e-Learning for adult literacy, language and numeracy: Summary of findings

Publication Details

This report summarises the main findings of a research project on how e-learning can help to improve adults’ literacy, language and numeracy skills.

Author(s): Niki Davis and Jo Fletcher, University of Canterbury.

Date Published: June 2010

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Executive Summary

This research provides readers with a greater understanding of the potential of e-learning for adult literacy, language and numeracy. It investigates how e-learning can be employed as a means of reaching greater numbers of adult learners and how to better meet their learning needs.

Our overarching research question was:

What characteristics of programmes, such as e-learning, mixed mode, and distance learning, have been successful in raising the literacy, language and numeracy skills (LLN) of adult learners and could be used to supplement workplace training?

The main message that we drew from our work is that e-learning is relevant to and useful for most adults with literacy, language and/or numeracy (LLN) learning needs. However, these benefits rely on a learning programme that is carefully designed to fit each individual's needs and lifestyle, his or her proficiency with digital technologies, and his or her level of reading literacy.

This distance e-learning, especially when blended with face-to-face support, can provide an effective way of developing the LLN skills of learners currently at Level 2 of the New Zealand Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (2006). In this report, we refer to this level as the intermediate level of literacy.

The 10 main findings to emerge from our research are as follows:

  1. Literacy, language and numeracy skills in the 21st century include proficiency with digital technologies and practices, including e-learning.
  2. E-learning for LLN is largely a recent development in New Zealand: very few well-established programmes exist.
  3. E-learning is more effective if it is part of face-to-face training.
  4. Māori approaches to e-learning can be used to build skills and knowledge within the Māori community.
  5. As long as adequate support is in place, e-learning provides a good source of practice and motivation for second-language learners.
  6. The diverse Pasifika peoples benefit from e-learning that fits their respective cultures and lives and is accompanied by induction activities.
  7. Many of the e-learning strategies used for building reading and writing skills can also be successfully used for and by adults with disabilities that limit their ability to learn and/or access learning.
  8. Using mobile digital technologies in e-learning contexts increases the flexibility of LLN provision.
  9. Tutors and support staff require specific professional development in e-learning, and organisations need to develop so that they can successfully accommodate this type of learning.
  10. Communities of practice can provide a supplementary means of professional development for tutors engaged in e-learning and can lead to the development of relevant resource banks.

Blending face-to-face LLN training with e-learning for individuals and groups has the greatest chance of addressing needs, but these types of provision must be accompanied by professional and organisational development within and across organisations. We therefore conclude our report with nine recommendations for action:

  1. Provide e-learning-related professional development for tutor educators and workplace assessors who work in adult education.
  2. Ensure that the quality assurance measures used in relation to LLN programmes include regular assessment and updating of e-learning provisions.
  3. Partnerships between and among key stakeholders are essential for the effective development and integration of sustained e-learning opportunities. These partnerships should include web-based facilities that offer access to e-learning content, tutors and professional development.
  4. Increase the capacity for e-learning in all New Zealand contexts, including e-learning on marae in collaboration with Māori institutions and communities.
  5. Research and develop e-learning in partnership with rural and remote communities. Immigrants' home countries can be party to this provision, but only if the e-learning infrastructure in these places is sufficiently developed to provide immigrant and transient populations with the opportunity to develop their LLN skills.
  6. Establish banks of appropriate activities and resources for use by tutors and assessors, and support these people in a way that allows them to help develop and update those banks as part of their professional development activities. The scale of need in New Zealand suggests this approach could be a cost-effective one. However, achieving this aim would need centralised coordination (a national hub).
  7. Support projects designed to investigate the potential that more recent digital technologies might offer learners with LLN needs. This potential could include, within workplaces, for example, mobile learning via mobile phones, simulations with game-like interfaces, and e-learning on hand-held computers.
  8. Encourage continuing research in e-learning that is sufficiently complex to aid the evolution of pedagogical practice. How digital technologies can be used to advance learning and how the e-learning professional development needs of professionals and organisations can best be served are issues particularly in need of sustained research.
  9. Collaborate internationally to continue to review research and development worldwide, and to disseminate the findings of this research to the New Zealand tertiary sector.