WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT WORKPLACE LITERACY PROGRAMS
Though a growing body of research has identified principles and elements associated with effective workplace literacy programs, few programs are able to incorporate all elements. Evaluation of workplace literacy programs is further complicated by the fact that there appears to be a variety of workplace literacy problems, each calling for a different sort of instruction. Still, over the last two decades, we have learned a good deal about what to look for in effective workplace literacy programs.
* There are several different workplace literacy problems, calling
for a multi-stranded approach to instruction.
We have also learned that effective workplace literacy programs are characterized by active involvement of project partners (including employees) in systematically determining local literacy needs and developing programs.
Multiple Strands for Multiple Problems
It is important to realize that we face several literacy problems in the workplace and not just one. People who can't read at all require different support than do high school graduates who can't meet the new reading demands of their jobs. People educated in a foreign language who don't speak much English require another sort of support. Providing the same services and programs to such different clients makes no sense, and yet it sometimes occurs.
Increasingly, programs in business and industry are becoming multi-stranded. In such programs, one instructional strand might be available to English as Second Language (ESL) learners, while other strands are available to learners wishing to pursue GED certificates in preparation for further education or high school graduates preparing for technical training. Even the format for instruction may vary, from structured classes to small group instruction to computer guided learning to individual tutoring.
Bussert (1991) surveyed 107 workplace literacy programs described in the research literature. Of the descriptions of workplace literacy programs providing sufficient information for judgments to be made, the vast majority (74%) offered a multiple strand curriculum (i.e., two or more of the following: ABE, GED, ESL, a selection of basic skills' technical courses) while 13% reported self-pacing of learning (i.e., home study, PLATO computerized learning, learning modules).
Improvement Takes Significant Learner Practice Time
Training material and technical reading material in the workplace tend to range in difficulty, from upper high school to beginning college levels (Sticht, 1975; Mikulecky, 1982; Rush, Moe & Storlie, 1986). Some learners, such as high school graduates who need to brush-up reading skills, can learn to comprehend technical materials with a minimum of instruction time (about 30 50 hours). Other learners who have extreme difficulty with even simple reading, such as signs or simple sentences, may require several hundred hours of instruction or, indeed, may never be able to comprehend some technical material. Gains do not come quickly. The average program takes approximately 100 120 hours of practice time for learners to make the equivalent of a year gain in reading ability. Auspos, Cave, Doolittle, and Hoerz (1989) reported that several hundred learners in a pre-work literacy program in 13 diverse sites across the country averaged 132 hours of basic education. When the participants were tested for reading gains using the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), an average .7 of a year gain in reading ability after approximately 100 hours of instruction was demonstrated.