In-person is the core of adult digital learning

May 17th, 2022 by Alan Cherwinski

For the last few months, AlphaPlus has been involved in the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s digital enhancement initiative for Ontario’s literacy and basic skills (LBS) sector. Along with Contact North, we played a convening and intermediary role in this project, consulting with and working on behalf of educators, administrators and learners. 

We ensured that all sectors (colleges, community programs and school boards) and streams (Deaf, francophone, Indigenous, and anglophone) were provided with equitable opportunity to contribute. We paid particular attention to including under-represented groups and we interpreted high priority issues that are actionable by the Ministry. Thank you to all who stepped forward to share your insights and experiences about digital delivery. 

The consultation, research and analysis are now summarized in the report Enhancing the Literacy and Basic Skills Program Through Integrated Digital Delivery: An Opportunity and Needs Assessment (available on the online hub we’ve set up).

The report highlights the importance of digital skills and digital literacy, the gains made by remote learners during the pandemic, the challenges presented by the digital divide and the following four thematic areas of opportunity and potential action:

  1. Provide access to technology devices, digital skills and tech support across the province to increase access and remove barriers.
  2. Provide a shared repository of vetted, high-quality, open-sourced curricula, assessment and online-learning teaching resources and a comprehensive learning management system.
  3. Provide accessible provincial professional development and structured forums and methods for knowledge sharing focused on online and blended-learning best practices.
  4. Strengthen the enabling environment for system-wide effectiveness and coordination.

While none of this is new to those of us working in Ontario’s adult literacy sector, it’s helpful to see attention paid to these issues.

Keeping digital delivery in perspective within the full system view

This initiative reflects a significant investment by the Ministry in understanding digital delivery, but we can’t lose sight of the opportunities and challenges of in-person programs. The report highlights the importance of digital skills and literacy to help learners successfully pursue their goals related to education, employment and independence — but most digital skill building happens through in-person opportunities and experiences.

In addition to representing 85% of LBS program delivery, face-to-face is the optimal environment to build relationships, trust and comfort with learners. And as remote services increase, we don’t want to risk excluding those with lower digital literacy skills and limited access to devices or the internet. Therefore, we believe that to ensure robust and digitally enriched adult literacy programming, the entire system should be designed from the perspective of in-person teachers and learners. In-person, including hybrid, delivery provides the appropriate and critical opportunities for learners to develop the competency to fully participate in future independent digital learning at home, at work or in further education.

While fully remote service delivery is an excellent option for certain situations and learners, it shouldn’t be the default nor the dominant (only takeaway) theme from the report. An army of in-person teachers is providing foundational digital skills opportunities to improve learners’ access to future digital learning. Overly focusing on the needs of fully remote or distance LBS delivery would short-change the immediate struggles of the in-person programs doing the yeoman’s share of the LBS digital skills development.

Next steps: Continue the conversation about system-level change

Where do we go from here?

While it’s not clear what next steps the Ministry will take, this initiative reflects incremental progress and momentum around much-needed conversations. The Ministry involved AlphaPlus because of our advocacy on behalf of literacy programs and projects like our Shift to Remote Delivery Report and 8 Strategies for Improving the Digital Capacity of Our Adult Literacy System. We will continue to try to meet with them and advance these conversations.

Recognizing that digital delivery is just one component, AlphaPlus will continue to support and advocate for face-to-face programs trying to deal with 21st-century technology and learning. The report findings will help us narrow our focus and clarify where we can make an impact.

To that end, we also want to continue the conversation with you. I encourage you to read the Ministry’s report and get in touch directly with me to share your thoughts:

·   Is it a reasonable presentation of the issues? What’s missing? 

·   How can AlphaPlus collaborate with you to advance individual elements? How can we make progress together in meaningful ways?

Please email me with your reactions and ideas at acherwinski@alphaplus.ca. I hope to hear from you.

Alan Cherwinski

Executive Director

AlphaPlus