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A Digital Awakening for Adult Education

Integrating new, relevant technology into higher education is becoming an imperative, as it provides students with opportunities to gain skills and benefit from experiential learning, further connecting them to the workforce.

The Role Technology Plays in Deeper Learning Strategies

If the goal today is to help all learners, not just select few, and to reach and demonstrate mastery and deep learning, then where should our focus be? Within the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges’ (IECC’s) four-campus system, we have integrated standardized resources and tools that cater to individual needs, from English as a second language (ESL) to adult basic education (ABE), GED® readiness content and career pathways solutions, and we are still seeing a need to remedy systemic barriers. In this reflection piece, I will share with you the tools our organization has integrated, our online resources and the various platforms we utilize. Through continued research and implementation, we have improved learner preparation and emboldened them to take the next step. When inviting new technology, we empower the most important learning resource—our teachers.

The IECC adult education students are nontraditional learners living in rural areas with low- to middle-class socioeconomic status. In 2020, the college was tasked with finding immediate solutions to student engagement, connection and continual academic support. The technology incorporated was not only meant to enhance curriculum provided in the classroom but to equitably deliver content. Fast forward to today, some of our classrooms remain stuck with incorporated tools seen as a substitution and not as a deeper learning resource. Changing the mindsets of instructors and students has proven difficult. How could we use our new online resources and digital technologies to enhance learners’ experiences and ultimately take them from just getting by in their GED journey to expanding the skills they need for new career pathways and life applications?  

“Imagine that you wish to visit a friend twenty miles away. You could walk (some people would prefer to do so). But it would be much easier to use a bicycle, and it would be far easier still to use a car” (Dede, 2014). Teachers, given the right tools and vehicles, can approach deeper learning instructional strategies and methods far easier than those who choose it without technology. The tools we have incorporated into our ABE/ASE classrooms and ESL courses provide students with the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond the classroom. Incorporating the college’s LMS, Canvas and Google learning environment brought to life new ways to engage, organize and communicate. Innovative classroom tools such as virtual reality headsets and curriculum and our exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) tools brought enhanced learning experiences. As a grant-funded program, finding free online resources, learning tools and standard-aligned curriculum for adult education was vital to learner and program success.

Equitable Solutions for Teaching Methods in the Classroom and Beyond

“Academic knowledge and skills alone won’t enable students to successfully navigate a rapidly changing world … Students must be able to communicate their ideas effectively, think creatively, work collaboratively to solve problems, and manage their own learning” (AIR, 2016). “The technology is just a tool, one that can empower people to change the ways in which education is structured and delivered” (Dede, 2014). When focusing on the learner’s diverse needs, experiences and backgrounds, customization provides a more impactful learning experience, which students desperately need.  

Even though the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, it paved the way for open-mindedness, awareness and a willingness to embrace change. The IECC Adult Education program opened the door to new technology and software through the help of the Illinois Digital Learning Lab. The focus was on providing equitable access to level-aligned online curricula, easily accessible technology tools and innovative ideas and processes. As part of the initial phase to digital equitability, we set goals to meet web-accessibility standards and expand digital accessibility by determining how best to support all students as they transition to college.

Partnering with the Local Workforce Innovation Board

Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program, IECC students were given opportunities in several local career pathways, all of which encouraged growth in digital literacy. Students can be trained through an Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System of Illinois (ICAPS) program that provides integrated education and training experience and promotes a quality instructional framework, as defined by WIOA. “ICAPS provides an accelerated pathway to an industry-recognized credential through training partnerships–such as Career and Technical Education or an approved training provider…” (, 2023). During the pandemic, much of what an Integrated Education and Training program provided in the way of experience introduced the need for virtual and augmented reality, hands-on experiences. With the help of the Illinois Digital Learning Lab (IDLL) cohort, the IECC Adult Education program was able to continue pursuing the full ICAPS experience for their learners.

 Cultivate Classroom Culture with Creativity

With the avalanche of new technologies and new ways of working, jobseekers need to become more creative to thrive amidst change. Design programs such as Adobe, Canva, AI and virtual reality help build students’ creative and digital skills to position them for the workforce. “Overwhelmingly, 95% of educators said that fostering creativity leads to better mental health and less stress for themselves and students alike” (Johnsrud, 2023). Introducing a creative activity early on sets the stage for a learning culture committed to self-expression and well-being. Colleges across the country are embracing creative and innovative strategies to help students successfully transition from their studies to a career.

Rethinking the College to Career Transition

College graduates can no longer rely on the degree alone to accurately define job qualification. Now colleges are pursuing innovative strategies, including integrating career education into the curriculum, connecting students with career networks and ensuring equitable access to internships. IECC was introduced to NorthStar Digital Literacy in 2020, with NorthStar offering a set of digital literacy and technology skills assessments to help instructors determine student readiness for online navigation and usage. Not only does NorthStar prepare teachers to provide the best instruction methods for each student, but this resource also provides the student with an opportunity to grow in digital knowledge and earn digital badges that can put on their resume or in employment applications to display the skills they already have.

The Importance of Introducing AI Digital Skills for Workplace Preparedness

It is paramount that educators empower the future workforce for an AI experience by supporting digital literacy and becoming AI-ready. 70% of employees are expected to heavily use data by 2025. 62% of employees say generative AI will require a new set of skills at work (Hughes, 2023).

In the past six months, how often has AI come up in conversation at your organization? This new level of access has sparked many conversations about its benefits and risks, ranging from how AI will transform jobs, education and our daily lives. While it is often unseen, it is everywhere in our society. And it is revolutionizing what is possible for learning and teaching (COABE, 2023).

By exploring new artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard while learning how to use AI to save time and create a more accessible and impactful learning experience for adults, AI becomes understandable and ethical for education purposes. “College’s ought to prepare their students for the future, and AI literacy will certainly be important in ours,” says Owen Terry, a Columbia University student and author of “I’m a student. You Have No Idea How Much We’re Using ChatGPT.” It is time for us to leverage AI activities for adult learners through inviting project-based learning and work with actionable plans for utilizing AI.

Building a Classroom-to-Career Pipeline

“Unexpected events like a pandemic and the simultaneous development of technology can help trigger a new VR-based education revolution… The VR environment is an essential part of the modern educational process… Moreover, it allows transforming practical experience into valuable knowledge and skills, which is especially important and appreciated in the industry” (Paskiewicz, A., Salach, M., Dymora, P., et. al. 2021).

Taking VR to the next level, the IECC Adult Education team brought Transfr VR to the table. Transfr VR is a virtual reality resource that opened new opportunities for students by creating unique pathways to high-demand jobs. Facilitated by immersive, hands-on training, students began their journey by exploring, then acquired skills to start their career experience. The virtual career exploration simulations offered the opportunity to try several careers. Within Transfr VR, students attained hands-on simulation training, giving the IECC adult education learner an edge over others, entering the workforce after graduation with knowledge and experience.

Transfr VR brings immersive hands-on skills applications for career pathways that cover the 16 career clusters the Illinois Community College Board requires we address within adult education programs across the state of Illinois.

“Nearly half of the trainees scored at or above 90% on the real-world transfer test with no prior human coaching or hands-on experience with the tools” (Transfr, 2023). By bringing a company’s training facility to the college, students are equipped to do the job before they get it, building a classroom-to-career pipeline.

Conclusion: Integrating Foundational Adult Education into Career Pathways Using Technology

The supplemental resources we continue to integrate, including our core curriculum, provide interactive activities and lessons to compete with our peers. As students dive further into digital literacy awareness and begin to understand the value of using it for real-world purposes, they will start to take ownership of what they are learning and how they use the skills they are gaining.  

“Academic knowledge and skills alone won’t enable students to successfully navigate a rapidly changing world, participate in a complex and increasingly diverse democracy, or engage fully in the ever evolving 21st century workplace” (AIR, 2016). We are working toward supportive, active learning by expanding options for all learners. We believe this starts with aggregating free and open education resources from a variety of sources and aligning them with the core academic competencies adult learners need for college and career readiness.

In integrating technology over the past couple of years, the goal was to provide an educational solution for all learners. What we didn’t realize was that we could use technology to promote resilience and help our students conquer anxiety pertaining to the digital world. With careful selection of level-appropriate online programs and the right tools and methods to perform, learners can apply these resources to build academic skills and transfer them to professionalism.




American Institute for Research (AIR) (2016). Does deeper learning improve student outcomes? Results from the study of deeper learning Opportunities and outcomes.

COABE. (2023). Artificial intelligence in adult education.

Dede, C. (2014). The Role of Digital Technologies in Deeper Learning. Students at the Center: Deeper Learning Research Series. Jobs for the Future.

Hughes, T. (2023). A new study reveals only 1 in 10 global workers have in-demand digital skills. DLA Ignite.

ICCB. (2023). ICAPS. Illinois’ integrated education and training models. Welcome to ICAPS.

Johnsrud, PhD. B. (2023). Creativity in the classroom reduces burnout and improves teacher and student wellbeing. Adobe Blog.

Owen Kichizo. T. (2023). I’m a student. You have no idea how much we are using ChatGPT. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Paskiewicz, A., Salach, M., Dymora, P., Bolanowski, M., Budzik, G., & Kubiak, P. (2021). Methodology of implementing virtual reality in education for industry 4.0. Sustainability 2021.

Transfr VR., (2023). Training the talent of tomorrow. Transfr.