21st Century Learning Ecosystem Opportunities


Welcome to the 21st Century Learning Ecosystem Opportunities project. Here you can keep up to date on this three-year research project. The project responds to the need for employers, educators, and policy makers to better understand the characteristics of learning opportunities available to frontline service workers.


This collective effort seeks to identify the factors that incentivize frontline service workers to engage in workplace-sponsored learning activities that support development of 21st century skills, including specific workplace skills, digital literacy, English language and literacy, problem solving, and adult basic skills.  Central to this study is elevating the voice of the working learner.


The report, 21st Century Learning Ecosystem Opportunities: Research and Findings, is an interactive summary of insights about working learners, the types of education and training initiatives offered to working learners, and the outcomes from participating in employer-supported education and training initiatives.

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A Note on Methodology

The study includes an expansive and iterative approach. Data include semi-structured interviews of frontline service workers and employers, analyses of learning opportunities, and digital surveys. The iterative nature of our data collection and analysis ensures that our questions and processes are relevant to stakeholders and working learners.

Barnes & Brown, 2016, p. 235

Jill Castek

Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Arizona
Jill Castek

Jill examines digital literacies and learning across the lifespan in classrooms and in the community. Her research addresses how digitally-mediated learning can support digital problem solving, language development, and knowledge acquisition. Jill is a member of the Literacy, Language and Technology Research (LLTR) group and is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Arizona.

Kathy Harris headshot

Kathy Harris

Director of the Literacy, Language and Technology Research (LLTR) Group
Kathy Harris

Kathy Harris, Ph.D. has been interested in adult learning for more than 20 years, especially adults learning English as a second language and learning digital skills for work, play, health, education, and life. Kathy teaches in the Applied Linguistics department at Portland State University where she is also the director of Learner Web, a learning support system developed by the Literacy, Language and Technology Research group.


Gloria E. Jacobs

Research Associate, Literacy, Language and Technology Research (LLTR) Group
Gloria E. Jacobs

Gloria E. Jacobs, Ph.D. has been interested in digital technology and learning since the mid-1990s. In the past few years, she has focused on digital literacy acquisition and digital problem solving among adults. Gloria is also a research associate with the with the College of Education at the University of Arizona.

Jen Vanek Headshot

Jen Vanek, PhD

Director of Digital Learning and Research
Jen Vanek

Jen’s work centers on teacher professional development, technical support, and research on the topics of digital literacy, adult learning, English language learning, and online learning. As part of this work she supports teachers and administrators to implement effective distance and blended learning, conducts field testing of learning technologies; and supports several English language and literacy education projects.

527 SW Hall Street, Suite 335

Portland State University

Portland, OR 97201

T: (503)725-2040

The 21st Century Learning Ecosystem Opportunities (21CLEO) research was supported by a grant from the Walmart Foundation. The opinions and ideas expressed in writing about this research do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Walmart.