Despite the important mission of adult education to provide adults with the competencies they need to succeed in the workforce and achieve economic self-sufficiency, policymakers and practitioners have limited evidence on effective strategies for improving adult learners’ outcomes.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II, the key federal investment helping adults acquire important skills and credentials to succeed in the workplace, encourages adult education programs to use evidence-based strategies to improve services and participant success. A new review of existing research, authored by staff at Mathematica for the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, identifies some promising strategies and a need for more rigorous studies to guide decision making around successful strategies for adult learners. The available evidence provides limited support for the use of particular adult education strategies over others, although bridge classes and integrated education and training programs offer some promise.
The authors also note opportunities for the field to prioritize research investments to increase the evidence base. Namely, under WIOA, Title II requires adult education programs to collect data on skill gains, educational progress, employment, and earnings for program participants. These data offer opportunities to examine adult education strategies that might improve these learner outcomes. The emphasis in WIOA on longer term educational attainment and labor market outcomes also provides opportunities for research on strategies with an increased focus on improving adult learner transitions to postsecondary education or to better jobs and higher earnings, outcomes for which reliable data sources exist.
“This systematic review provides some guidance for the field to make progress on its goals of helping adult learners obtain the competencies they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens,” noted project director Alina Martinez. This research can help policymakers and local providers target their resources to help adult learners achieve higher earnings and career success.“
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