Guide for Managers of Adult Education Programs


Technology and Distance Learning


Innovations in technology, including computers, database software, wireless communication, and the Internet, present great opportunities to adult education programs. Used effectively, these innovations can reduce administrative overhead costs, increase the effectiveness of education, and help meet the scheduling needs of learners. Technology is a tool to help an organization meet its educational and organizational goals and objectives. However, without adequate planning, it can become very costly and drain resources from services to learners.

Technology Planning

The first step in using technology is to develop a plan. The planning process can help programs identify and prioritize areas of need and technological strategies for addressing these needs. The planning process also looks at ways to evaluate, purchase, implement, and use technology. The technology plan needs to be tied to the organization's overall plan (as discussed in Section 5: Program Design and Delivery), which typically spans between three and five years.

At the beginning of the planning process, the organization needs to look at the state of its current technology. What is already in place? What seems to be working well? What needs improvement? The next step is to explore the possibilities technology can offer and determine cost-effective technological solutions to program needs. This may be accomplished by talking with other programs and vendors, reading current journals, and conducting research on the Internet.

Once the potential options are identified, an implementation plan prioritizing the various components of the technology plan can be developed. Remember to build professional development into the budget for the technology plan. Also note that technology is an ongoing investment; hardware and software will need to be updated periodically.

Using Technology to Support Administration

Technology can provide increased efficiency in agency administration through word processing, database management, financial management, fax and Internet communication, local area computer networks, and improved telephone systems. It also increases efficiency in maintaining student records, reporting on student assessments, and analyzing student assessment results. Technology can assist with student recruitment and registration, even allowing for off-site electronic registration. When face-to-face staff meetings are not convenient, technology can facilitate staff communication.

Using Technology to Support Instruction

Technology offers new methods for providing education, such as computer-based instruction in which students learn at their own pace and with increased privacy in a one-on-one environment. It also offers immediate feedback and opportunities for a multi-media approach, tapping into the varied and multiple intelligences of learners. As with any new endeavor, however, the value of technology must be assessed in regard to its cost. Most technology costs lie in the initial investment, but on-going maintenance and upgrade costs exist as well. It is also important to factor in costs for staff training and decreased efficiency during the initial learning curve. 

Using Technology for Distance Learning

Technology offers an opportunity for vastly improved distance learning. Communication between learner and instructor is sped up from the weeks it took during early correspondence courses to mere minutes. New technologies also allow for live interaction via teleconferencing or the Internet. This is especially intriguing in cases where:

  • scheduling or transportation barriers limit learners' access to the school site
  • costs for classroom space exceed the costs of distance learning technology
  • small class sizes result in a very high cost per pupil for services.

Distance learning allows learners access to instruction 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in time blocks most conducive to learning. Flexibility in scheduling is, thereby, greatly enhanced. For example, distance learning allows learners and instructors to:

  • conference outside of class time without having to physically meet at the school
  • submit and review assignments between class sessions
  • utilize computer-based instruction without having to go to the school site.

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Hudson River Center for Program Development, Inc.