How to create an effective adult literacy program

Canada’s adult literacy rate is dropping. From 2003 to 2013, the percentage of adults with unsuitable literacy skills increased notably over the past 10 years. Creating more adult literacy programs is a part of the solution to low literacy rates – but it’s not that simple.

As we know, the field of adult literacy is complex and comprised of varying skill levels, demographic groups and learning challenges. When launching new adult literacy programs, we must create programs considering these complexities while meeting community needs.

Below, we outline some guidelines for launching a successful adult literacy program.

Key components of adult literacy programs

 An adult literacy program, as impactful as it is, goes beyond teaching reading and writing. The most successful programs are monumental in building a more educated and economically-driven population. By carefully laying the groundwork before building your program, it’s possible to achieve this.

Community and Learner Assessments

Literacy practitioners should complete community and learner assessments at the start of the planning process. Clearly identifying the needs of the community that you intend to serve will help to ensure your program will be meaningful and needed.

You’ll want to better understand the economic, social, political and technological conditions of the geographic community you intend to target. Identify the existing gaps in the community that are preventing members from strengthening their literacy skills, and determine how you’ll find prospective learners.

You’ll also need to realistically identify your learner population. Think about the age, education, skill levels and other specific needs of those you want your program to support. Ensure this identified learner population is similar to your community assessment’s findings.

Networking and Partnerships

Getting the word out about your new program is only possible with public awareness. Be as vocal as possible regarding your support of literacy in your community and educate others about its need. Once your program launches, you can run awareness campaigns to build on this momentum – but this time, with tangible results of your program.

To expand your reach, find other pro-literacy organizations in the community that you can collaborate with. These types of relationships are beneficial for both parties. You can refer suitable candidates to each other’s programs, share instructional methods, consolidate resources and even advocate together for the need for additional resources.

Statements of Purpose

Successful adult literacy programs also have a firm grasp of their mission, philosophy and expected results. At its core, your program should offer a clearly defined working definition of literacy itself.

Together, these critical pieces build the framework for your programs and administration.

Best teaching practices of adult literacy programs

Once you establish the foundational elements of your program, consider the teaching approach you and your instructors will employ. Remember that every learner is unique, and your teaching styles must cater to each individual. Some of the most effective teaching methods include the following:

Self-Directed Learning

Create a learning environment that encourages a learner’s control and responsibility for their education. Unlike children, adults can be independent in learning and understanding.

Get the learner’s input on your program’s method, content, resources and evaluation so they can create an experience that works for them. Adults are motivated to learn internally, with career and professional goals commonly driving their educational pursuits, as well as helping their children with school work.

Experiential Learning

So much of learning occurs outside the classroom. Experiential learning is proven to increase retention rates and engagement, leading to more success.

To integrate experiential learning into your program, consider incorporating problem-based learning, where learners are encouraged to use their knowledge to address real-world issues. Case studies, simulations and field trips are also great ways to create a more inspiring, interactive classroom. 

Collaborative Learning

A positive learning environment should meet the needs of the learners themselves. Since adults typically enjoy a sense of participation during learning, give them as many opportunities as possible.

Regularly check in with learners to ask their opinions on your program and encourage collaboration with fellow learners and instructors. Use any feedback to improve your program and make it more relevant to learners’ lives.

The key takeaway on adult literacy programs

There’s a continued pressing need for effective literacy initiatives.

Before launching a new adult literacy program, carefully lay a solid foundation based on market research, networking, and organizational framework. After that, incorporate the best teaching methods for your learners.

To help you with program delivery, access our free resources.