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Montana ABLE Research-based Instruction Updates

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April  Topic
  Research #11:  Adapting Technology to Content



March  Topic
  Research #10:  Can Distance Learning Help Stopout Students?

DL Helping Stopout Students

Response to Research #10

Research #9:   Is Distance Learning a Culture or a Tool?

Learning Culture or Tool

Response to Research #9


Response to Research #10:  Is Distance Learning a Culture or a Tool?

Response #2

In the three years we've used distance learning for GED students in Miles City, we have found the same types of problems as SCC has. Being able to offer Home Study through GED Online seems like a nice solution for our stopout students, but in reality it does not solve anything except the barrier of access to learning. We have found that students need face-to-face meetings and that the lower the student's level, the more interaction is needed. We are constantly tweaking requirements for being a distance student and currently make face-to-face meetings mandatory if physically possible.

Melinda Lynnes, Miles City

Response #1

Today’s adult learners differ still from traditional college-age students. They tend to be practical problem solvers. Their life experiences make them autonomous, self-directed, and goal- and relevancy-oriented—they need to know the rationale for what they are learning. They are motivated by professional advancement, external expectations, the need to better serve others, social relationships, escape or stimulation, and pure interest in the subject. Their demands include time and scheduling, money, and long-term commitment constraints. They also tend to feel insecure about their ability to succeed in distance learning, find instruction that matches their learning style, and have sufficient instructor contact, support services, and technology training (Dortch, 2003; Diaz, 2002; Dubois, 1996).

"Thirty-two Trends Affecting Distance Education: An Informed Foundation for Strategic Planning".  Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VI, NumberIII, Fall 2003 State University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center


Response to Research #9:  Is Distance Learning a Culture or a Tool?

Response #5

It (Distance Learning) can be successful with “some” students.  It will work best with those that have decent reading skills and some familiarity with technology.  The technology may have to be a cultured skill for a distance learner picked up in adult education.  ABLE may have to add a “new” literacy standard to their programs to get this operational. 

The success for many ABLE students with distance learning like any student may be contingent upon student readiness and the amount of support they will need.  If it’s the relationship aspect of the new 3 R’s (Rigor, Relevancy, Relationship via Gates Foundation), distance learning may not be the appropriate learning tool at the current time.

While ABLE does get some bright and capable students, most adult clients by definition come to ABLE because they got wasn’t good enough in either quantity or quality or even both for subsequent postsecondary or new employment needs.  Some may never have gotten it.

Distance learning needs to be viewed as a tool in the toolkit and not the whole toolkit.

Woody Jensen, Billings

Response #4

It is very true:  technology is here to stay and we have to get our adult learners into the swing of it as soon as possible, and today is almost too late!

To apply for most jobs (at least what I have seen in our area and from what I have seen and heard from people looking for work) one does it through a computer (whether a "dumb" computer sitting in a store or office, where "dumb" means it is not connected to the Internet).  Very rarely does one see and hear of "paper job applications" anymore.  Even if one gets a paper application at first, additional information may need to be entered on a computer, somewhere, somehow.  Many public libraries have basic computer orientation courses for free or for a low charge, as do state run "job centers."  A lot of resumes are required to be submitted online, with the online job application.  For so many adults in their 40s and 50s who have never been out of work before, this is a scary and undaunting process.   I have seen adults in this age range, who literally do not know how to turn the computer on, let alone carry a flash drive to store their resumes for electronic submission.  Learning basic computer skills is really a high priority in my humble opinion in this day and age, and it will not get any better any time soon.

So many of the adults I reference above also never had a need to learn ten-finger typing skills (now known as "keyboarding").  It is very painful to watch someone struggle to fill out a very basic online application, and it is utter drudgery for them to come up with a resume, cover letter, e-mail response, etc.  Many of our "on campus" adult ed classes have computers in the classroom, but the "remote," or off-campus locations do not.  Very basic computer skills are needed to just get a "foot in the door" anymore.  It is something we cannot ignore, or pretend it doesn't exist.  It does, and it is here, right now.

Taken from NIFL Professional Development Discussion List:  Richard E. Mitchell, Adjunct Instructor, Adult Education, A-362Crystal, Lake, IL 

Response #3

My experience from working with adult educators and their students in a distance and/or blended learning environment is that what makes a big difference is the perception of the students how immediate the response of the instructor is. What face-to-face teacher-student contact seem to have in common with telephone conversations or instant messaging is the immediacy of the response of the other participant and the gratification connected to it when we put our questions out there. Face-to-face that can be as little as an acknowledgement of the teacher that the question was understood etc.; on the telephone we all have mannerisms that let the other person on the line understand that we’re listening; and in instant messaging often we can even see if the other person is composing a message. With email and texting it’s a bit different, I think, because I don’t know when the other person reads my message and in what sequence they’ll respond; maybe I’m the last one on the list and that thought is not very encouraging to me. I’m thinking that adult learners may be even less inclined to feel confident about that they ask the right question or give the right answer etc. In my experience, distance learning for abe students only works well in learning environments that blend asynchronous with synchronous elements to provide opportunities for an immediate response at the same time as providing scheduling flexibility. SMS may work better in that regard than email because it’s easier accessible for many people but your points about expensive texting plans are very valid. 

Taken from NIFL Tech & DL Discussion List:  Matthias Sturm

Response #2

One of the weaknesses of distance learning—when it doesn’t involve a fixed and specific time commitment (e.g., every Tuesday from 6-8  pm)—is that students tend to relegate their DL obligations to the ‘when I get around to it’ list.

We’ve seen this happen with a face-to-face program that is on a flexible schedule, so we’ve started asking these students to set an appointment and let us know when they plan to visit us next.

This practice might also be helpful in flexible distance learning programs.

Taken from NIFL Tech & DL Discussion List:  Nancy Sharp, Coordinator, Workforce Development, Schmidt Training & Technology Center

Response #1

As an ABE teacher for quite a number of years and now a GED teacher, I notice a significant difference between the two types of students.  I was most successful with ABE students where I was able to develop a good relationship with the student, was able to make the material practical for them because I knew them, and they could see the value of what they were learning.  I also suspect they wanted to do well because of the relationship we had developed. 

GED students, on the other hand, seem to have more internal motivation and can see their goal of graduating much more clearly than ABE students.  Some need only a little help and then are on their way with a GED.  Others work longer and I am able to develop a relationship with them.

I have also tried to run a Distance Learning Program for ABE students and have previously outlined several of the problems I perceived in its lack of success.  The primary one is the lack of communication resulting in no relationship developing.  E-mail has not worked at all.  Everyone submitted an e-mail account, or we developed an account for them which they were very excited about.  Yet, I got virtually no responses to my e-mails.

I think with the advent of cellular communication, Texting, Twitter, etc., communication could possibly improve.  However, there are still some significant problems.  1) Schools do not have the funds to provide cell phones for teachers to use, and many do not want to give out personal numbers for students to use.  In a moment of lapse of judgment, I loaned my cell phone to a student to call home for a ride after class.  I began receiving a number of phone calls afterwards which were an intrusion in my day.  They weren't harrassment, but I became very uncomfortable with the amount of attempted communication outside of classroom activities.  2) While many teachers have learned to use new technology, some of the new things are still beyond their comfort level.  Personally, I do a lot of communication via e-mail (already archaic in nature) and feel that texting, twitter, etc. are an intrusion, or at best extra work, not central to my communication practices.  3) I think there is a lower level of accountability when there is no face to face communication.  I write "I think" because I have no documentation to back it up.

Taken from NIFL Tech & DL Discussion List:  Steven Ewert


February  Topic
  Research #8:   Can Research Keep Up?

Research Keeping Pace

Response to Research #8


Response to Research #8:  Can Research Keep Up?

Response #2

I certainly concur with Suzette on the power of email.  For quite a while, I have had students keep weekly journals.  However, this year I have chosen to have the students use email for their journals. 

It has provided several benefits for the students: 

  • They have an email address now to put on their resumes.

  • They are using a form of communication that is used more readily at two or four year training institutions and in the workplace.

  • They are more willing to write (even though they do not see it as writing).

  • They appear to enjoy communicating more in this manner - regardless of their educational level.

It has also provided several benefits for me:

  • I see another dimension of the students.

  • I find students much more willing to revise their writing.

  • I am not carrying around a lot of heavy journals. =)

Norene Peterson, Billings

Response #1

Although usually thought of as a tool for distance learning, email is one of my most useful tools in the classroom.  Here are some examples:

Students who are too shy to raise their hand or don’t want to disturb me when I’m working with another student will email me that they need me to bring them a test or look at a problem with them.  Then, they will continue working on something else until I get to them in the classroom.

Students who want feedback on their writing will email phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to me for me to correct and send back to them.  Students know I’m in my classroom sometimes at night and will answer their questions as soon as I see them.

Students who want to discuss a personal matter but don’t want anyone to hear or don’t want to cry in front of their peers will email me.  Many times this personal information gives me insight on what is happening with the student and some things I can do to make the student more comfortable in my classroom. 

Email will allow me to give specific feedback to a student when I might not have time to have the discussion with the student in class for various reasons.   

Many of our students are extremely comfortable with email and text communication.  Making myself available to students via email has opened some doors that allowed me to serve students differently.

Suzette Fox, Billings


January  Topic
  Research #7:   Learning from the Field

Learning from the Field

Response to Research #7

Response to Research #7:  Learning from the Field

Response #5:  More Tech Tips


Here is something you may want to research for your newsletter...Livescribe Pulse Pen. This is a pen that records what is being said and has a camera which notes where you write your notes. This is a great pen for students, captures everything you hear and write in the classroom.
We introduce it to our students who are going to college. I use it for the meetings I attend.

Recommended by Laurel Kaae Williston, ND

Response #4:  Tech Tips


24 “Techy” Tips for Not So “Techy” Teachers at

Recommended by Linda Eckert

Response #3:  ESL


Super, upbeat site to practice listening skills!  Go to and click on Quizzes.

Recommended by Linda Eckert

Response #2:  Math

The Construction Math Toolbox  combines industry-required math lessons with supplemental academic and career guidance information. It was developed at Renton Technical College as a part of its Transition Math Project. The toolbox provides instructional tools and ideas, worksheets, additional web links, and other teaching aids that connect mathematical concepts in the context of construction. The material is applicable to ABE/GED and transition classes. 

Recommended by NIFL

Response #1:  Math and Science

Here’s a terrific site with free videos for you math and science folks:  Khan Academy at

Khan Academy

The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere. We have 1000+ videos on YouTube covering everything from basic arithmetic and algebra to differential equations, physics, chemistry, biology and finance which have been recorded by Salman Khan.

Recommended by Vince Long, BPS


December  Topic
  Research #6:   Language/Literacy Level Summary

Language/Literacy Level

Response to Research #6


Response to Research #6:  Language/Literacy Level Summary

Response #2

The Billings DL program has changed the requirements for our DL students. Additionally, our new DL model is concentrating on math rather than language.

First requirement for the DL student: one day per week is scheduled on-site with the instructor. The research is correct - completely online DL does not work, as we found out our first year!

Secondly, each week the students are required to participate in a video call on Skype to the instructor for a individual call. The instructor has a webcam, which is aimed at the whiteboard. The student does not need a webcam for the video call to work, but they need speakers and a microphone. Then the student and instructor have 15 minutes to talk, answer questions, show solutions on the whiteboard, etc. The student sees what is being written on the whiteboard and hears the instructor in real time. The initial results are quite positive.

This does not answer the question about the literacy students because Billings DL is concentrating on numeracy. However, this method could be adapted for any student or instructor or curriculum area.

Kathie Daviau, Billings

Response #1

I am so glad to observe that the first ESOL Montana Conference planted some seeds to provide quality to our classes.

A wonderful example is Kate McDonnell (Helena) who shares her experiences using  interactive software program “Issues in English .” that was presented on our first ESOL Montana Conference - Multiple Intelligences and Technology, by Katya Marandino Irish.  She also reviews the usability and applicability of the software for adult ESOL and explains how it engages multiple intelligences, specifically Linguistic, Kinesthetic, and Intrapersonal.


Katya Marandino Irish, Great Falls


November  Topic
  Research #5:  Support


Response to Research #5

Research #4:  Blended Approach


Response to Research #5:  Support

Response #2

All of our students in the normal classroom setting have access to, and are encouraged to use the technology we have available.  The distance learning component requires the learner to have their own or find a location that will allow use for their Ed purposes.

I feel that the low-level learner may be easily distracted from the task at hand or possibly become frustrated if things don’t go their way.

Certain learners who may not feel comfortable with the tech may lose interest because they lose the one-on-one, face-to-face interaction.

Jerry Wandler, Flathead

Response #1

Distance learners optimally need weekly face-to-face contact in order to get

reassurance, tutoring, positive feedback, and all the other goodies we give

our in-class students.  When we started distance delivery, we didn't require

in-class meetings, but we learned over time that it improves retention.  We

do make exceptions for folks with barriers of distance, etc. but we talk

with them periodically on the phone.

Melinda Lynnes, Miles City


Distance Learning Research #5:  Support


We in the classroom know that our students need teachers as facilitators.  Although students try several modes of independent learning via technology, they still need guidance and support.  That was confirmed in several research studies.

According Silver-Pecuilla and Reder's, convergence on the following items existed in several of the studies reviewed: 

Online learners and teachers need support -- pure online delivery is not best practice for adult literacy and ESOL learners (AlphaRoute, 2003;Daniels, Gillespie, Stites, & Nelson, 2004; FGRD, 1999; NCVER, 2002; Parke & TracyMumford, 2000; Porter & O'Connor, 2001; Stiles & Porter, 2006).  Support could include:

  • a facilitator for students at least some of the time;
  • student-to-student communication;
  • readily available tech support for both teachers and students; and
  • peer group for teachers of distance courses as teachers learn the new medium.

Silver-Pecuilla, Heidi and Reder, Stephen, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning."  NIFL, October 2009, p.21.


What type of support are both you and your distance learning students needing?  

Any thoughts? 


Distance Learning Research #4:  Blended Approach

Numeracy Study

In 2005 Q. Li and K. A. Edmonds contrasted teacher-led without Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) to teacher-led CAI with adults learning math. Final scores revealed little difference between teacher-led and CAI supplemental scores; both groups gained overall with differential gains based on math unit topic.

However, here is one of the positive outcomes.

Student surveys indicated strong positive response to the technology-enhanced experience, expressing appreciation for the immediate feedback and opportunities to practice their skills in an engaging format, but also indicated that the teacher was vital to provide guidance and scaffolding. 

Silver-Pecuilla, Heidi and Reder, Stephen, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning."  NIFL, October 2009, p.18.


For those of you providing Distance Learning opportunities for students, approximately how much time per week do you spend "working" with the DL student?  What role does the teacher have in DL?   

Any thoughts? 


October  Topic
  Research #3:  Online Learners Part III

Online Learners Research Part III

Responses to Research #3

Research #2:  Online Learners Part II

Online Learners Research Part II

Response to Research #2

Response to Research #3:  Online Learners Part III

Response #3

We at Billings Adult Education are providing opportunities for online access for low-level readers and new English learners.  Two good online reading sites are the following:

Norene Peterson, Billings

Response #2

If there were to be a Distance Education Course online about Using Distance Education with adult students, what would you like it to look like?

Linda Eckert, Former NWLINCS Coordinator

Response #1

(Although this does not directly answered the question regarding Montana online learners, it may have some merit for the posting.)

... I am a GED teacher in a large Adult School.  My experience has been that some people take readily to computers and all the related technology.  Many of my younger students, who are at a significantly lower economic level, have better cell phones with more capability than I can afford.  They also take very readily to computer work, although they get distracted by all the “non-educational information” on the internet.  What they lack, more than anything, is the discipline to stay focused on building skills necessary for achieving even the levels required by the current GED test.  As for older students, they tend to have the discipline necessary, but often get lost in the technology and focus more on which buttons to click on, which keys to press, etc.

As for needing credentials for employment, generally speaking, jobs are requiring higher levels of problem-solving than ever before.  The prospective employees will need to have higher critical-thinking skills.  Having said that, not every locale has those jobs which require higher critical-thinking skills.  People who are applying for those jobs just need the credentials.  Some of our students will be at a significantly greater disadvantage than others.  I worry when we try to create an educational model where one size fits all.

Steven Ewert, Instructor, Fresno Adult School, Fresno, CA  Taken from Technology Discussion List

Research #3:  Online Learners Part III

Stephen Reder at Portland State University has been working on the Longitudinal Study of Adult Literacy (LSAL) for the past ten years.  As is stated in NIFL's Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning, "this study addresses literacy development, learning, education, and life experiences of out-of-school adults.  The analysis is conducted to determine whether there are threshold levels of literacy associated with patterns of independent, technology-enhanced learning." The main data for the following information was taken from Wave 5, a cross-secitonal cohort, for which 801 individuals were interviewed in 2004-205, representing 86% of the total sample. 

The findings in NIFL's report note the following key point:

Matching the literacy proficiencies of respondents to how they rate their likelihood of using such systems (free service available through the Internet) ... shows a trend among those who do self-study that the lower the literacy proficiency, the more apparent interst there is in using such technologies.  

Key Point

Learners with low skills are seeking and engaging in learning, but mainly outside of formal systems.

Silver-Pecuilla, Heidi and Reder, Stephen, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning."  NIFL, October 2009, p.12-13.


If learners with low skills are seeking and engaging learning, then why are they not seeking services at ABLE programs?  Or are they?   Are Montana ABLE programs providing these students with access to technology? 

Any thoughts? 


Response to Research #2:  Online Learners Part II

Technology has made it possible, but the students who are in the program must be focused in order to complete the program. Most of the ABE students probably struggled in the normal system and will struggle with the distance learning; they must change their habits in order to be successful. Having a teacher/mentor who can assist in this change will help, but too often these students need that contact with the teacher on a “regular basis” to answer their questions, and to be rewarded with the comments from the teacher on the advances they make. The smile on their face is not evident when they only use the computer, and the instant feedback is missing. Yes, the program will work for those who enter with the necessary study skills and focus.  There must be careful screening to make the program a success.

Jerry Wandler

Research #2:  Online Learners Part II

According to the NIFL research document, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning," in 2000-2001 U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics completed the National Household Education Survey Participation in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning telephone survey.  The study  surveyed 10,873 representative of adults over age 16, not in full-time formal schooling One of the key findings was the following:

Confirmed trends that adults with higher educational attainment and incomes participated in more continuing education activities; reported less than 1% participates in ABE-ESOL classes

A technology-related finding follows:

Technology is increasingly used in instruction, but the Internet and World Wide Web are still a novelty for course delivery.

Silver-Pecuilla, Heidi and Reder, Stephen, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning."  NIFL, October 2009, p.6.    < >


So this report was eight years ago.  What do you think?  Have things changed?  Is using the Internet for course delivery still a novelty for ABLE delivery?  If so, why? 

Click here to mail a response to MTLINCS


Click here to post your comment on the Distance Learning Blog.


September  Topic
  Research #1:  Online Learners I

Online Learners Research Part I

Responses to Research #1


Responses to Research #1:  Online Learners

See responses below from Distance Learning Blog.  To participate on the DL Blog, click here at


Kathie said...

I found that students of all levels are capable of online learning. Face to face time may be more important for lower level learners, but motivation seems to be of huge importance. A highly motivated student will make more progress than one not motivated.

Kathie said...

The goal of distance learning is for the student to learn. To reach this goal the student must be motivated and have the ability to analyze information critically. This task is made more difficult by the nature of the ABLE student. They have jobs and families which demand their time. They are older learners, which creates physical and emotional issues for some.

A distance learner has the issue of isolation; there is not a sense of competition with other students. The day-to-day student to teacher relationship takes longer to develop. Additionally, communication via email is difficult. The teacher must be positive, enthusiastic, and extremely concise in the wording. The student also has a responsibility to ask the correct question and understand the answer.

So the question of whether my lower level students have been successful is more complex than a simple yes or no. Motivation is an tremendously strong indicator of success. I did find that my lower level students need face to face time with me. The math videos I created have helped answer questions; however, I feel that more support is needed for the lower level students.

Anonymous said...

We have been using Skills Tutor as an online learning tool for our low level learners. The most successful are those who have multiple barriers to attending classroom sessions, since they know that this is possibly the only way to have instruction and instant feedback. A strong online orientation with the student prior to giving assignments is also a factor in successful outcomes.

Research #1:  Online Learners

Some of the research that was cited in 2008-2009 recommended that "participants in the GED online program at Vance Granville Community College in North Carolina learners must demonstrate a 9th grade level or higher in order to be enrolled in online courses."  However, that does not necessarily mean that all online learners must be at that level

This investigation (Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning) was undertaken to investigate the threshold levels of literacy and language proficiency necessary for adult learners to use the Internet for independent learning. As the investigation unfolded, it became apparent that the interaction among the learners’ skills, the opportunities they encounter, and the supports available determines those thresholds. Understanding how to balance those elements can create new options and opportunities for learning, instruction, program planning, and content development.

This report is structured around three distinct sections that contribute to the investigation: learning from large-scale surveys, learning from the literature, and learning from the field. Triangulating from the three major data sources affords this report solid footing on which to draw key findings from the guiding research questions.

The search for thresholds revealed that such thresholds did not exist: Learners at even the lowest levels of literacy and language proficiency can engage with online learning content. Moreover, all reports indicate that they are eager to do so and that they benefit in important ways, such as self-confidence, self-directedness, and independence. Adult learners across the literacy and language spectrum show strong motivation to gain computer literacy skills, perceived as key to work advancement.

Silver-Pecuilla, Heidi and Reder, Stephen, "Investigating the Language and Literacy Skills Required for Independent Online Learning."  NIFL, October 2009.


Have you taught online any Beginning ABE, Low Intermediate ABE, and High Intermediate ABE students?  What kind of success are you finding with these students?

Click here to mail a response to MTLINCS.