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Literacy on the Line

Vinod Lobo describes how a California grant is giving adult English learners access to blended education programs on their smartphones

Recent data shows that adult ELLs engaging in a blended model of in-person and at-home, smartphone-based learning achieved significant gains in just ten weeks. This tells us that the blended approach works. Now, we have to scale it up.

Up until three years ago, there was virtually no state funding for adult education programs, and federal funding was hard to come by. In 2015, California launched the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) to improve coordination and better serve the needs of adult learners across the region. The grant distributed $500 million of state funding to support adult education programs among 71 consortia that included community colleges, school districts, and other education providers.

The AEBG has allowed a number of adult education programs, like the one at Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, California, to expand their offerings and provide digital resources that support students’ learning outside the classroom. Sweetwater serves more than 25,000 adult learners spread among four district schools and 20 off-site locations. Unlike young students, adult ELLs often have other responsibilities such as a job (or multiple jobs) and families, making it more difficult for them to regularly attend classes.
A report from Digital Promise notes that an estimated 75% of students enrolled in adult education programs own smartphones, so, for many adult ELLs, an app may be the learning tool of choice.

Although users may only have time to engage with the app for a few minutes at a time, those minutes add up. Learners who used to spend 30 minutes per week in a computer lab at an adult school can now spend two to four (or more) hours per week learning on their phones.

By offering a curriculum of sequenced lessons that offer step-by-step proficiency and can be completed on a learner’s smartphone, adult schools can increase time on task. This naturally leads to an acceleration of learning and engagement, allowing learners to reach proficiency more quickly. Once they make a breakthrough in adult basic education courses, adult ELLs are able to see new opportunities like earning a high school diploma or GED, getting better jobs, and even aiming for secondary education. More importantly, these blended learners are less likely to drop out, since they experience incremental success.

Statistics show that a 1% rise in literacy-skill scores can boost U.S. labor productivity by an estimated $225 billion per year.3 We are on the cusp of a revolution in providing mobile, flexible, and affordable education for adults with a desire to learn English. If we can deliver effective instruction to more adult ELLs, we can improve our economy—and help individuals reach their full potential and live the American dream.; see “Finding the X Factor,” Language Magazine, December 2016

Vinod Lobo ([email protected]) is the founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade, a differentiated, app-based curriculum featuring songs, videos, and games in 300 English and 600 math lessons. He tweets @learningupgrade.

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