Targeted programs which use materials learners encounter during everyday activities appear to make more rapid improvements, but still take from 50 60 hours per grade-level gain (Mikulecky, 1989). Sticht (1982) reported that military enlisted men receiving 120 hours of general reading instruction averaged an improvement of .7 grade levels in reading ability. Enlisted men trained with workplace materials in the same amount of time improved 2.1 grade levels when reading work related materials .
Computer learning programs may also cut learning time slightly, probably since there is more reading practice and less discussion. Haigler (1990) indicated that learners gained an average of 1.26 years of reading ability in an average of 78 hours of practice using computerized lessons in the JSEP job related basic skills program. This is equivalent to about 63 hours of practice for a year of gain.
Yet, linking learning gain to practice time can be somewhat deceptive and misleading. A sense of perspective is needed. A gain of one year of reading growth in one hundred twenty hours of practice is a bargain compared to the experience of the average school child, who spends over a thousand hours for a reading gain of one year. Furthermore, the more effective workplace literacy programs report reducing learning time to 50 70 hours of practice for a year of gain. No program, however, has been able to consistently improve reading ability from low-level to high school or college standards in 20, 30 or even 50 hours. This is important to note because in many industries the standard training class is less than 30 hours.
The fact that literacy gains usually take more time than is typically allocated in workplace training programs presents a problem. For gains to occur, more practice time must be found. Effective programs demonstrate at least three possibilities for increasing practice time. Some programs immerse employees in integrated technical/basic skills classes full-time for several weeks (see Delco description in Chapter 6). Other programs provide sequences of courses allowing learners to move from one course to another and eventually to continue learning at technical schools and community colleges. A third program type uses workplace materials in training classes and thus reaps the bonus of additional practice time as learners read these same materials on the job.
Transfer to New Applications is Severely Limited
Research indicates that there is a severe limitation on how much literacy will transfer from one type of task to other types of tasks if the new tasks are not part of the training. Reading the Bible is considerably different than reading the newspaper which, in turn, differs significantly from the sort of thinking one does while reading a manual. ,After reviewing the cognitive research from the late 1970s through the 1980s, Perkins and Salomon (1989) concluded: To the extent that transfer does take place, it is highly specific and must be cued, primed, and guided; it seldom occurs spontaneously. The case for generalizable, context- independent skills and strategies that can be trained in one context and transferred to other domains has proven to be more a matter of wishful thinking than hard empirical evidence. (p. 19)
Consistently during the past decade, literacy researchers have reminded us that literacy is not something you either do or do not have. It is not even a continuum. What we mean by literacy is more accurately described as literacies. There is some degree of overlap between being able to read one sort of material and being able to read other sorts. The degree of overlap between reading a short story, a poem, a lab manual, an equation, a computer screen, a census report, and government documents may be severely limited, however. We know very little about the degree of overlap and the degree of difference among these various literacy formats and tasks.
Evidence suggesting the limited transfer of literacy skills is found in the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which surveyed the literacy skills of young adults (Kirsch & Jungeblutt, 1986). This survey measured the literacy abilities of young adults in three different areas: prose, document, and quantitative forms of literacy. Correlations among subject performances in these three areas revealed limited overlap in literacy abilities (i.e., about 25% shared variance). Among those surveyed, being able to read a newspaper was only partially related to being able to make sense of a document like a chart, table, or form. Some literacy ability apparently will transfer. Document reading and prose reading, for example, did not seem to be totally separated skills. For most learners, however, this degree of shared literacy ability appears to be insufficient for transfer to occur easily. The hope that teaching someone to read a poem will improve that person's ability to read a computer screen is probably misplaced. What we want people to be able to do, we need to teach them. Some people are able to make great transfers from one situation to others. Such people, unfortunately, do not appear to be the norm.