Letter – Justifying digital literacy in adult education

Shilongo Eliphas Shilongo

Digital literacies are essential for adults’ full participation in economic and civic life. The lack of digital access and digital literacies could add disproportional disadvantage to adult learners already struggling to succeed in meeting their literacy and numeracy skills. Adult basic education programs are well- situated to mitigate this, but it’s on record that there are not enough. Access to support for the use of digital technologies in adult basic education classrooms can give adult learners opportunities to learn in diverse and ever-expanding ways, and help them build the digital literacy skills needed to engage fully in activities that require them. It is ideal that learning opportunities that support digital literacy development must be timely and relevant, be connected to adult learners’ lived experiences, and provide careful balance between success and productive failure. Creating such opportunity requires strategic decision-making.


Technology use in the tutorial room, in and of itself, does not produce better learning outcomes for adult learners. However, optimal benefits can be accomplished if technology is integrated thoughtfully to generate opportunities for learners in formal and informal education to use digital literacy skills in support of content learning, and push their development of new digital literacy skills.

Provide one-to-one access to computers or tablets, use digital technologies to promote critical thinking and problem-solving rather than electronic workbooks for drills and practice; encourage adult learners to use technology for activities about which they feel more confident; and ensure adequate literacy promoters and teacher-guided instruction for new or more challenging concepts. Plan digital literacy activities in general; that is, align them with technologies used to support academic content learning objectives and offering opportunities for social interactions, collaboration and project-based problem-solving. This will enable adult learners and formal education learners to effectively correspond to this emerging world of technologies.

Support basic computer skills

The supported use of digital technologies helps adult learners to build comfort with their learning. Literacy promoters and teachers can enhance initial direct instruction on basic skills such as clicking and dragging or opening and saving a document by teaching relevant vocabulary next. Teachers and literacy promoters can embed the use of these skills and vocabulary in relevant tutorial room activities, or create an online collaborative learning platform where adult learners can be placed individually or in small groups. Adult learners should be told to expect to make mistakes, but with supportive instruction and peer engagement.

Grant equitable access
Ongoing access to digital devices and broadband is crucial for digital literacy skills development. Then, activities can include media-rich content and opportunities for self-directed learning through the exploration of information found on the worldwide web. Access to digital tools and activities should not be thought of as only appropriate for any one level of education, but rather should be understood as integral to addressing all adult learners and other learners’ ‘needs, interests and uses. The impact of access stretches far beyond the tutorial room. Therefore, literacy promoters and teachers should find ample access to digital technologies, coupled with convenient access to supportive peers and networks that can lead to increased personal empowerment.

Professional development

Effective professional development is particularly important when helping teachers and literacy promoters with technology integration because the technology landscape is constantly changing. Research-based principles of effective professional development provide guidance to overcome these challenges. The resulting technology integration focuses on adult learners learning and not use one specific technology tool. Effective professional development needs to be relevant to teachers’ trainers, literacy promoters and other professionals’ needs, be aligned with program goals, and every professional should also learn together. Specifically, it should have a focus on content, and provide active learning experiences in response to grow professionally.

*Shilongo Eliphas Shilongo is a specialist in education and business management, currently doing a PhD with a focus on digitalisation of adult education at the University of Namibia. Views expressed are his own, and he can be reached at: eshilongo53@gmail.com