Exploring Research

Posted:12 June 2018

Author: Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 11

Recommendations: 1


Have you ever wondered why people don’t come to your programs or how to keep them motivated once they do come in the door? Are you curious about the beliefs and assumptions of your learners? Do you want to know how to incorporate diversity, culture and learning styles into your work with learners?

Every one of these questions can be answered by reading and studying research. A wealth of information, knowledge and application can be found in research.

Your first reaction to reading research may be a negative one. If you have never read any research you may be thinking ‘What dry reading. I have no time to read research and what does it have to do with my work anyway?’.

That was my first thought when I was introduced to adult literacy research. My assumptions were that it would be all about numbers; the vocabulary and sentence structure would be confusing and I wouldn’t understand anything about the research. Besides, how would it have application to my day to day work?

But I was curious, I had questions and I wondered if there was a ‘study’ that could answer my questions. So based on that I decided to take the plunge and start reading a wide variety of research literature.

What I discovered was that it wasn’t dry or difficult to understand, rather it was enlightening. Other practitioners in the field had some of the same questions as me and I learned so much from their findings and other studies. In fact, the research I read began to change my beliefs, assumptions and understandings of adult literacy learners. Over time, this change began to impact my work and informed my work on the ‘Creating Learning Partners’ facilitator guide. The research done by Maria A Ceprano (1995) ‘Strategies and practices of individuals who tutor adult illiterates voluntarily’ discovered that “many volunteer tutors do not implement strategies and practices currently recognized as most effective but tend to implement strategies to which they themselves were exposed as learners.” It was this research and others similar to it that made me think about how to train tutors so they would learn about and use current strategies. 

You will note the use of the word ‘illiterates’ in the above research title. It was research conducted by practitioners in the field and others that changed the deficit language and our perception of low literacy learners. It was research that helped us to see adult learners as any other individual with strengths, weaknesses and dreams. It was research that led us as practitioners to focus on meeting the learners needs and making the learning relevant to the learner. It was research that guided us to various strategies we use today to assist learners in improving their literacy skills. It was research that shaped our understanding of literacy to be more than reading to include numeracy, basic technology and foundational life skills. It was research that helped us to understand that literacy doesn’t happen in isolation but is part of the fabric of our daily life.

It may surprise you to know that many of the concepts covered in Introduction to Adult Foundational Learning (IAFL) are based on research. 

In preparing to write this blog, I delved into a lot of the research literature I had previously studied. It was encouraging to see how many of the questions and concerns raised in past research has now come to guide the way we do things in the field of adult learning. I realize how important research is for informing our work and looking at different ways of approaching learning. In fact, many of the perceptions and the way we do our work today is based on research that came out in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

From about the 1980’s to the 2000’s there was an increase in opportunities to conduct research, with a number of federal grants available to practitioners to complete studies in their own programs to help them answer the many questions they had. Various publications and online databases were developed to disseminate the research being done in Canada, the US and England. Although ongoing funding for much of this research has dwindled, you can still access online databases of research on adult learners, reading strategies, tutoring and many other topics.

There is so much we can learn from research and although some research is being done today we need even more opportunities for research to reflect the changes in our lives and how we learn as adults. We need to recognize the importance of research in changing and improving the work we are doing with adult learners.

Where do you find current research and how are you kept informed? Have you found some interesting research? Please share with us any links or specific research that has impacted your work.

Are you curious and have some questions that could be answered by research? Want to know what research has been done? Here are some links to a number of research databases.

http://www.literacies.ca/index.html - website for the former Literacies magazine that focused on Canadian adult literacy and practice. Although no longer being published you can access back issues and read the articles.

http://cdeacf.ca/copian  - (formerly NALD) a national voice that connected adult learners, organizations, practitioners and funders to the latest information on literacy. Although no longer active the online digital database is still available.

http://www.ncsall.net/index.html@id=1.html – a repository of research publications, teaching and training resources and other materials. It is no longer active but you can search for articles published by NCSALL or printed in Focus on Basics. A lot of great information can be found here.

https://lincs.ed.gov/resource-collection?keys  - you can search for adult education and literacy research studies, resources and materials. Based in the US. 

https://www.wiley.com/en-ca/Education/Literacy+%26+Reading-c-ED80  – research journals on reading and literacy from the UK. Scroll down to the end of the page where there are 5 journals listed. The articles in the journals relate to all ages, some related to adults and some related to children.

If you want to be informed about current research you can set up an Alert through the Google Scholar app that will send the current research to your email account. Here is the link where you can find the Scholar app.

https://www.google.ca/intl/en/about/products/ - scroll to the bottom of the page to find the Scholar app and set it up to receive alerts whenever a new article based on your key words is found.

If you are interested in learning more about research and adult literacy, I’d love to have a conversation with you. Feel free to comment about what areas of research interest you, or reach out to me directly if you would rather have a chat.

Rebecca Still
CLN West-Central Regional Support Staff

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