Digital Literacy Training for Adult Literacy Tutors

By Elizabeth J. Allen


Adult literacy tutors play an important role in providing a learning bridge to many types of literacy skill-sets. Increasingly, adult digital literacy is imperative to being able to communicate, locate information, solve everyday problems and to advance in socio-economic status. Being fluent in the many literacies required by contemporary work and social contexts is also considered essential to cultural citizenship and social belonging (Fantin, 2013). However, the peer tutors at Literacy New Jersey, Burlington County Programs (LNJBC) are often older people with limited digital literacy skills themselves. As a result, many literacy tutors are ill-prepared for fostering the digital competency of their students. In this article, I report on a graduate-level instructional design research project that addressed the digital literacy learning gaps of adult literacy tutors at LNJBC in the fall of 2014. My study measured the effectiveness of  the digital literacy training programme, with online learning support, in enhancing the digital skills of tutors and, in turn, the digital literacy of their students.

The digital literacy workshop series included four workshop sessions offered in Burlington County, New Jersey, to address the specific learning needs of tutors in that region. An additional workshop was made available to literacy tutors from around the state at the annual Literacy for Life Conference in Trenton, New Jersey on November 1, 2014. Separate online learning support was created for the Burlington County and state workshop sessions. Students had the option to attend whichever dates and as many sessions as were convenient for them.

Data collection for this study used both qualitative and quantitative approaches, and the instructional design methodology was iterative. All tutors received a pre-program survey at the beginning of September 2014 to assess learning needs and skills gaps related to technology and tutoring.  A learner profile was generated from the results of the pre-training survey and informed the learning objectives, content, and program design. Tutors who wished to participate in the workshops registered with the literacy program. Prior to the beginning of the workshop series, user tests of the two course websites took place to ensure all links were working and that tutorials were paced appropriately. During workshop sessions, a passive observer took notes on the efficacy of the learning design, using a list of prompts developed from Caladine’s Learning Activities Model (Caladine, 2008). The designer made necessary adjustments to the instructional design plan after each workshop session upon reviewing her field notes and the observer’s notations. At the end of the workshop series, participants took an online survey to assess how well the program met personal learning goals, whether the skills learned during the workshop impacted their tutoring sessions with adult literacy students, and if they believed their students benefited in any way from tutor training. Additionally, the designer conducted informal participant interviews two weeks after the end of the workshop series to assess the extent to which technology had been further integrated into tutoring sessions. Overall student learning was measured by applying observer notes, researcher field notes, and evaluation of learning artifacts to Caladine’s Learning Activities Model. The study ended in early December 2014.

Student learning artifacts that arose from the digital literacy training were individual and collective in nature; and in most cases, students had a choice of projects to work on in any one workshop session. The learning artifacts that arose from the four workshops in Burlington County included two new email accounts and practice emails, four blogs with one to two posts each, three video lesson demonstrations uploaded to YouTube or Google Drive and one slideshow, two completed Skype calls, and one digital story about surviving the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during WWII uploaded to YouTube and shared with a daughter in Israel via email. The largest workshop session in Trenton brought approximately 20 tutor participants together. Students worked on case studies and completed their own digital tutoring session ideas in pairs or small groups using the facilitator and workshop website with tutorials as learning support. Participants then shared their ideas and findings via a Google document linked to the workshop website that students could then access at a later date for additional ideas and support.

The informal interviews and post-program evaluation results suggest that participants who attended at least two workshop sessions made leaps in their confidence to create digital products that enhance their tutoring and personal lives. Statistics for the two workshop websites show students used the online learning support outside of class steadily for about a month after class. While many participants were not sure to what extent the workshops had impacted their tutoring sessions to date (as of December 2014), most were certain there would be a benefit in the future. Now that more tutors have increased their digital literacy and skills confidence at LNJBC, ongoing trainings may periodically take place as webinars and online learning modules in the future. A detailed presentation of this study can be found at

  References Caladine, R. (2008). Content and Interactions. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Fantin, M. (2013). Beyond babel: Multiliteracies in digital culture. In A. Cartelli (Ed.), Fostering 21st Century Digital Literacy and Technical Competency (1-6). IGI Global: Hershey, PA. doi: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2943.ch001

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