8 Strategies for Improving the Digital Capacity of Our Adult Literacy System

October 15th, 2021 by Alan Cherwinski

Would you agree that Ontario’s Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) system is facing many challenges? Would you also agree that it’s time – past due – to address those challenges?

Perhaps, like me, you’ve invested years in the adult literacy field, and you don’t want to see it fall further behind. You and I care about this field because we care about learners and we want a well-functioning, integrated system to support them. But the challenges we’re facing are complex, involving many different players, relationships and contexts. So whose role is it to advocate for the changes and improvements we need?

At AlphaPlus, we decided to step into the vacuum and start a type of discussion about system-level change that hasn’t happened in Ontario’s LBS sector in a very long time. In 2018, we started by mapping out the key challenges and sources of problems in Ontario’s LBS system. Next, we drafted a series of potential solutions and steps to address these problems. Now, we’re sharing our preliminary work with you.

Late-breaking November ministry initiative

Just as we were about to send you this letter, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development proposed a joint (five-month long, one-time funding) assignment for Contact North and AlphaPlus. The potential plan is to engage and collaborate with the LBS stream and sector support organizations, educators, and learners to identify gaps and priorities for digital services and tools for learners, educators and organizations. You can find more information here.

Mapping out Ontario’s LBS system challenges

I always depend on the expertise of AlphaPlus’s highly skilled staff. To form our vision for sector-wide change, Christine Pinsent-Johnson has taken the lead, bringing her research-informed, critical perspective.

We started with what we already know at AlphaPlus from working with colleges, school boards and community-based programs. The variety of programs and challenges across these sectors formed part of our motivation to explore this work. Building on AlphaPlus’s knowledge, Christine worked with an advisory committee, an expert consultant and others within and outside of our sector to understand and map out our sector’s challenges.

This mapping step is important because by acknowledging and recognizing the source of our problems, we can create a common framework for developing a way forward.

Eight proposed strategies

Today, we’re sharing Eight strategies for equitable, sustainable and effective digital literacy development in Ontario’s LBS system. We’ve taken a comprehensive approach, recognizing how elements within the LBS system interact and create conditions that suppress and support digital literacy development and technology integration. We’ve built these strategies upon our mapping, but we’ve also looked at jurisdictions beyond Ontario, adapting what we learned to fit Ontario’s challenges and context.

Our initial list reflects the highest priority pain points in our system, and conditions that need to be in place, that affect our ability to take full advantage of technology:

  1. Collaborating to ensure affordable data and devices for all learners.  
  2. Developing an integrated and informative learning framework.  
  3. Developing a blended learning approach and various models.     
  4. Sharing diverse knowledge and innovation.  
  5. Making sustainable investments in e-learning infrastructure.
  6. Building people’s capacity for technology integration.
  7. Designing responsive and equitable services, data collection and reporting.
  8. Choosing performance measures (success indicators) that work for everyone.     

Seeking your input

We understand the tension you might feel between your concrete and pressing technology-related challenges and the long-term need to address the broader system through conceptual repairs and policy issues. We are encouraged that the challenges are being recognized and look forward to our partnership with Contact North to guide this vision-building.

Currently, the topics of digital technology and remote learning are at the forefront. We want to take advantage of this momentum to get the ball rolling on a broader provincial discussion, first by getting our eight proposed strategies on the radar and initiating a conversation with you.

Soon we’ll offer more structured opportunities for conversation, but for now, would you share your input?

  • Which strategy elements [link] are relevant, accurate and feasible?
  • What would we need to do to engage you in our collective push for change?

 Christine and I are inviting you to connect with us directly, so please email me at acherwinski@alphaplus.ca to share your answers to these questions.

Alan Cherwinski
Executive Director

Christine Pinsent-Johnson
Policy and Research Consultant – Education and Technology