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More Than Engagement: Pathways to Retention for Adult Learners

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 -- Leslie Holland

Adult education programs are multifaceted and cater to a complex demographic cross-section of their communities. They may serve individuals learning English, improving their job skills, completing their high school diploma or GED®, or preparing for various college and career pathways. These groups of learners are not only arriving with unique learning needs but also are bringing with them challenges from the real world, such as transportation, childcare, and financial obligations. Given these diverse and complex situations, how can we address adult learners and keep them engaged?

There are three key areas we can focus on:

  1. Using data for action and responsiveness
  2. Adapting the instructional landscape
  3. Integrating community services with skills

The starting point here is data. We collect data on many things in education. On a daily basis, we account for the number of learners who attended class, the scores they received on their latest test, and what gains they may have made. Data, however, not being static can reveal a great deal beyond the numbers. Using and interpreting the information we collect from our learners can allow us to respond to their needs instructionally, as well as beyond the classroom.

For an example of how we can focus on these three areas of learner engagement, let’s explore a scenario where a learner consistently shows up for daytime classes but has a great deal of absences for night classes. Attendance data will point out this pattern. Our next step is to ask what the learner is telling us through this data. We can see that there is some type of obstacle at night—perhaps it is childcare or transportation, but regardless, the learner is not able to make it to class on a regular basis.

Now, how can we respond and work to adapt the instructional environment for the learner? One suggestion for the learner may be that he or she scales back the course load to only daytime classes and drop the evening ones. However, there may be other options that we could offer him or her and still maintain the supervision and accountability that is important for academic success. Another possibility would be to offer the learner access to digital resources so that he or she can take evening classes remotely, communicating with an instructor via email or phone and attending in-person only as needed.

If attendance data can suggest that evening class attendance is an issue reaching further than one learner, we may want to survey all of our learners on their transportation needs and possibly adapt instruction on a larger scale by addressing the timing of classes. This can have a profound effect. In one adult education center, the last bus to a particular area of the city left the school at 8 PM, but class did not end until 8:30 PM. Many learners did not want to show up for class at all because they would always have to leave early. However, they only communicated this after being asked why they were missing class.

In addition to using learner data to address and adapt to unique instructional needs, leveraging our flexible digital tools in the process, it is also important to address the life skills connected with these challenges. Sometimes, learners struggle with unraveling the logistics of succeeding in academic programs and may need guidance or instruction in how to communicate their needs, manage their time, schedule their class days, or even interpret a mass-transit schedule. Integrating these skills into the core academic areas, such as math, language arts, and reading, not only improves learners’ academic and real-world skills but also serves as a technique to engage them in their learning. It is an opportune moment to teach within contextual examples so that your learners can immediately see benefits in their everyday lives.  

Interested in finding out more about Edmentum’s personalized online solutions for adult learners? Check out our Workforce Readiness solutions

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