Adult educators: consider carefully before investing in more devices and edtech products!
Do students need tech skills for success? Yes.
Do they need to perform well on computer-based testing? Yes.
Will edtech products increase student outcomes? That depends.
The Joyce Foundation funded a study to determine if edtech products would make a significant difference in adulted outcomes. Their conclusion? Probably not.
What does this mean for funders, administrators, teachers, and edtech companies?
First of all: Funders, Invest in Educators
Silicon Valley, and your entourage of investors, please consider throwing money at educators over edtech. Seriously, slow down. ROI in the edtech marketplace is siphoning money away from ROI for society.
Investors who look for quick tech money, do so at the expense of what actually works for education.
Second: Edtech Companies
Having participated in this study from the vendor side, I suspected it would confirm that products or devices alone do not improve outcomes.
This is disheartening for organizations who were hoping the research would give them a leg up on competitors.
But the truth is that programs need to buy the materials that their teachers and students feel comfortable using.
Although some of my colleagues would beg to differ, I really think what matters in the end is the teacher, not the product. The “best” product is the one you actually use.
Teachers: Learn how to troubleshoot
My look at the preliminary study data suggested a correlation between the digital literacy of the teacher and student usage of technology. My assessment of a TEACHER’S digital literacy seemed to line up with their time-on-task reports.
However this study did not measure the variable of teacher’s digital literacy. So how did I know?
I used a quick behavioral assessment: If a teacher did not know how to troubleshoot login issues, then they generally did not feel confident implementing edtech products. The students of less confident teachers showed less time on the product, particularly out-of-class time. If the teacher wasn’t comfortable with tech, their students didn’t get to the point of working independently.
While edtech alone isn’t correlated to outcomes, self study DOES increase success rates. But student self-study requires teachers to be able to troubleshoot their students’ use of materials.
Webinars, out-of-state trainers, and vendor technical support can only do so much in those situations. A part-time teacher who encounters any sort of issue with technology in class will just shrug their shoulders and fall back to paper copies or lecture. Same with students who are juggling other responsibilities to make time to study.
Should we expect any different?
Adulted instructors (in this study or otherwise) are generally not paid for planning time & offered minimal PD. They are rarely, if ever, paid to support students outside of class. So what teachers really need is…
Administrators: Research-based Best Practices
If edtech doesn’t improve the outcomes of adult ed programs, what will?
Dr Carmine Stewart and Omobola Lana worked together on “A Framework for Program Improvement in Adult Education.” This guide, published by The Literacy of Greater Cleveland, offers a list of research-based best practices for adulted programs.
To download the guide, visit their Publications page and click “Quality Framework.”
Examples for Best Practices include:
- Managed enrollment
- A supportive student environment
- Assessing learners’ progress
This is what I was preaching last week during my Blended Learning course for Virginia Department of Corrections educators. Plus it was my mantra for years as the National Teacher Trainer for Essential Education (GED Academy).
Edtech is not enough. Teachers and administrators matter.
When people ask me how to set up their adult education program, I always recommended blended learning–a mix of student-led use of technology, and face-to-face instruction. It’s gratifying to see the Joyce Foundation make the same recommendation.
However, this study presents a challenge to administrators working overtime to build, purchase, or implement edtech solutions for adult education.
News flash: teachers don’t all know how to use this stuff! And more National Trainers is not the sole solution. Once the Expert goes home, to implement research-based best practices, teachers need:
- embedded professional development,
- on-site technical support,
- local professional learning communities, and
- regular reviews of data for accountability.
Adulted teachers are scrappy, creative, passionate… and underpaid. We’ve been doing more with less for decades.
Local administrators can improve outcomes by offering educators planning time, program support, and incentives for implementation… not just more edtech stuff.
That’s what the research suggests, anyway.