Shout Out to Vermont Adult Education & Literacy

World Education is home to the Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) Professional Development Center for Region 1.  LINCS is a national leadership initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) to expand evidence-based practice in the field of adult education.  The WEI/LINCS Region 1 Professional Development team has a Shout Out for Vermont’s Adult Education & Literacy (AEL) system at the Vermont Agency of Education, and its Coordinator of Professional Development, Kate Nicolet.  AEL, through Kate’s leadership, has partnered with LINCS Region 1 to:

  • embed online courses from the LINCS Learning Portal into the state’s professional development system.  For example, Vermont AEL now requires that anyone who does testing and program administration take the Assessment for ABE online course and that all teachers take one of the TEAL Formative Assessment courses focusing on English language arts or mathematics or a similar course for teachers of English language learners (ELL-U);
  • provide customized, extended professional development to teachers through the Technology Integration Project (TIP Project) hosted by LINCS Region 1 and the New England Literacy Resource Center;
  • use the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCR) implementation guides available through the LINCS Resource Collection to train teachers and program administrators throughout the state;
  • conduct the first-ever in the nation LINCS membership drive to increase the number of adult education practitioners enrolled in the LINCS Community of Practice and incentivize participation with PD credit; and
  • provided the LINCS Adult Numeracy Instruction professional development series for 33 participants, serving almost all of the learning centers in the state.

Thank you, Kate Nicolet and the Vermont Adult Education & Literacy system!

Health Literacy: It’s complicated.


Adult literacy has been at the heart of World Education’s work since it was established in 1951 in India and founded the Literacy House upon the urging of Mohandas Gandhi. Sixty-four years later, while gains have been made in many parts of the world, the need for literacy education remains great:  there are nearly 800 million adults and out-of-school youth in the world with limited or no literacy and numeracy.  In the U.S., adults’ basic skills are falling behind those of other developed nations.  For the first time, the skills of young adults are lower than those of their parents’ generation.  At the same time, people need even more different types of literacies to move ahead in their lives than in 1951. World Education’s approach to literacy education and how we define it has evolved and expanded commensurate with the skills adults need to navigate systems, pursue opportunities, and address problems successfully in their personal lives, work, and communities.

To commemorate the Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, in this series of blog posts World Education/ U.S. staff share their views on what literacy means to us today and how we are helping to advance adult education in multiple ways.  Our list is not comprehensive: there are not enough days in a week to feature all the types of literacy youth and adults need in today’s world!  Please join the dialogue.


Health literacy is a personal issue.

The Affordable Care Act defines health literacy as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.  So, World Education works with educators to develop innovative, health-contextualized instructional strategies, such as Words2Learn mobile learning project.

Health literacy is a community issue.

Individuals in the U.S. with low levels of literacy pay a high price when it comes to their health.  The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC, 2013) surveyed over 165,000 working age adults, representing 724 million adults in 23 countries.  The analysis found that the correlation between skill level and health is stronger in the U.S. than in almost any other participating country.  U.S. adults with low literacy skills reported having poor or fair health more often than individuals with high literacy skills.  World Education’s Managing Stress to Improve Learning is an online, facilitated course that helps teachers help their learners connect to community social and health services.

Health literacy is a health system issue.

Have you purchased health insurance lately?  Signed a consent form?  Read about a new medication? If you’re lucky, you have family or friends who are healthcare providers, and they can help you interpret the healthcare-ese.  World Education, through its National College Transition Network and the Health Care Learning Network, foster college and career readiness for adult learners.  Many of these learners want to become healthcare providers and a resource for their community.

Health literacy:  It’s complicated, but we’re doing something about it.


Is Everyone On?

If you’re looking for a job, you’ll need to search and apply online. If you want to know about upcoming events at your child’s school, the current school calendar is online. If you’re interested in learning more about public services in your city or town, you’ll need to look online. If you want to learn a new skill, it’s taught online. For some people, especially individuals with lower literacy skills, going online is a challenge. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Internet Project, Who’s Not Online and Why, 76% of internet users go online from a computer in their home. For those who are offline, the cost and skills needed to go online are key barriers. And, the report notes that 41% of those who are offline are individuals with less than a high school diploma.

62 million Americans are not online. Millions of families do not have home Internet access for learning, civic engagement, connecting with family, or employment searches.
(OCTAE blog April 9, 2014)

The World Education/US Division serves as the Region 1 Professional Development Center for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) through the Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS). In that role, we provide a wide variety of evidence-based resources and trainings to adult education professionals in our region. But, that simply isn’t enough. In addition, we encourage key partnerships and initiatives identified by OCTAE that support teaching and learning in adult education. EveryoneOn is both a partnership and an initiative. It provides access to equipment, internet access, and a list of local training locations. flyerEveryone On is a national non-profit that aims to eliminate the digital divide. Through Everyone On, individuals are able to find Internet service as low as $10 a month, low-cost computers, and free digital literacy courses. In 2013, Everyone On launched a three-year, multimedia, bilingual Ad Council campaign to “help motivate the millions of Americans who do not have the digital literacy skills they need to succeed become connected and take advantage of free digital literacy training in their communities.”

The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) has entered an agreement with Everyone On to pre-qualify enrolled students, teachers, and programs for its computer and Internet offers through a unique hub located at This allows students to take full advantage of the opportunity to get Internet access in their homes, while assisting programs to create hot spots of wireless connectivity in classrooms on a flexible and portable basis.

Helping Healthcare Workers Persist in Online Learning: Lessons Learned

20074Many frontline healthcare workers, especially Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), would like to advance in their careers and enter a nursing program at their local college. Admission to programs is very competitive, however, and applicants typically need to complete challenging pre-requisite courses in writing, math, and sciences before they can even apply to a nursing program. One interesting option to prepare for college pre-requisites may be online learning contextualized around health careers and college success skills for workers reading at about the 8th grade level or above. Creating a learning environment that supports persistence for busy healthcare workers is challenging. Working with three local workforce investment boards, World Education created online courses for a project called the Health Care Learning Network. Here are some of the lessons we learned over the past four years.

Consider extended intake/orientation. Online learning is fairly new and many adults do not have a clear World Education, Inc.picture of the time commitment and self-discipline needed to make progress until they try it out. Providing a two-part face-to-face orientation in a computer lab, with 1-2 weeks between sessions, gave learners an opportunity to make sure they had the computer/Internet access and technical skills needed to log-in and navigate the first course. We also provided directions for all the basic activities (logging in, opening documents, etc.) in written format via a student notebook and in video format available from the homepage so that students had multiple formats for reviewing the skills taught during orientation.

Over time, we realized that workers found it difficult to turn down an educational opportunity proposed by their employer so some workers needed time to try out online learning and consider if this is the right time and mode of learning for them. And, it helps to develop a graceful way to exit for those who find online learning isn’t a good fit.

Consider a hybrid format and adjust, as needed. At any given time, perhaps 10 percent of our students would zip along, completing assignments and lessons in their courses without need for further face-to-face contact. Most students, however, needed the external motivation of face-to-face gatherings in order to persist. We called these gatherings “Learning Labs.” Typically, they were three hours long. Initially, the first hour was set aside to give students time to gather and work on their current course with one-to-one tutoring from their instructor, if needed. The remaining two hours were divided between group activities to build motivation and college awareness. As time went on, we found that making progress on course work was the most motivating activity for students. In our final format, students would spend up to two and a half hours working on their course with the instructor who was available to answer questions. The final half hour was group time.

Interestingly, offering weekly face-to-face sessions did not turn out to be productive. Most students could not set aside face-to-face time each week. Since many students had every other weekend off, Saturday Learning Labs were fairly successful, if students could coordinate their schedule.

Consider anytime/anywhere supports for online students. While face-to-face meetings are important, to be a truly successful online learner, students needed to be able to connect with their instructor by email and telephone. Our courses are self-paced but facilitated with an instructor following student progress, correcting exams and other assignments. Between orientation day one and day two, the instructor set up a time to talk with new students by telephone and email to cement those communication options. After that, the instructor continued their outreach via email and calls to the student. Many students needed to be explicitly taught to return telephone calls and emails. And, we found, lack of communication could have one of several possible meanings: disinterest in the program, embarrassment at not logging on to the course regularly, unanswered questions about an assignment, loss of Internet access, and personal or family illness to name a few. Connection to the student’s workplace via a career or educational coach was extremely helpful in identifying the problem so that it could be addressed.

Consider a contextualized curriculum. One of the biggest motivators for frontline workers, especially English language learners, was the health contextualized curriculum. Our program offered four courses: Computers for College, Basic Math Review, Reading and Writing for Health Careers, and Health Science. Content and activities introduced technical and academic vocabulary and key concepts and study strategies so that students would have some familiarity with them before entering fast-paced college courses. Assignments and exams were designed to demonstrate mastery of both health concepts and study strategies before a student moved on to the next lesson or course. One of the most important areas of learning for students was around the use of the computer and Internet for college – using a word processing program, attaching documents, organizing a focused web search, vetting websites, and summarizing information rather than copying it into assignments and reports.

More persistence strategies needed. All of these strategies help but we’re not there yet. About 10% of our frontline workers find contextualized online learning is just what they need. For these students, courses serve as a brush-up and the experience gives them confidence to apply to and enter college. In fact, these students tend to enter college before finishing all four courses. Most workers are able to complete Computers for College, gaining useful skills with technology that is of interest to virtually everyone that enters the program. For English language learners, these online courses provide a format where students can go at their own pace, retake lessons, and use audio resources, as needed. These students tend to work very slowly but eventually finish courses. In one pilot, adult education students in transition-to-college programs had good success using just one online course, the Health Science course, as part of their face-to-face program for students interested in entering a college health career program. Presently, a small number of adult education centers are piloting courses in conjunction with weekly face-to-face classes and this emerging model is moving students along more quickly and with greater success.

Ed. Note: Cynthia Zafft wishes to give special thanks to her HCLN colleagues, Sally Waldron and Steve Quann, for their suggestions for this article.

Photo Credit: Jon Crispin