KU News Release

May 17, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

KU researcher contributes to book on adult literacy

Daryl Mellard

LAWRENCE — A new book that includes contributions from a University of Kansas researcher calls for federal and state policymakers to take four steps to improve adult literacy education in the United States.

The book, “Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research,” is the result of a three-year study by the Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy, appointed by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

Daryl Mellard, KU research professor and director of the Center for Research on Learning’s Division of Adult Studies, served on the committee along with 14 other experts from wide-ranging fields of study.

“Every adult in this country needs to be literate to compete for jobs, to understand the health care system and to support a family, among other things. Yet 90 million adults don’t have adequate literacy skills,” Mellard said. “Our report looks at the overall state of adult literacy programs and offers guidance for improvement.”

Mellard was named to the council due to the Center’s long history of work in literacy issues with adolescents and adults with learning disabilities, and its reputation for research in instructional practices. A KU faculty member since 1982, Mellard’s research examines education and employment issues for adults and improving literacy among adults in various aspects of life.

“Improving Adult Literacy Instruction” covers topics such as literacy instruction for English language learners; learning, reading and writing disabilities; motivation; persistence; and technology to promote adult literacy.

“We had lots of conversations in the committee about the need for people to access information through digital media, how the format is so different from our familiar experiences, and how digital media could become the channel for adult education,” said Mellard. “I think that this change will be very significant, and we don’t know how well it will work for this population.”

The book comes at a critical time, as recent studies have shown that only 13 percent of American adults are at proficient levels of literacy, while 29 percent are at basic and 14 percent are below basic.

Technology has the potential to address some of the problems that are prevalent in adult education, including the high number of learners who drop out of literacy programs before learning the skills they need. Creative uses of technology may alleviate scheduling problems for some adult learners, for example.

“Improving Adult Literacy Instruction” makes the following four recommendations for improving adult literacy education:

• Expand support for the use of instructional materials and methods that are backed by current research and evaluate the effectiveness of new instructional programs when they are implemented.
• Make sure adult literacy instructors have ample opportunities to learn about effective instructional methods and materials.
• Seek ways to help adults complete their literacy studies.
• Invest in ways to improve and evaluate adult literacy programs and in research to learn more about the needs of adult learners.

The recommendations will be shared with education policy makers on the federal, state and local levels. The findings will be shared with the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Defense and Health and Human Services. The council will also present the findings and recommendations to state adult education and GED preparation programs and community colleges across the country.

Kari Woods, program assistant with the Center’s Division of Adult Studies, served as a consultant to the committee and wrote one of the papers that contributed to discussions and the final report.

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research, edited by Alan M. Lesgold and Melissa Welch-Ross, was published by the National Academies Press. It is available online.

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