Here are the questions we hear most often from educators about the GED® Academy, learning technology in the adult education classroom, and distance learning for adult education students.
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- How does computer-based instruction improve my students’ learning?
- How is learning technology going to make my life easier?
- What is the support for your claim that learning is increased by blending computer-based instruction with face-to-face instruction?
- How do I meld the structure of my classroom with the unstructured and haphazard world of the Internet?
- Can computer-based instruction work with low level students?
- Is distance learning a way to try to replace the classroom?
- We are required to meet performance gains to secure funding for our adult literacy programs. How will computer-based instruction (CBI) help?
- Our adult basic education budgets are slashed. How will spending more money on educational technology save us money?
- How do we determine student readiness for independent study?
- Do computers depersonalize instruction?
- What should the 21st century adult education classroom look like?
- How do we use a GED® preparation program in our high school without encouraging more students to not graduate with their high school diploma?
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How does computer-based instruction improve my students’ learning?
“I’m nervous about turning over the responsibility of my students’ learning to a computer program. How do I know what they’ll learn, if they are really learning, or if they are able to apply the material that they learn? At least when I teach, I know what’s being taught. I control it. Good or bad, I know.”
Technology doesn’t replace teachers. It gives them more time to do what they do best… teach. Much of the instruction time in classrooms is wasted. It’s spent doing things that don’t teach every student. Some students move forward. Others get lost, and others are bored. Technology can drastically change that because it can take over many of the management chores of the classroom, freeing you to work with individuals at their own level. But even more important, it can take over basic rote teaching and free you up to teach higher level thinking skills. Why spend your time doing what a computer can do better?
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education published a meta-analysis taken from more than 1,000 comparative empirical studies*. The findings demonstrate that students who studied online did better than students did in traditional face-to-face instruction. Blended learning approaches had the best results of all. Online students benefited more in the cases where they were able to move at their own pace, were prompted to spend more time on task, reflected on what they learned, and collaborated.
*Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, 2009. http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
How is learning technology going to make my life easier?
“Technology makes my life more difficult. I don’t have time to learn new things or incorporate them into my lesson plans and classroom.”
What’s needed is a turnkey solution to learning technology for the adult ed classroom. Trying to do things piecemeal often provides more confusion than benefit. We found that a better perspective for learning technology is to look at how it interfaces with the learner, not how to incorporate pieces of software and hardware into the classroom.
It’s easy to think of technology in terms of devices, software, and tools. And this is where things tend to get overwhelming because most teachers don’t have the time and the expertise to learn and implement the newest things. It’s better to think about what our students need for success: things like a learning community, the ability to communicate with their instructors and peers, high quality and engaging content, just-in-time feedback, and mentors. This is where we can help.
For learning to be effective, it needs to give the learner a multi-dimensional experience. We think of this as a learning ecosystem: a halo of services, tools, resources, and support that nourishes the adult learner in the whole process of gaining the lost skills and knowledge they need to successfully get a high school or GED diploma and move on to post-secondary education. Learn more about our learning ecosystem.
What is the support for your claim that learning is increased by blending computer-based instruction with face-to-face instruction?
The research done by the U.S. Department of Education* demonstrates that students who studied online did better than students did in traditional face-to-face instruction. Blended learning approaches had the best results of all. Online students benefited more in the cases where they were able to move at their own pace, were prompted to spend more time on task, reflected on what they learned, and collaborated.
Also, consider the full spectrum of how people learn. The methodology of the classroom, which includes lectures, recitation, drill and practice, exams, and discussion, is an artificial construct created to maximize the learning opportunities of people in groups. But when left to their own resources, many adults will develop a rich natural learning ecosystem that allows for multi-layered learning. They create effective methods of communicating with the sources of their learning. They network with communities centered around the content to be learned. They naturally seek out highest quality content and find the most interesting and motivating learning experiences that allow for easy inexpensive access. They develop real-time feedback to guide their learning and find mentors to guide and support their learning.
New generation learning technology coupled with web 2.0 tools can easily and inexpensively provide a rich learning ecosystem, which accelerates learning and success. It’s like putting a greenhouse of learning nutrients around the learner. The GED Academy accelerates learning because it surrounds your adult learners with the elements of a learning ecosystem.
*Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, 2009. http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
How do I meld the structure of my classroom with the unstructured and haphazard world of the Internet?
“My adult literacy students bring in papers written with information they got from Wikipedia or other sources. They watch YouTube videos on how to do math problems. Some of this is correct, but some of it seems to just get them more confused. How do I encourage my students to use the Internet to learn new things, but prevent them from being mislead by wrong information?”
If we agree that our long-term goal is to create lifelong learners, then encouraging students to be self-directed learners is a good thing. Introducing students to technology is essential. The challenge is to teach our students the skills they need to make comparisons, evaluate both technology and information, organize ideas, and think through decisions. The GED Academy provides an environment of good content to help learners take advantage of the Internet while learning in a controlled way. But students must still gain the skills of clear, critical thinking necessary for technology literacy. Our new Computer Essentials online course teaches nine distinct standards for computer literacy.
In addition to basic computer literacy, the 21st century classroom expects us to blend new generation learning technology with our traditional face-to-face instruction practices. Learn more about how to do this.
Can computer-based instruction work with low level students?
“Computer-based instruction does not work with low level students because they have too much ground to make up. Our adult learning center students enter at an average of 5th grade level in reading and math. I don’t see how computer-based instruction can possibly help these students. Their educational needs are too basic. And besides, most do not know how to use computers.”
Learning with technology is not age based or measurable in grade levels of other learning. There is more software created for young learners than any other age group. The literacy level of a student does not determine a learner’s success or failure with computer-based instruction (CBI). What is relevant is whether the CBI motivates and engages the student. One-dimensional text-based software does not engage or motivate students. Without motivation and interest adult learners will not make the gains required for them to be successful. But with the right motivation and interest, adult learners will gain both valuable basic education and computer skills.
Most CBI does not require computer literacy. Demonstrating how to turn on the computer, login, and use a mouse is all that is required. After this initial stage, adult learners will get more and more comfortable with interacting with a computer, as well as gaining their basic education knowledge.
Is distance learning a way to try to replace the classroom?
“I’m worried that distance learning will be seen as a replacement for a classroom. There needs to be physical on-site space for some face-to-face interaction. Distance learning can help ease the space burden, but probably shouldn’t be viewed as a cheaper way to educate learners.”
Distance learning has been used as a substitute for a classroom for many many years. Millions of people have been successfully educated with correspondence courses for over a century. The fear that is at the heart of this statement is based on the assumption that adults only learn best in a classroom context and that distance learning cannot provide the same things a classroom can offer. This simply is not true. To be effective, a distance learning program has to at least provide the learning experiences that are available in the classroom. These are things like personal interaction with a live person, immediate access to answers to questions, the ability to connect with a community of both peer and expert support, and immediate feedback on learning progress. The question is, can a distance learning program provide equivalent education to classroom learning?
New generation learning technology can provide everything a classroom can, plus many things a classroom cannot. It starts with the notion that the goal of effective instruction is to create a rich learning ecosystem surrounding the student that gives them all the learning nutrients they need to be successful. The elements of a learning ecosystem are:
- Open Communication: Gives adult learners the means to easily communicate with their instructors and with other students.
- Supporting Community: Forms a supporting learning community with built-in social networking applications.
- High Quality Content: Raises the education bar with high quality learning content to prepare your adult learners for the GED exam and for transition to post-secondary education and new careers.
- Engaging Learning Experiences: Engages your learners with highly interesting, relevant, and motivating learning experiences.
- Meaningful Feedback: Gives real-time feedback embedded in the actual learning experiences as well as pre- and post-assessments.
- Easy Access: Gives adult learners access to their learning 24/7.
- Live Mentors: Provides the ability to connect with mentors who can support students’ efforts.
Admittedly, most educational software does not provide this kind of rich learning ecosystem for the adult learner. Learn how the GED Academy has solved this problem.
We are required to meet performance gains to secure funding for our adult literacy programs. How will computer-based instruction (CBI) help?
“I’m required to move my students at least two grade levels each year to maintain our federal funding. We have used CBI, but have not had good results with it. It’s good for drill and practice, but not for basic instruction. How is yours different?”
We have modeled our learning program on a personal tutoring experience. With a series of core assessments and sophisticated learning algorithms, our adaptive learning program moves the learner along precisely the most effective path for that particular person. Students learn quicker because the learning is personal and customized to exactly what they need, not what the best guess is for a whole classroom of students.
Most adult basic education software is made up of repackaged K-12 programs and does not meet the special needs of the adult learner. It’s not designed to carry the whole weight of educating your students. We’ve created something very different. The GED Academy is a complete learning solution for ABE, GED, and pre-GED level students and covers all five GED subject areas: math, science, social studies, reading, and writing.
With the GED Academy, your students are placed in a supportive learning ecosystem that gives them all the things they need to be successful. They start with a comprehensive assessment that designs a customized learning plan for them. They move through their lessons and are given immediate feedback on their progress and performance. They always know how they are doing and how they’re progressing toward their learning goals.
Our adult basic education budgets are slashed. How will spending more money on educational technology save us money?
“We have let go several of our teachers and reduced our adult education class offerings. Online learning is not on the table at this time. There is no way to afford something new, even if it will improve our teaching. Who can think about spending more money on technology when we’re in cost-cutting mode?”
Budget challenges have forced many schools to rethink the way they deliver education to adult learners. The real cost of educating adults to achieve a high school diploma or GED credential is usually in the thousands of dollars per graduate. The core problem is that the traditional model of educating adults takes too long and costs too many money-intensive resources. The average adult ed student is looking at a study program of two to four years based on a NRS placement test. Does it really take this long to educate an adult in the basic skills needed for a GED test credential, workforce readiness, and post-secondary education? We don’t think so and have the data to prove it.
NRS standardized tests such as TABE, CASAS, and GAIN are inadequate measures of adult learners’ acquired skills and knowledge. They are designed to measure gain for the purposes of Federal funding but do not provide the direction a teacher needs to create a personalized and effective learning plan for the adult learner. The GED test is a better tool for this, and the new GED test which is based on the Common Core State Standards will be far better. The problem isn’t that students take a long time to learn. It’s that the tools we use to measure learning are flawed and do not provide adult educators with the information they need to maximize their students’ learning progress. (link: http://www.corestandards.org/)
The adult education system is based on a faulty assumption that adults learn in the same way as high school and elementary students. K-12 education is founded on the concept that young people learn in progression, that they need to layer learning a step at a time, and that they start with little or no background and knowledge outside of school. Adults are not grown up high school students and do not learn in the same way. Adult learners bring a whole set of life experiences as well as a more mature brain to the table. As a result, they have the capacity to learn much faster than K-12 students.
Our experience educating thousands and thousands of adults for the GED test has been that they are able to learn in leaps and bounds instead of small, linear steps. Our assessment process identifies gaps and basic skills that need to be relearned and then builds those core competencies, which then accelerates learning even more. Our experience has been that we can move adult learners through the material they need in months rather than years. This is true even with students who are beginning at Low Intermediate Basic Education, at grade levels 4 or 5.
How do we determine student readiness for independent study?
“I have concerns that some of my adult learners are not mature enough for independent study with a computer. They often have ADHD and learning disabilities and do not seem to be able to sit in one place long enough to learn with a computer program.”
Why are many of these same adult learners who seem to lack the ability to concentrate in a classroom setting very successful with video games? We suspect that the problem is not that some adult learners lack the ability to learn with computer-based instruction, but that the classroom environment lacks the interest and relevance that engages their interest. The core of the problem is interest and engagement. If the instruction is not inherently interesting to learners, engaging their emotions and thinking, then they will not invest the time and energy in it.
Instead of trying evaluating student readiness, we should be evaluating the effectiveness of the computer-based instruction. Does it truly engage the learner in the ways that video and computer games do? Is it inherently interesting, relevant, and challenging to the learner?
We have not found it necessary to screen students beforehand to determine their readiness for independent study through distance education. If they have access to a computer and Internet connection and can turn the computer on and login, they’re ready for our program.
Do computers depersonalize instruction?
“I believe that computers depersonalize instruction. I would rather spend my resources on adding a teaching assistant than adding more technology. Computers are impersonal machines. How can they understand my students as individuals? How can they be more personal than a real teacher, and how can they know what my student really needs to learn? I’ve used programs like Skills Tutor®, and the results were not impressive.”
The real question is not about the impersonality of the tool. Decisions about using technology often get focused on the wrong thing: the tools. It should be focused on the learners and the success of the learning content and techniques. The instructional designers who create the lessons and systems that interface with your students either implement effective programs, or they don’t, just as their can be effective and ineffective classrooms. Who are the instructional designers of your software, and what are the standards they are asking you to accept in your classroom? When you buy technology, it is wise to think about it like hiring a personal teaching assistant for your classroom. What are the candidate’s standards? How well does he or she communicate with your students? What credentials does the candidate have? You require a teaching assistant with strong educational philosophy. Shouldn’t you expect the same thing from your learning software?
First generation adult education software was created to be used as a supplement to textbooks and practice exercises. These programs were not designed to be stand-alone learning experiences. In many ways, they functioned as interactive worksheets. Yet, many teachers try to use these programs to teach. It’s no wonder results with first generation education software has been disappointing. The fact that teachers want and need software that teaches is telling. New generation learning software must be different. It must take on the roles of education in a new and more comprehensive way.
What should the 21st century adult education classroom look like?
“I’m struggling with incorporating web 2.0 tools and resources into my classroom. It seems that I have to shift my perception of what teaching means, and I’m not sure how to do this.”
The core difference that the 21st century will bring to education is choice. The school and classroom will no longer be the center of learning. Students now have access to many different ways to learn what was in the past only available within the classroom. The challenge for the teacher in the 21st century is to be on the inside of this change, not the outside looking in.
For teachers, this change means shifting their role from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” As teachers, our job is to help our students get where they want to go rather than where we want them to go. This doesn’t imply that we do not create academic standards and outcomes. It does mean, though, that if our academic standards are not spot-on for what our students actually need to succeed in the world, then we are failing them. They will reach outside on their own to get the education they need. Education will become a much more free-market type of system than in the past. This may make some educators uncomfortable because they no longer control the means to the end. But open market forces can produce a much better education for our learners.
How do we use a GED preparation program in our high school without encouraging more students to not graduate with their high school diploma?
“The reality is that a very high percentage of our at-risk students drop out before getting their high school diploma. Moving them into a GED program makes a lot of sense, but we don’t want to encourage this as an easier alternative to staying with traditional high school.”
A prime reason for leaving high school before graduation is the lack of motivation and interest. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation* found that young people drop out because of a lack of connection to the school environment; a perception that school is boring; feeling unmotivated; academic challenges; and the weight of real world events. And interestingly, most dropouts are students who could have, and believe they could have, succeeded in school. This survey of young people who left high school without graduating suggests that, despite career aspirations that require education beyond high school and a majority having grades of C or better, circumstances in students’ lives and an inadequate response to those circumstances from the schools led to dropping out.
If lack of motivation and interest is the primary reason for leaving high school, then finding ways to increase interest and engagement will actually reverse attitudes and perceptions about high school. This is where new generation learning technology like the GED Academy can make a big difference in helping students to stay in high school. Many high schools use the GED Academy online study program to shore up basic reading and math skills and to bring students back into the academic environment.
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