Online Platform Supporting Classroom Instruction: Rockingham’s Success with Learning Upgrade


By connecting with program managers and instructors across the US, the EdTech Center can craft use scenarios that illustrate where different online comprehensive curricula fare well and how they are used. In this post, we describe how a small adult basic skills program in rural North Carolina used Learning Upgrade to support it’s one-room schoolhouse approach to teaching. This is blog post number two in a three part series reporting on conversations that the EdTech Center has had with program directors, teachers, and learners using Learning Upgrade. Read Tutors and App-Based Remote Learning: Siena Literacy Center’s Success with Learning Upgrade to understand how a small community based organization used Learning Upgrade to support the work of their volunteers.  Watch for post three coming soon.

What is Learning Upgrade

Learning Upgrade offers over 1,000 lessons covering multiple levels and content in English, math, GED preparation, digital literacy, and reading. Instruction is delivered through rich graphics, videos, and music. The platform was made widely available across the US through Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition in 2018. In a subsequent initiative, the Learning Upgrade Challenge, students have gained prizes for use of the tool, and teachers and programs who have had the most use of the app won extended licenses. The EdTech Center@World Education reached out to programs that have made good use of Learning Upgrade to better understand how and with whom it has the most potential impact before and now during the pandemic. 

Rockingham Community College

Rockingham Community College is a rural community college in North Carolina that serves the entire county. Around 400 students, including a very small English learner population, enroll in the adult basic skills program every year. Given the small size of the community, the ABE and ASE classes are not leveled and the program operates in a one-room schoolhouse model. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the adult basic skills program had multiple sites around the county, with two classes offered on the main campus and others offered at three satellite sites in nearby towns. Additionally, the program had online offerings, which drew from all of those programs and were initially available for only learners who could not make it to an in person class. 

Rockingham’s programming has generally been delivered by 1 full time instructor and 12 part-time instructors and led by a full time program director. The director chose to first pilot Learning Upgrade in an online class. Prior to the pandemic, this class usually had about 45 to 60 students taking part each semester. After a successful 3 month pilot in the online class, the director chose to expand to a few other face to face classes. Instructors chosen for the pilot were those working with larger classes of students, some of  whom initially tested at lower-levels; additionally, these teachers were known to be comfortable working with more than one online tool with students in a group setting. 

Why Learning Upgrade?

Because Rockingham’s adult basic skills program had sustained and increasing use of Learning Upgrade, we talked to instructor Katie Coleman to learn more about why they chose it and how it fit their needs. Katie shared that she found LU most useful for helping her learners who had the most foundational skill needs. She also appreciated the ease with which she could access the administrator’s dashboard and access report and loved that it was mobile friendly. 

Something for Everyone

Because they worked in a one room schoolhouse model, teachers at Rockingham had leveraged digital resources, especially comprehensive online curricula to help them differentiate instruction.  Prior to the Learning Upgrade pilot, this strategy worked well for learners at higher-levels classified as EFL 5 or 6, who were ready for more complexity and could handle a less structured online curriculum. These traits did not suit learners at EFL 4 or below; Rockingham’s chosen tool lacked the structure they needed to work independently. 

The addition of Learning Upgrade to cover those lower levels ensured that each student had something to work on while teachers met with others in small groups. Katie noted that this was particularly important in math, where, as she said “Math is broken down really discretely,” and most of their lower level learners were testing in at EFL 2 or 3 in math.  See figure 1 for an example of the focus of a math lesson in Learning Upgrade.

Figure 1. Video screenshot from math lesson on slope of a line.


Note, if you check out the first post in this series, you’ll recall that this Learning Upgrade organizational strategy and structure is what makes it a useful tool for volunteers working with English language and literacy learners working at low-levels.

Beyond the Pilot

The successful pilot prompted the director to expand Learning Upgrade for use across all programs. This move prepared them to support learners working at lower levels in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. All instructors were encouraged to switch their traditional classroom students and those already working at a distance to Learning Upgrade if they had tested at EFL 4 and below.  Other students were offered a different comprehensive curriculum, but ultimately the instructors drove the decision. Katie reported that generally, the pattern of Learning Upgrade assignment to learners at EFL 4 and below was common during the pandemic. Instructors that followed this pattern, Katie said, were happy with the choice, as were their students. 

What Made it Popular with Students and Teachers

Beyond the structure, we noted other popular characteristics. 

  • In both settings we’ve reported on so far, the fact that Learning Upgrade works so well on mobile devices means that students who are smartphone dependent for access to the internet can still use it.
  • Some students appreciated the “game-like feel” of the design – these tended to be those lower-level students. However, learners who expected learning to happen in a more academic looking environment preferred the other platform Rockingham used.
  • Katie commented on the utility of the reporting tools, calling them “accessible and really useful”.  In her classroom use, she said she could quickly pull it up and to see a quick average of students’ work and bring that data into reshaping her instruction.  For students working completely at a distance she could have quick conversations over the phone based on the reports. Figure 2 shows an example of this. A teacher could see the activity scores for groups of learners working at different times: on the evening of November 23, 2020, the afternoon of March 24, 2020, or late morning on February 12, 2020.
Figure 2. Student time report in Learning Upgrade
  • The organization of the resources, linked to CCR standards, and the presentation within Learning Upgrade meant that Katie and other teachers at Rockingham could quickly glance at a lesson list to assign content. It was easy to see learner progress and know what to assign them next in Learning Upgrade. This layout also helped motivate learners; they could not easily lose their place in the content and were aware of what Katie had viewed and provided feedback on. Figure 3 shows this pathway in one math level.
Figure 3. Math pathway in Learning Upgrade

Take Away.

This second blog post shares an example of how Learning Upgrade worked to support a one-room schoolhouse approach. As we shared in post one, a characteristic of Learning Upgrade that really resonates with teachers working with learners at lower levels is the tightly organized structure and discrete composition of the lesson content.  Learners and teachers know what the lessons are going to be about and can gain an understanding of incremental progress as learners work their way through a learning pathway.

This is blog post number two of a three-part series, reporting on conversations that the EdTech Center has had with programs using Learning Upgrade. For more information, read Tutors and App-Based Remote Learning: Siena Literacy Center’s Success with Learning Upgrade, and visit the Learning Upgrade website. Check out the Learning Upgrade Action Plan to see how you might use the resources available during the pandemic.


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