Tuning In To Adult Literacy

Noah Goodman brings a background in bilingual education and communications to his work for EDC’s Center for Children & Technology. Noah contributes to R&D that advances knowledge of the role that technology can play in enhancing learning and teaching—including helping educators foster learners’ literacy skills, from prekindergarten through adulthood. He also plays a key role in building and sustaining online communities of learners. Currently, Noah is the Director of Teacher Outreach for Zoom In!—a new, free online resource that supports history teachers in engaging students in investigating compelling historical questions and helps teachers build students’ academic reading and writing skills. In this post, written in celebration of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2015 (September 21-26), Noah spotlights TV411.ORG—EDC’s free online resource for adults and adult educators.

According to the most recent national study of adult literacy, 93 million adults have “below basic” or just “basic” literacy skills. Low literacy shapes these adults’ lives in so many ways. It affects the jobs they get, prevents them from making key decisions about health care, impedes them from fully participating as citizens, and limits their ability to support their children’s learning. In 2003, at the time of the last study, adults had significantly lower rates of document and prose literacy proficiency compared to 1992

EDC’s TV411.ORG is a free, multimedia, interactive “self-service” hub of hundreds of educationally sound and engaging materials that build adults’ reading, writing, science, and math skills and meet the needs of these adults and their teachers. The website is the online component of EDC’s award-winning TV411 public television program. To date, 61,568 people have created accounts to access TV411.ORG’s free resources, which include videos and lessons, teacher resources, and personal portfolios. From January 1, 2013 through the end of this August, TV411.ORG had 2,076,894 new and returning users from over 200 countries, all 50 U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. Our Web statistics show that users spend a lot of time on the site, exploring and downloading resources, and that many come back and visit the site over time.

One of the highlights of TV411.ORG’s resources are the engaging, entertaining, and informative videos that cover real-life situations that are applicable to adults and their needs. When I worked with EDC colleagues—including Ilene Kantrov, Alex Quinn, Lora Myers, and DuanDuan Yang—to develop and launch the website that was one of the most important things to me. Adults with low literacy skills are a hugely underserved population. There are still very few culturally responsive resources developed specifically for adults with low literacy—designed with their interests and needs in mind. There are also very few resources that adults can either use on their own or that adult educators can use in formal settings. TV411.ORG has proven to be super valuable to adult educators—they are familiar with the TV411 public television program, and they know they can trust the materials to be high-quality. Instead of spending their time vetting materials, they can spend their time using the materials to engage and support learners.  

Although the best-case scenario is for all adult learners to be able to participate in a formal learning environment, that doesn’t always—or often—happen. One 2010 survey found that there are significant waiting lists to enter adult education programs in all 50 states, and that the number of months spent on waiting lists had doubled over the last two years. In addition, it can be a big step to even try to find a program and get on those waiting lists. In an earlier phase of TV411.ORG, when we were sustaining an active community of learners, we were contacted by lots of people who wanted to brush up on their skills, weren’t part of a formal education setting, and weren’t ready to take that step. For all of those adult learners, TV411.ORG helps serve as a bridge to taking that big step to find a formal program.  

TV411.ORG’s reading resources are the most popular on the site, although all of the other resources are getting heavy usage from visitors:

In honor of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2015, I invite you to head on over to TV411.ORG, explore its resources, and spread the word to any of your coworkers, friends, or family that you think might be interested!