Monday, 20 February 2012

Adult Literacy and Learning Theories #CCK12 - Week 4

I work in the field of adult literacy, which overall, is highly influenced by the constructivist theory of learning. Adult learners have typically not succeeded in standard educational institutions and yet they have important and diverse life and work experiences – not to mention incredible coping skills. For our sector, constructivism tends to be a highly valued theory because it values and builds on people’s previous life experiences.

However, when an adult has extremely low levels of literacy, we must sometimes begin with a behaviourist approach, i.e., drilling and practicing basic spelling and reading skills. Without gaining basic conventions of spelling and reading through a skill and drill approach, it can be difficult to learn and progress.
Seldom do adult literacy learners favour a humanist approach to learning. They typically are not upgrading their literacy skills for reasons of self-actualization and self-development; often their reasons for learning are more basic and profound than that. They need improved literacy skills for critically important goals such as furthering their education, gaining employment, or reading a banking agreement, apartment lease or a child’s report card.
Literacy educators might use cognitivism as a means of organizing how the course is designed and delivered, rather than as a learning theory.
In family literacy, we would be more likely to use a social constructivist theory, since family literacy involves the whole family (immediate, extended and sometimes the community) learning together. We definitely recognize, given the strong co-relation between a parent’s literacy level and a child’s, that social constructivism is an important learning theory in family literacy.
Connectivism would be a new learning theory to most literacy educators and adult literacy learners. Many of the concepts within connectivism would be however be familiar to us. For example, the concept that knowledge can be gained through social interaction and that people learn through connection with others would be commonly accepted principles. As well, the concept that knowledge is distributed across a network and that learning is supported by navigating these connections would also be accepted in literacy.

In terms of social interaction and connections, adult literacy learners often benefit from social and peer-based learning and from sharing stories and resources of how to cope with low literacy levels in a highly literate world. Therefore, often in adult literacy we encourage peer support and peer tutoring. Knowing the value of this social and interactive learning, and its ability to support others, we also encourage adult learners (based on individual comfortable levels) to share their stories, via literacy agency blogs, newsletters, videos, podcasts, speaking engagements, and books). Who can better relate to the struggles and needs of adult learners better than people sharing the same journey?

In literacy, we also seek to build connections of adult literacy educators and adult learners via networks, both in person and digital. We do this using incredibly diverse methods, including via provincial learner conferences and via a wide variety of online tools such as those mentioned above (blogs, stories of the week, online videos, webinars, newsletters, etc.). For some, networks help them to learn; for others, they create a lifeline!

To illustrate, here is a powerful video produced by People, Words and Change, (a community-based literacy agency in Ottawa) that shares the stories of six adult learners:

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