Agrawal thinks so, “that online learning will disrupt learning across the world, that this is the first time educators are applying modern-day computing techniques to education at scale, that education is the last frontier to be impacted by modern-day technology such as cloud computing, the Internet and online devices”, that this is the first time that web mobility has been applied in a concerted manner at a large scale to address important education needs. He also said that in the spring 2012 semester M.I.T. Circuits and Electronics course learners from many countries worked together across national boundaries on problem sets, that he sees this as a new multinational process of collaboration. He agreed that it is difficult to predict what the state of online courses will be in twenty or even ten years, but one possibility is a new world generation of bright, young people accustomed to collaborating with people from other countries to solve problems. Of one thing he said he is sure, that “Online learning technologies will disrupt education in a number of ways: scalability, efficiency and quality of learning.”

As the New York Times article pointed out, edX is not alone in offering these massively open online courses (MOOCS). In May Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced a partnership with a new commercial company called Coursera, and Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor who taught his Artificial Intelligence course in the fall of 2011 to 160,000 students now will be offering six MOOC courses through his new company, Udacity.” Both edX and Coursera will also be offering humanities as well as science courses.


Lewin, Tamar. “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses” New York Times Retrieved 8.25.12 from or
WBUR Radio Boston August 20, 2012 Interview with Anant Agrawal Retrieved 8.25.12 from