The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recently awarded WestEd’s Carnegie Math Pathways and World Education, Inc. a four-year grant to increase numeracy and digital literacy among adult learners. This partnership is part of a multi-year effort through the IES-funded Building Adult Skills Network to develop and test interventions to support millions of adults in the United States with strengthening their basic skills and overcome academic attainment gaps.
Numeracy and digital literacy skills are essential for educational and career opportunities and informed, productive citizenry. But according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 16 percent of the adult population in the United States is not digitally literate and almost a third does not have the numeracy skills to complete common quantitative tasks such as calculating with whole numbers and percentages. This grant will generate evidence on how to best support learners in gaining these critical skills.
“Adult numeracy in the U.S. is a significant barrier to individuals’ advancement of quality of life, as well as to societal progress more generally,” Ann Edwards, Pathways’ Director of Research and Implementation and the grant’s principal investigator, said.
“With this project, we are aiming to contribute to knowledge and practice addressing the challenge of improving levels of adult numeracy and digital literacy in the United States.”
Working in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pathways and World Education, Inc. will develop a 10-week course designed to improve adult basic numeracy and digital literacy in Pennsylvania, which has a diverse adult education population.
The approach will draw from the success of Carnegie Math Pathways’ adaptive technologies to address specific learning gaps, provide supports for English Language Learners (ELLs), and incorporate routines that promote positive self-identities as learners. By designing the course to be delivered online or in blended formats, the research team will also explore how a personalized and adaptive online learning experience can help cultivate the development of numeracy and digital literacy.
Another aspect of the project is professional development support for educators of adult learners. According to a 2015 study by the American Institutes of Research, most educators of adult learners have less experience teaching adults than their full-time counterparts and have less access to professional development. By providing a professional development component, the research team will equip educators of adult learners with strategies and skills necessary to design and teach rigorous adult learning programs.
The project will work with around 45 adult numeracy instructors to serve over 1,600 adult basic education learners across rural and urban learning sites in Pennsylvania. Findings will contribute to and link to the overarching goals of the Adult Skills Network, funded by IES, to gather research and evidence to improve adult basic skills and academic attainment using technology.