A LINCS Discussion on A Mobile Tech Revolution in Low-Wage Work
By David J. Rosen and Mike Cruse
During the week of April 25th a discussion was held in the LINCS Career Pathways, Technology and Learning, and Program Management Communities of Practice. The discussion was preceded on Monday, April 25th by a one-hour LINCS webinar with some of the panelists that will be available as a video archive on the LINCS YouTube channel. Panelists included adult educators, labor-sponsored education practitioners, and mobile software developers. The summary outline addresses themes, trends and implications. It is followed by a lightly edited transcript of the discussion held from April 26th through April 29th.Summary

A significant increase in frontline workers’ mobile device ownership, accompanied by a steep decrease in demand for desktop based computer classes, possibly means that workers are moving straight to mobile, skipping computers and computer classes.

  • Implication: offer smartphone classes on the ins and outs of users’ own mobile devices – email, apps, social media, etc. and how mobile devices can be used at work.
  • Implication: to better accommodate mobile users, redesign systems originally made for computer access to optimize them for mobile device access.
  • Learning or Course Management Systems (LMS/CMS) have been designed for mobile devices or are mobile friendly; some were mentioned in the webinar and follow-up discussion:
  • With mobile-designed LMS systems teachers can easily upload documents and files (PowerPoint, word docs, images, videos), add new voiceover audio to videos, and then add short quiz questions at any point to assess learning.
  • Although learning navigation for students may be simple, back-end LMS reporting functions are often robust! In some software programs that aren’t apps, but just mobile-enabled websites, students don’t even need to have email to get in. They can just sign in with their cellphone number and a password (for example, the same password given by a teacher to all students) or an assigned username and password.
  • A teacher can easily text out a web link to an online mobile curriculum that students open and start studying just by clicking on it.
  • Key criteria when researching mobile learning platforms:
  • Make sure they don’t require students to have Flash on their phones (an older, outdated Adobe program, and a pain for students to have to download!)
  • Decide how important it is for students to study both online and offline (some programs that are built more like apps, or mobile-enabled websites with built in HTML5 allow for that) vs. other capabilities or characteristics (e.g. students don’t have to download an app from an app store)
  • Some LMSs that are suitable for mobile devices, although not exclusively designed for them, such as Schoology and Edmodo, are convenient, widely-used in adult basic skills education, and free.

A mobile tech revolution in low-wage work means adult basic skills programs have new opportunities to partner with employers for fee-based workplace basic skills training services and for training employees on how to access company Human Resources (HR) and work-related information delivered to portable digital devices.

  • The webinar addressed this theme with many specific examples in several sectors, for example: high tech, hotels and hospitality, health care, and for janitors/custodians in many industries, for example in corporations and public school systems.
  • Implication: a perfect opportunity for adult basic skills programs to propose to companies to train employees to navigate the specific online websites needed for work tasks, for HR information and forms, and ideally for the broader internet and digital literacy skills for the workers’ own lives and abilities to become lifelong digital learners. One example described in detail was preparation of training to use a company’s automated work time recording software on mobile devices.
  • Implication: If an employer has an internal website for employees that is not optimized for mobile devices, an adult basic skills program working with the employer could request more paid training hours from the employer partner, as employees will need more instruction on how to scroll to find what they need, manage window pop-ups, scroll down menus etc.
  • Implication: It may be less expensive in the long-run for the employer to redesign the website, to optimize it for mobile devices.

The use of mobile language learning games is optimized for portable digital devices.

  • Implication: worker/employee enthusiasm for language learning games may result in increased language learning practice in free time or in class time.

Students/workers use their mobile devices for many purposes:

  • To learn basic skills: They often like to use mobile-based learning in “short spurts”. Language learning games are popular. They use basic skills learning sites: e.g. USA Learns for ESL and level-appropriate YouTube videos.
  • To improve their work-related skills: They document their work, to video and record some parts of their jobs so they can use them to review procedures, vocabulary that they may not understand, or to document evidence of job tasks that were completed.
  • To navigate websites that are important for their lives: Google, Google maps, the website for the school district where they work, their kids’ school website, their health insurance or health provider’s website, Skype/Google Hangout/Facebook for video calling, etc.

Basic skills (including English and biliteracy) programs sometimes combine delivery apps.

  • One program, for example, that teaches adult English learners, especially Spanish speakers, combines Facebook, Pumarosa.com and other sites, and “teaching” is through classes on WhatsApp.

Mobile devices for learning and work can be used quite effectively in the nonformal or community-based sector as well as in workplace learning or more formal adult basic skills programs.

ESL/ESOL delivered via mobile devices may enable reaching many more of the 90% of adults in need of basic skills who are not enrolled in formal ESL/ESOL programs

  • There are a number of bilingual ESL/ESOL websites available in nearly every language that can be accessed by mobile devices.

Students/workers/employees do have challenges in accessing and using mobile devices; these can be overcome in various ways:

  • While students may be comfortable after some instruction on portable devices with using a camera and video to record and take pictures and play them back, with video viewing, and with texting, they may struggle with access to online games, lessons and learning platforms that require them to log in, register, and go from screen to screen. Navigating the learning site presents problems.
  • To navigate TV411 one workplace basic skills program provides students with a detailed handout that has screen shots and arrows to show them where to go on that site. It’s almost like a flow chart to help them navigate to the lessons or videos that they want them to view. It takes a lot of practice to get comfortable with searching a site and landing at the right place.
  • In addition to teaching mobile basics in courses, smartphone savvy workers can help as peer teachers. Those who use their smart phones for Facebook, Google maps, CandyCrush and other sites can rotate around the room and help the others learn. Students learn by doing, and from peer experts.

The webinar and discussion offered some participants useful information and advice.

  • Presenters commented on a question regarding how to assist custodians in accessing their employer’s (a large school district) website to complete and provide electronic signatures for HR compliance. The employer’s platform for employees to complete timesheets was one for which a presenter mentioned he had developed lesson plans for assisting workers and employers.  The discussion participant, an adult basic skills program director, said he had shared the presenters’ comments with the Custodial Services Director at the school district, with whom he hopes to develop some workable solutions.

For transcript of panelists posts visit LINCS.

Continue learning more about using mobile devices with the EdTech Center at World Education!

Alison Ascher Webber and Susan Gaer will be sharing how to integrate regular cellphones and smartphones into instruction. Even if you cannot attend this workshop on May 6th at 3:00-4:30pm EDT, if you register, we will send you the recording. Register now at http://tinyurl.com/May6Mobile. Certificates will be available.


David J. Rosen is the President of Newsome Associates in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He is the editor of the COABE journal Web Scan column, a long-time active contributor to the LINCS Technology and Learning community of practice, and the author of the Adult Literacy Education blog davidjrosen.wordpress.com. He can be reached at djrosen@newsomeassociates.com 

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