Technologies for Adult Literacy Programs

May 1, 1996

During the last decade, computers and other electronic technologies have become important tools for many educational purposes. These technologies offer special opportunities for supporting and expanding literacy learning and instruction. As hardware becomes increasingly available, and software options diversify, educators are looking for effective ways to integrate these technologies into various types of literacy programs. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the types of technologies that are currently available and the kind of learning they support, and to illustrate how they can be used with adult literacy learners.

The needs of adults with respect to literacy vary widely. They include English as a Second Language (ESL), work-related literacy skills, or overcoming learning disabilities. To narrow the scope of this review, we have chosen to focus on technologies that support the teaching and learning of language-related literacy skills. These include the abilities to comprehend a wide range of written and printed texts, to communicate effectively both orally and in written form, to think critically and reason logically, and to solve problems and make decisions. Such abilities are critical for people to function in different aspects of their lives, and most importantly, they help them to develop their knowledge and potential, and facilitate life-long learning.

Current technologies that support literacy learning in adults include microcomputers, for which we will describe three major types of applications: instructional software, tool software, and computer networks. The other major category of technology include electronic visual media such as video, TV, and videodisc technology. For each of these technologies, we will describe the kinds of opportunities they offer for literacy learning. It is important, however, to keep in mind that these are just opportunities, and that to a large extent an educator's ability to choose, adapt, and use the technology effectively will determine its success.