Education meets the economy: Themes from COABE 2017

Education meets the economy: Themes from COABE 2017

What happens to workers when old jobs go away?

Reskilling is the common refrain, but many adults don’t have access to the knowledge they need. As more people seek training, the current education system serves just 11% of low-skill adults in the United States.

Our work with the U.S. Department of Education on Power in Numbers seeks to bridge this gap by increasing access to quality math education for adult learners through the use of low-cost, high-quality Open Educational Resources (OER).

OER are free materials that bring the best of the open source movement to learning, allowing educators greater access to relevant teaching materials. They have become wildly popular in K-12 education, and offer much promise for adult ed.

With this mission in mind, analysts Chris Harper and Emily Hallquist attended the annual Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference in Orlando, FL to connect with educators and observe shifts in the adult learning space.

After speaking with dozens of teachers and attending sessions on policy, technology, and pedagogy, we observed three major trends at work:

  • Job outcomes are the imperative. While math educators expressed the desire to teach relevant applications for work and life, many lack the resources to achieve this goal. New legislation from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act lights a fire under this issue, as it will tie adult education funding more closely to employment outcomes. In a fireside chat with Cheryl Keenan, Director of Adult Education and Literacy at the U.S. Department of Education, educators discussed this shift and the need to adapt.
  • Employers have a new role to play. While COABE is primarily attended by educators and resource providers, we spoke to the few industry representatives who are bridging the gap between workforce development and adult education. Ford shared their efforts to build technical degrees at the community college level that help adults gain employment in advanced manufacturing. To truly prepare adult learners for the workforce, we need to invite more companies like this to the conversation, and involve them in shaping standards and curriculums. 
  • Teachers are ready to take action. A presentation and working session titled “Using OERs for GED Preparation,” delivered by GED instructor Alfons Prince, was well attended and highlighted the appetite for open resources among adult educators. While just a fraction of the educators in the room had heard of OER, and an even smaller number had used OER, they were eager to learn. Attendees responded with great interest as Prince demonstrated how quickly they can access and remix open source materials to meet the needs of a mixed classroom with varying abilities. The benefits are clear and the demand is strong; the next step is to train adult educators on using these adaptable resources.