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A cross-case analysis of six community-based programs in Ontario’s Literacy and Basic Skills system (2018).

AlphaPlus OHCRIF 2017 2018 Report (Ver 3.0 Oct 30)AWC.docxDownload 
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Project Results: ‘Digital opportunities and barriers for Ontario’s vulnerable adults’ literature review project.

In Ontario, our government is transforming how it collaborates with the public and provides services by migrating many everyday interactions and transactions to an online platform. This e-government service initiative includes a commitment to provide opportunities for people to advance or gain new digital skills, particularly to individuals most in need of digital literacy training. As those in the adult education sector know, a digital divide and lack of technology training persists in Ontario and in Canada. For many Ontarians, the cost of an Internet connection puts access out of reach. When Internet access is available disparities in education level, literacy, technical skills, online problem solving and access to digital learning supports contribute to the divide. AlphaPlus’ synthesis review project sought to examine existing literature to better understand effective and comprehensive digital literacy learning, as well as inclusion opportunities for current and future users of e-government services.

The report details the results of a literature review and a jurisdictional scan funded by the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (OHCRIF) in 2016-2017. This project explores what it means to be an inclusive and digitally enabled province, and to support Ontario’s vision for advancing digital literacy skills for those in need. Because of the digital literacy strategy currently under development in Ontario, this research was an ideal opportunity to look at promising policies, programs and practices designed to create an environment of digital inclusion in other jurisdictions.

Digital Opportunities Review (Ver 1 May 08 2017)MS.pdfDownload 
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Full Research Report

In 2014-15, AlphaPlus was involved in a research project examining current assessment practices related to the OALCF Use Digital Technology Milestones, the alignment between the Milestones and program learning and reporting trends. Our study concludes that the Milestones and accompanying administration guidelines work counter to the ministry’s objective for the OALCF to “improve service delivery, learner experiences and learner outcomes” by introducing a series of challenges, contradictions and inequities.

EOIS-CaMS data and anecdotal information indicated that the OALCF Competency D – Use Digital Technology Milestones were often being selected. We wanted to know why there was a reliance on a limited number of Milestones and determine why assessors were making this choice. An investigation initially focused on digital technology Milestones grew to incorporate a broader investigation of Milestone use in general.

This SDNDF-funded project Assessment Use and Reporting: Investigating Data Integrity Issues gathered information from assessors in LBS programs by way of an online survey and in-person interviews focused on the digital technology Milestones as well as assessment and reporting practices and their impacts on programming. The insights of practitioners with experience using the OALCF Milestones were integral to the project.

Christine Pinsent-Johnson
Matthias Sturm


AlphaPlus Assessment Use Full Report (Ver 2 Oct 5 15).pdfDownload 
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With the introduction of the OALCF (Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework) and its aligned reporting system in 2012, Ontario’s Literacy and Basic Skills programs (LBS) have experienced extensive changes in the way they report program activity and demonstrate accountability.

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This research brief describes program practices that have been put in place in response to the introduction of the OALCF Milestones. It is part of a larger study that investigated the digital technology and OALCF Milestones overseen by AlphaPlus.

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This overview of program data from LBS programs in Ontario was developed as part of a larger study that investigated the way that the OALCF Use Digital Technology, and Milestones in general, are used in LBS programs. The data was examined to provide a current program overview and a context for understanding the research findings.

AlphaPlus Research Brief LBS Program Data (Ver 3 Oct 5 15).pdfDownload 
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Assessment Challenges, Contradictions and Inequities: An analysis of the use of digital technology and OALCF Milestones

Christine Pinsent-Johnson
Matthias Sturm

AlphaPlus Assessment Use Research Overview (Ver 3 Oct 5 15).pdfDownload 
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This short report summarizes the results of two independent surveys. The first was undertaken by AlphaPlus, surveying literacy practitioners about their own and adult learners’ experiences participating in the PIAAC On-line Field Trial. The second was undertaken by PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs, surveying the learners in their program who participated in the Field Trial. We hope to contribute to the discussion about PIAAC On-line by providing some quantitative but foremost qualitative data that speaks to the data collected through the Field Trial.

Note that the PIAAC On-line Field trial intended to test the question items and not the participants in the Field Trial. There were a limited number of question items included in this non-adaptive version of PIAAC On-line. Some findings in this report speak to these limitations. Further testing may be done to evaluate the potential uses of the test.

To find out more about the PIAAC On-line Field Trial in Ontario read more here.

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This research report is based on the study of the perceptions and experiences of ten adult learners with digital media as they work through small group sessions to create their own digital texts and then reflect on whether and how they think that digital media might help them build digital literacy skills and whether they might be able to apply these skills in their daily lives.

The purpose of this small scale study was twofold: 

  • To explore and understand the attitudes and experiences of adult Canadians who are non-users or limited users of digital media and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
  • To investigate the ways in which adult learners use and respond to digital media in order to expand their communication potential.
Adult Learners and Digital MediaDownload 
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The report explores the following four themes:

  • How digital technology is shaping and transforming literacy and learning, with implications for policy and practice
  • Promising practices in incorporating digital technology in ABE
  • Digital divides and inequality in access to digital technologies for learning
  • Professional development for educators and related curricula and delivery policy.
Incorporating Digital Technologies in Adult Basic EducationDownload 
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A report on a short-term project conducted in partnership with four self-selected, community-based, adult literacy agencies in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Although over the years we have worked closely with many adult literacy programs across the province, we wanted to look more closely at the realities of using digital technologies for adult literacy teaching and learning.

Specifically, we wanted to:

  • see how a program uses, works with and integrates digital technology in adult literacy programming
  • explore how programs are actually using digital technologies and e-learning (We define e-learning as teaching and learning with digital technologies)
  • learn about the opportunities and challenges that programs face so that we are better informed and can more closely align our services and supports to the needs of adult literacy programs
  • take a preliminary look at the use of digital technologies and e-learning in adult literacy programs in relation to the Use Digital Technology Competency of the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework (OALCF).
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Background: Due to all kinds of circumstances, a majority of francophone adults in minority settings must get training or upgrading while they are in the workplace. Distance education, e‑learning, learning objects and learning communities have had an undeniable impact on that type of learning. Assistive technologies are new tools that are increasingly used by adults to perform certain tasks, especially in the workplace. Aside from providing tools for people with disabilities, assistive technologies have other functions offering many advantages for learning. They were found to also have an instructional purpose. Therefore, we must consider the use of assistive technologies as new learning tools in the workplace. However, before generalizing the use of assistive technologies in the workplace, we must first understand the needs and challenges of their use.

Purpose: The purpose of this report is to offer an approach to understand and address the current situation of francophone adult learners in the workplace and what motivates them to use assistive technologies. More specifically, this report on assistive technologies and learner motivation is designed to help improve the instructional design of assistive technologies in order to prepare learners to develop and maintain new skills throughout their lives.

Research question and methodology: The main question of this research is how francophone adult learners perceive assistive technologies as they relate to solving learning challenges in workplaces where they are a minority. The method used by this exploratory research is a case study leading to a descriptive analysis of perceptions observed in learners regarding assistive technologies.

Results: This analysis resulted in two recommendations: 1) to test an adapted model of motivational dynamics highlighting the factors of francophone adult learners’ external and internal motivation, which relies on learning challenges and perceptions; and 2) to develop and support positive perception taking into account the advantages of assistive technologies in a broad francophone minority setting.

Issues: On the one hand, the motivators to use assistive technologies proposed here will allow practitioners to know exactly which factors motivate francophone adult learners to use assistive technologies in the workplace and to adapt their pedagogy accordingly. On the other hand, by focussing on internal motivations, practitioners will know precisely whether the assistive technologies they recommend to learners for their workplace training really help improve workplace skills. Consequently, knowing the motivations will help determine whether francophone learners are likely to use assistive technologies all their lives to develop their workplace skills.

Overview: This research provides a literature review on the use of information and communication technologies in training, followed by an analysis and recommendations.

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AlphaPlus’ most recently published paper, Social Networking Sites and Adult Literacy Learning: Raising the Issues, explores how educators and adult learners might harness the full potential of Social Networking Sites (SNS)  and other social media in the service of adult literacy teaching and learning.

Acknowledging that informal literacy learning is occurring in the process of using SNS, the paper addresses various factors that influence literacy learners' use of these sites such as 21st Century skills, social and civic engagement, marginalization, the digital divide, and digital citizenship. Noting the ubiquity of digital technologies in today’s society, the authors argue that literacy programs have an important role in helping adult literacy learners keep pace with others in society. However, the paper also raises important issues that will need to be addressed if SNS are to be incorporated into literacy programs.

“Social networking sites and adult literacy learning go hand in hand, in our opinion, yet the issues and questions we’ve raised require careful consideration if they are to be brought together in non-formal and formal educational contexts.”

We encourage you to share the information in the paper with your network, and to send us your feedback. If you would like hard copies, please send an email request to

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This technical paper explores the skills needed for the use of digital technology within the context of curriculum frameworks such as the OALCF, skills frameworks such as the Essential Skills, and more generally in the workplace and for lifelong learning.

Ultimately, the paper aims to spark a national discussion among educators, program administrators, researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders, about the use of digital technology as an essential skill for all adults in Canada.

We encourage you to read and discuss the paper, and to send us your feedback.

For further reading about the context of our work, the following may be of interest:

Some research to support the further development of the ES Computer Use has already been completed. Read more about the Defining Essential Digital Skills in the Canadian Workplace, a recently released research report by WDM Consultants with funding from The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills on the AlphaPlus blog.


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 Finding Our Way: Digital Technologies and E-Learning for Adult Literacy Students, Educators and Programs Literature Scan: 2005-2011, presents a global snapshot of how technology has been used to enhance teaching, learning and professional development.

Given the ubiquity of digital technologies in today’s world and the pressure on educators to keep up, the report explores how they are and could be supported to integrate technology into their practice.

Ultimately, the report aims to spark a national discussion about what is happening, what needs to happen, and how AlphaPlus can, in collaboration with the adult literacy field, begin to harness the full potential of digital technology and e-learning in the service of adult literacy teaching and learning.

We encourage you to share the information in the report with your network, and to send us your feedback.

Finding Our Way: Digital Technologies and E-Learning for Adult LiteracyDownload 
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Cloud Computing: What is cloud computing and why is it important for Adult Literacy?” is the first of its kind and details how cloud computing can contribute to literacy in Canada. The opportunities cited in the report include:

  • Powerful computing infrastructure and the ability to buy computing software, as needed, over the Internet.
  • For educators and learners, cloud computing can help centralize and connect e-learning materials and literacy communities interspersed throughout the internet, and lead to the creation of a centralized online platform, enabling adult educators and learners to share and collaborate on resources, tools, forums and more.
  • Literacy funders and organizations will be better able to design and operate e-learning software based on users’ online habits and performance.

In addition, the report suggests that, as we enter the "smart" age, where free Internet is becoming available in many public places, literacy organizations and researchers can collaborate on cloud computing services, creating synergy and great potential for service.

Link to Creative Commons

Cloud ComputingDownload 
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154 learners ranging in age from 27 to 39 participated in this research study, developing and piloting distance and online learning delivery models for adult basic education (ABE) programs in Ontario, Canada. Almost three-quarters of the participants were women, the preferred language of two-thirds of the participants was English, and half of the learners were not employed at the time of the study. On average, almost two and a half years had passed since the participants' last upgrading course in an on-site environment. Almost half of the participants reported their learning goal was to pursue further training and almost the same amount said they would rather work independently toward achieving their goals. Each of the programs differed in population served, method of instructional delivery, and curriculum.

The literacy programs involved in this research project were:

Centre de formation pour adultes J'aime apprendre Inc. - Formation multi-modale en alphabétisation et formation de base - Cornwall and Alexandria

Community Learning Centre Napanee (Kingston Literacy) - The Distance Delivery Development Project - Napanee, Tamworth, and Kaladar

Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council - Good Learning Anywhere - First Nations Management Training program, Pelican Falls High School, Hudson, and Pikangikum

Confederation College - LBS Distance Delivery Project - Thunder Bay, Kenora, Onigaming, and Grassy Narrows.

The results were extremely promising. The study found that distance delivery is a viable option for serving students who are not otherwise able to attend traditional programs or who are in more isolated areas. The study also found that, with proper support and training, distance learners can use technology as a valuable adjunct to learning and can make good learning progress with some level of teacher contact and support. Specifically the study showed that distance learning can be a valuable tool in providing services to rural and isolated populations, and very effective for learners with relatively low levels of literacy. But it also showed that distance learners don't differ greatly from traditional learners who have done well in a classroom setting, although they do seem to have slightly higher preferences for working on their own.

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