Have you read it?

A review of documents relating to adult literacy

The date for each refers to when it appeared in the ACAL newsletter.

October 2021

Literacy and numeracy support in vocational education

Literacy and numeracy support in vocational education: Perceptions from engineering apprentices in Victoria  (2021) by Stuart Levy, Michelle Briede and Liam Frost-Camilleri, Federation University, Australia
Thanks Liam for this summary:
Surveying 56 and interviewing nine engineering apprentices at an TAFE institution, this article explores how the participants acquired and perceived their literacy and numeracy skills and supports. The study found that many students struggle to articulate their learning as well as agitation with the self paced nature of the thier classroom. Literacy and Numeracy Support teachers were seen as helpful to ‘other’ students while a mismatch between the demands of the classroom and the workplace was reported. A focus on how students learn is a recommendation of this study.
To read the article, go to: IIER 31(3): Levy, Briede and Frost-Camilleri (2021) – Literacy and numeracy support in vocational education: Perceptions from engineering apprentices in Victoria

Linking Root Words and Derived Forms for Adult Struggling Readers: A Pilot Study (2019) by Susan H Gray. 


The goal of this pilot study was to investigate the effects of morphological instruction on component literacy skills of adult struggling readers. Sixteen adults, most with decoding and encoding deficits, were randomly assigned to tutoring in either morpheme or syllable analysis to learn academic vocabulary and increase component literacy skills. Those taught semantic connections between Latin and Greek root words and their derived forms outperformed those taught syllable types on a standardized test of word recognition, though both groups demonstrated large gains for learning target words. Results support connectionist theories that promote teaching morphological links in literacy instruction.

September 2021

Probing the Interface Between Learning Theory and Practice in Adult Basic Education

George Demetrion and 1199
New England Training and Upgrading Fund

This essay tracks and expands upon critical exchanges with graduate students in a course for adult educators, highlighting conflicting perspectives among participants on the relative value of theory in enhancing practice. An underlying focus of the course consisted of comparing constructivist and cognitive perspectives on learning theory and their relationship to corresponding models of instructional design. To gain further insight on the theory/practice dynamic, the essay also highlights Dewey’s functional theory of learning underlying his pragmatic philosophy of inquiry.
Participants implicitly embraced practitioner research frames of reference, drawing out the insider perspective—a topic explicitly discussed below—as an essential counterpoint to an outsider stance, that typically orients academic research. The essay calls for critical intermingling of research traditions to facilitate collaborative approaches to problem solving in adult basic education.

August 2021

Adult Literacy and its importance

In its recent inquiry into Adult Literacy and its importance, the Australian Government received one hundred submissions from a range of individuals and organisations across Australia. They provide a range of viewpoints from people with particular interests in the field. The ACAL submission is listed at number 66, with the full complement available on the Inquiry website here.
Bringing together both the inquiry above and the promotion of plain English
article is a piece that was published this week in The Conversation.

July 2021

Understanding and Responding to Health Literacy as a Social Determinant of Health

Don Nutbeam and Jane E. Lloyd

Evidence of a social gradient in health literacy has been found in all reported national population surveys. Health literacy is a midstream determinant of health but not a panacea for addressing health inequities created by the maldistribution of opportunity and resources. It is possible to optimize the contribution health literacy makes in mediating the causes and effects of established social determinants of health. Existing interventions demonstrate the feasibility of improving health literacy among higher-risk populations, but research remains underdeveloped and effects on health inequity are largely untested. Future health literacy intervention research should focus on (a) improving the quality of health communication that reaches a diversity of populations, especially by improving frontline professional skills and support; (b) enabling people to develop transferable skills in accessing, understanding, analyzing, and applying health information; and (c) ensuring that priority is proportionate to need by reaching and engaging the population groups who are disproportionately affected by low health literacy.

May 2021

Sociology 2259: Asocial Behaviour and Technology – What does this mean for Adult Literacy Programs? (2020)

by Niki Jafari and Paige Noble

Although existing literature consists of a diverse set of opinions, most research acknowledges that although the population is not necessarily becoming more asocial, they are interacting in different ways, which is evident in the increasing prevalence of online communities. While some individuals are socially withdrawn to the extent that professional intervention is required, others are simply shy or prefer solitude. In either case, this research recommends integrating collaborative technologies into educational programs to offer alternative learning opportunities and accommodate students who struggle to participate in face-to-face discussions. (p. 19)

… This research has serious implications for adult literacy programs and suggests that educational programs must adapt to meet the population’s evolving needs. This research recommends that adult literacy programs integrate technology into their classrooms, such as interactive learning games and shared technologies to adapt to the population’s increasing reliance on technology. Moreover, collaborative communication software can be beneficial for asocial individuals that are hesitant to participate face-to-face, or adult students that require flexibility due to time or location constraints brought on by their professional or family responsibilities. (p. 19)

March 2021

The learning country: Digital transformation skills strategy by Digital Transformation Expert Panel.

Excerpt from the Executive Summary

“In late 2019, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) established the Digital Transformation Expert Panel to: ‘… provide advice on how Australia’s VET system can most effectively respond to digital change underway across industry and its impact on the nation’s workforce’.”

… “The Strategy has been approached through the lens of the learning ecosystem. It comprises five Focus Areas and a series of underpinning Action Points which the Panel believes are essential to Australia’s VET system being able to successfully upskill and reskill the workforce in response to the impact of digital transformation, and to position Australia as one of the world’s leading digital economies. [These comprise: ‘System settings’, Industry leadership, Learning support services, teaching and learning and training products.”

… “The Panel believes that the practical achievement of this Strategy will require unprecedented collaboration between federal and state governments, industry, unions and the VET system.”

February 2021

What Counts as Literacy in Health Literacy: Applying the Autonomous and Ideological Models of Literacy by Anne Marie Liebe published in LiCS 8.2 / January 2021

Excerpt from introduction

In this essay, I show how health literacy definitions currently reflect an autonomous model of literacy and its drawbacks. I share some of what I have learned from reading, observation, and participation in the health literacy field that suggests health literacy in practice is more complex than definitions reflect or support.

I explore the contributions that perspectives from New Literacy Studies (NLS) have made to the field of health literacy by summarizing health literacy writing that is grounded in the ideological model of literacy and utilizes NLS concepts. I then argue an ideological approach to health literacy can support positive health outcomes by increasing available empirical tools and data, and by providing clarity in correctly identifying factors that contribute to health outcomes.

January 2021

Numeracy, adult education, and vulnerable adults: a critical view of a neglected field (2020) by Iddo Gal, Anke Grotlüschen, Dave Tout and Gabriele Kaiser.


This survey paper examines selected issues related to the intersection of three broad scholarly areas: numeracy, adult education, and vulnerability. Numeracy encompasses the ways in which people cope with the mathematical, quantitative, and statistical demands of adult life, and is viewed as an important outcome of schooling and as a foundational skill for all adults. The focus on vulnerability stems from the realization that concerns of policy makers and educators alike often center on populations seen as vulnerable. The paper is organized in five sections.

After a brief introduction, Section 2 examines adult numeracy, focusing on five numeracy domains (health, financial, digital, civic, and workplace numeracy), literacy– numeracy linkages, functional and critical aspects of numeracy, and the centrality of numeracy practices, and notes sources of vulnerability for each of these. Section 3 sketches formal, non-formal and informal contexts in which adults learn or develop their numeracy, and examines factors that may be potential sources of vulnerability, including systemic factors and dispositional and affect factors. Section 4 reflects more broadly on the concept of vulnerability, introduces selected aspects of the papers published in this issue of ZDM Mathematics Education, and points to findings regarding adult learners who may be deemed vulnerable.

The closing section summarizes conclusions and research directions regarding the intersection of the three core domains. Overall, the paper points to emerging research needs and educational challenges that are relevant to scholars, practitioners, and policy makers interested in developing the numeracy of adults as well as in the mathematics education of younger learners.

December 2020

The Rise and Fall of Adult Literacy: Policy Lessons from Canada

February 2020, European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 11(1):109-125

There was a period of time, from the late 1980s until the early/mid-2000s, when interest in adult literacy in Canada was strong among the public, in the media, and with policymakers, and a policy window opened for the mainstreaming of literacy. Against this background, it is surprising that the Canadian literacy infrastructure was subsequently largely dismantled. Drawing on theories of policy formation, and recent and previous research, including interviews with key stakeholders, we argue that mainstreaming literacy has failed and explore the reasons for this failure.

November 2020

Critical Connections Between Numeracy and Mathematics: Issues in the Teaching of Mathematics (2020) by Dave Tout

Increasingly research is showing that life and work in the 21st century is requiring higher levels of mathematics and numeracy of its citizens. Numeracy and mathematics are intrinsically connected and BOTH are needed in our ever changing, globalised and technological world. This paper looks at the implications of this for the skills we want our students to develop and leave school with, and how we can better address these in our teaching and learning.

October 2020

The Changing Dynamics of Online Education: Five Theses on the Future of Learning by Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2020) (preprint)


Reaching beyond the immediate pedagogical affordances of online learning, we explore possible futures for education in a larger institutional sense. Two possibilities arise: we can “hack” online learning technologies, subverting the anachronistic constraints built into their designs. Or we can create new designs for online learning. This second path is the one we have taken in our Common Ground Scholar (CGScholar) research and development program. Our guiding research question has been: if a first generation of online learning technologies replicated and fossilized old pedagogical processes, how might we create a new generation of these technologies and deploy them as a medium for reform? (p. 2)

You will need to register (free) with ResearchGate first.

September 2020

Building capability and quality in VET teaching: Opportunities and challenges (2020) by Josie Misko

New research suggests there are key issues affecting the quality of vocational education and training (VET) teaching that need to be addressed, such as entry level requirements, limited career pathways, workforce casualisation, and lack of support for professional development.

The report Building capability and quality in VET teaching: opportunities and challenges reveals that these issues affect the recruitment of capable VET trainers with industry expertise in high demand skills, particularly in regional areas, and impact on the quality of VET teaching.

August 2020

Foundation Level Workplace Training Programmes by Anne Alkema published in Journal of Learning for Development, 7(2), pp. 218-232, 2020.

Abstract: This paper outlines the scale of the adult literacy and numeracy issue in New Zealand and describes a policy intervention designed to upskill employees in Workplaces to help resolve the issue for them. This is the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund, which enables around 7000 employees a year to complete a 25 to 80 hour learning programme, usually in their workplace and during work time. The paper also describes what happens in workplaces while programmes are underway and the short-term wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes that occur for individual employees.

 In this context, literacy and numeracy relates to the way in which adults use skills that involve reading, writing, speaking, listening, and mathematics in everyday life. It also includes digital skills in relation to how adults engage and interact with information and communication technologies (ICT). These skills are those that individuals need for learning, life, and work in the 21st century.

July 2020

Narrative Inquiry as Relational Research Methodology and Andragogy: Adult Literacy, Identities and Identity Shifting by Sandra Jack-Malik & Janet Lynne Kuhnke (2020)

Abstract: Using narrative inquiry as a relational methodology and as andragogy, the research puzzle was to deepen understanding of the experiences of women, living with limited literacies and as they engaged in tutoring. This work animates the temporal, curriculum and life making experiences of a tutee and tutor within the context of adult literacy with a focus on learning to write. As the study progressed and as trust developed, tension filled stories were experienced, shared and reimagined.  Thinking through the lens of Dewey’s continuity of experience we demonstrate the links between literacies, curriculum making, and efforts to shift identities. Field texts provided textured and nuanced descriptions of narrative inquiry as andragogy, while supporting the tutee to expand her literate identity and the tutor to become more relational. This work invites readers to reimagine the ways in which educators practice alongside adults who are described as struggling readers and writers.

June 2020

Practice makes perfect: Practice engagement theory and the development of adult literacy and numeracy proficiency (2020) by Stephen Reder, Britta Gauly & Clemens Lechner

Practice engagement theory (PET) posits that individuals’ literacy proficiencies develop as a by-product of their engagement in everyday reading and writing practices and, reciprocally, that literacy proficiencies affect levels of engagement in reading and writing practices. This suggests that literacy training which increases engagement in meaningful practices might generate proficiency growth. Research has shown that this approach does indeed seem to be effective in improving (adult) learners’ literacy proficiency.

A number of cross-sectional comparisons of participants’ and non-participants’ performance in various training activities, as well as quantitative modelling of adults’ proficiency growth in longitudinal studies have confirmed the theoretical assumptions of PET. The authors of this article describe the first application of PET to literacy and numeracy development in a longitudinal study of a nationally representative adult population. Their investigation followed a sample of adults initially interviewed and assessed in the German component of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), adding longitudinal data from three additional waves of the national extension study (PIAAC-L), which included repeated assessments of literacy and numeracy proficiency over a period of three years.

The authors’ quantitative modelling of the growth of literacy and numeracy profciency over time provides strong support for PET. Their comparisons of how various practice engagement indexes predict growth of literacy and numeracy proficiencies indicate that reading engagement is the strongest predictor of literacy growth and maths engagement is the strongest predictor of numeracy growth. The authors conclude their article by considering their findings’ implications for sustainable development, lifelong learning policy and future research into the development of adult literacy and numeracy proficiency.

May 2020

PIAAC and the South: Is Southering the new Othering? Global Expansion of dominant Discourses on Adult Literacy by Anke Grotlüsch and Klaus Buddeberg, 2020

Large-scale studies such as Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) are currently the most influential variant of literacy research. PIAAC is undergoing a process of regional expansion towards countries located in the geographical south.

Based on the finding that large-scale studies can create stereotypes about social groups, this contribution examines the extent to which this danger also exists with regard to countries and regions. For doing so we suggest the term ‘southering’. ‘Southering’ brings together the discourses about the South with the concept of othering, introduced by Said (1978).

The presentation of the results as tables and world maps can result in exposing countries of the South to a pronounced deficit perspective. The contribution does not pursue the goal of questioning the legitimacy of international studies. Rather, we would like to point out the necessity of exercising due care in the interpretation of corresponding study results. 

March 2020

Literacy-as-event: accounting for relationality in literacy research by Cathy Burnett and Guy Merchant

Research in New Literacy Studies has demonstrated how literacy consists of multiple socially and culturally situated practices illuminated through a focus on literacy events. Recently, this sociocultural perspective has been complemented by relational thinking that views literacy as an ongoing reassembling of the human and more-than-human.

This conceptual article proposes that, in exploring how relational thinking might be deployed in literacy research and practice, it is helpful to re-visit conceptualisations of literacy events. Specifically it proposes the notion of ‘literacy-as-event’ as a heuristic for thinking with the fluid and elusive nature of meaning-making, elaborating on three propositions: 1. event is generated as people and things come into relation; 2. what happens always exceeds what can be conceived and perceived; 3. implicit in the event are multiple potentialities.

Approaching literacy research through engaging with literacy-as-event promotes an expansive, reflective, and imaginative engagement with literacy practices that aligns with relational thinking.

February 2020

Supporting disadvantaged people through education and training: An International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship by Karen Dymke and Cate Thompson (2019).

This report resulted from a fellowship awarded to the authors to research practice overseas ‘to identify effective strategies that assist disadvantaged and disengaged learners to move from unemployment and associated disadvantages into employment and positive life options’.

The key question guiding the investigation was how to ‘engage vulnerable people to commence a learning journey? Furthermore, having engaged them into programs, how do we ensure through quality teaching and learning that they continue the journey and build confidence and skills, to pathway on to employment and/or, better life opportunities?’

An additional question investigated was: ‘… to professionalise the practice of educators working in this field with the aim of recognising the specialist skills required in teaching vulnerable learners’.

December 2019

International handbook of health literacy research, practice and policy across the lifespan, edited by Orkan Okan, Ullrich Bauer, Diane Levin-Zamir, Paulo Pinheiro and Kristine Sørensen (2019).

This handbook is a collation of recent work focusing on health literacy research.  It is divided into three parts.

Part 1 is titled ‘Research into health literacy: An overview of recent developments’ and is itself subdivided into the following topics: (a) The many facets of health literacy: Scoping the current research of theories, concepts and models, (b) Measuring health literacy: What, why and how? And (c) Health literacy, health outcomes and health inequalities: Some empirical findings.

Part 2 deals with programs and interventions to promote health literacy and begins with an overview of these health literacy aspects. This is followed by more details about working with a range of groups, including adults.

In the final section, three chapters directed towards policy to promote health literacy are detailed. 

A PDF version of this publication can be found by typing in the title into your search window and then scanning down to the oapen.org entry.

September 2019

Adult literacy practitioners and employability skills: Resisting neo-liberalism? By Gwyneth Allatt & Lyn Tett (2019)

The authors of this report, present a ‘complex picture’ of the literacy skills needs and trends in Canada. They suggest there is no ‘quick fix’; rather, a range of diverse strategies must be implemented to address these issues. Recommendations include: investigating the ‘market’ for skills, ‘especially literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills’ and the embedding of ‘literacy in all workforce education and training initiatives for both youth and working-aged adults’.

June 2019

New Canadian Report: Literacy Lost: Canada’s Basic Skills Shortfall by Janet lane and T. Scott Murray, published by Canada West Foundation, December 2018.

The authors of this report, present a ‘complex picture’ of the literacy skills needs and trends in Canada. They suggest there is no ‘quick fix’; rather, a range of diverse strategies must be implemented to address these issues. Recommendations include: investigating the ‘market’ for skills, ‘especially literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills’ and the embedding of ‘literacy in all workforce education and training initiatives for both youth and working-aged adults’.

April 2019

This month Jo Medlin has reviewed one paper of interest to adult literacy and numeracy educators:

  • The effect of psychological factors on Syrian refugees’ participation in lifelong education by Mehmet Fatih Karacabey and Kivanc Bozkus, March 2019

Feb 2019

This month Jo Medlin has reviewed two documents:

  • Literacy and Numeracy Studies: An international journal in the education and training of adults

  • The very recent VET review

Dec 2018

This month Jo Medlin has reviewed two new papers:

  • The capable country: Cultivating capabilities in Australian education (Mitchell Report no. 03/2018, Lucas & Smith)

  • Mission Australia Youth Survey report 2018

  • In addition, there’s a look back at 2013 and the introduction of the Foundation Skills Training Package.

Sept 2018

A review of documents relating to adult literacy and numeracy

Jo Medlin has reviewed three papers of interest to adult literacy and numeracy educators and provided the links to access them:

  • Ai Group 2018 Survey report on Workforce Development needs Skilling: A national imperative (Sept 2018)

  • ALA: Re-imagining WELL in the 21st Century (June 2018)

  • ACTA: Problems in the Adult Migrant English and SEE Programs (May 2018