Guest post by Drew Pizzolato, Jill Castek, Gloria Jacobs, Kim Pendell, Stephen Reder & Elizabeth Withers

The Literacy, Language and Technology Research group at Portland State University is pleased to report on a research project entitled, “Tutor-facilitated Digital Literacy Acquisition in Hard-to-serve Populations,” In this mixed methods study, we interviewed over 100 learners, tutors, and program coordinators who had participated in a multi-state digital literacy training project. In analyzing these interviews, along with system data from a web-based learning platform, the team set out to explore and better understand how under-served adult learners acquire digital literacy.

Data analysis revealed that at each site, a variety of responsive approaches and program designs were developed — each approach focused efforts on meeting their unique goals and learning needs. For example, in labs situated within job training and placement programs, tutors adapted the curriculum and their support to help learners see the relevance between basic technology skills and employment. They also structured digital literacy activities to keep the training relevant to job-seeking learners. In other labs such as those in libraries or library outreach programs, learners had different goals. In these learning environments, tutor support was structured around learners’ self-determined social, civic, and educational goals. The elements common across all labs (whether in adult basic education classes, libraries, reentry programs, workforce centers, or other community based organizations) were self-paced, tutor-facilitated instruction along with the use of structured online learning materials accessed through Learner Web.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provided the opportunity to conduct such vitally important work as did the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, who supported the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which provided the seed funding for the digital literacy programs studied. This service project sparked many digital literacy programs that are still being sustained around the country.

Some important insights we learned include:

  • Learning digital literacy skills helps combat social isolation and is an important part of becoming fully literate in today’s information rich world; but many individuals need support to learn the skills required to use computers and the internet.
  • The use of structured online materials, together with tutor support, helped move individuals from “fear to fascination” in learning vital digital literacy skills.
  • Community programs where digital literacy learning took place met goals using a variety of approaches — each learning community designed its program to be responsive to individuals’ learning needs.
  • New partnerships were developed in conjunction with digital literacy programming (e.g., literacy organizations worked together with workforce centers), and these partnerships bolstered program sustainability.

The full set of findings are available in the project archive, which is free and open to the public:

  • 17 concise, practitioner-oriented research briefs organized into 4 categories — tutors, learners, programs, and English language learners
  • 4 longer format case study reports
  • all project data in open source formats
  • conference presentations with audio narration
  • links to publications
  • a comprehensive report
  • an executive summary

The materials are designed for a variety of audiences from practitioners to policy makers to fellow researchers. We invite you to review the archive, share it with colleagues, and use the materials in whatever way will support your work. It is our hope that this work will continue to inform research and practice throughout the country and around the globe.

Here again is the link to the archive: We hope you will find it informative and useful. We would be pleased to answer any questions or receive constructive feedback. Thank you!

For more information contact Jill Castek.

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