E-Literacy for the Workforce: Designing Effective Instruction
To address the increasing demands placed on adults entering today's workforce, this study involved the development of an instructional approach designed to teach adults strategies for writing effectively in an electronic context through a combination of face-to-face and electronic-based tutorial sessions. The instructional approach was developed based on a reciprocal teaching framework and a goal was to situate the learning within a meaningful, work-related context through electronic discussions. Specifically, the objectives of this study were 1) to understand the experiences of participants enrolled in workforce literacy programs, 2) to assess the impact of an instructional protocol, developed to teach how to express or explain a viewpoint, ask pertinent questions, and write effective responses, on the quality of writing, and 3) to examine if changes occurred in participant attitudes toward writing using computers.
Writing in electronic spaces has changed most workplaces. For example, a poll conducted by the Gallup Organization, Inc. estimates that ninety percent of large companies, sixty-four percent of mid-sized companies, and forty-two percent of small firms currently use e-mail systems. The same poll found that more than forty million employees correspond via e-mail, and the number is expected to increase by about twenty percent each year (Kopp, 1998). Further, “e-mail has become the most-used communication tool on the job” in the United States and in Canada (Merrick, 2000, p.17). In addition to the steady increase of e-mail in today's workplaces, there also has been an escalation in the need to write in electronic contexts.
With the continual increase of electronic writing in various workplaces, it becomes evident that workforce literacy programs must begin to reflect the changing demands of today's workplaces to more adequately assist adult learners in finding and maintaining employment. However, given the growing need to communicate effectively within an electronic environment, it must be recognized that computer exposure is not adequate preparation for adults entering the workforce. Research is needed to establish an instructional design that may support individuals in learning how to use literacy skills effectively within a technological context.
The term Digital Divide came to public attention after a 1995 study by the Markle Foundation revealed that the "same divergence found in society along cultural and racial lines is found online and offline” (CNET News.com, 1997). Many participants in workforce preparation programs are involved in these programs because of barriers to maintaining employment. Although these barriers may occur for a variety of reasons, those attending the programs are often dealing with issues of unemployment. Research suggests that patterns of technology access often mirror existing inequalities rather than mitigate them (Schofield & Davidson, 1998) and if corrective steps are not taken, technology may worsen rather than solve equity disparities (Serim, 1999). Thus, it is essential that workforce literacy programs address these issues and provide opportunities for this gap to be lessened. Reddick, Boucher, and Groseilliers (2000), in their report on technology in Canada, stated “the levels of awareness and the use of these new technologies and services are highly polarized along social class and generational lines, creating the digital divide” (p.1).
Technology integration within workforce preparation programs is needed, especially after long-term repercussions are considered in the case that adult learners are not given adequate preparation for electronic environments in the workplace. For many adults attempting to enter or re-enter the workforce, the addition of new technological demands within workplaces only further multiplies the obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately, many workforce literacy programs typically have not adapted their instruction and curricula to reflect the ever-increasing presence of technology within today's workforce, which therefore may impact participant ability to successfully maintain employment. This study involved the development and assessment of an e-learning context designed to provide instructional support for developing strategies for effective e-literacy writing to adults enrolled in workforce preparation programs.
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