A Portrait of the Adult Learner: Pluralistic Interpretations of Literacy Learning Outcomes Over the Years
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on February 17, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

Today, we are calling attention to “A Portrait of the Adult Learner: Pluralistic Interpretations of Literacy Learning Outcomes Over the Years,” written by Maurice Taylor and David Trumpower, of the University of Ottawa. This research article is published in our journal Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy. 

Through a number of studies in Canada, Taylor and Trumpower create a portrait of the adult student and the changes that can result from taking part in literacy education while highlighting the significance of these changes.  

Read an excerpt of the article here: 


There has been much debate about how to define and measure adult literacy education outcomes. In Canada, like many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the understanding of literacy and its definitions for program outcomes and policy development have shifted over time. An earlier sociocultural understanding of literacy learning through a humanistic and citizenship lens has moved to more of a human capital approach (Osmond, 2016; Taylor, Trumpower, et al., 2017). Within this economic lens, adult learners are streamed into formal skills training for employment or transition to post-secondary education. Belzer and Kim (2018) suggest that the focus of such programs is on measured outcomes that are expected to make participants more employable or upskilled to retain their jobs. As Tett (2018) explains, such training programs are designed around a narrow skills-focused pedagogy and outcomes. However, the scope of adult literacy learning outcomes is much broader than this. 

The purpose of this article is to consolidate research findings over recent years on how adult literacy education has contributed to important life changes and outcomes for the adult learner. It draws from Canadian research funded through five major Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grants during an era when adult literacy as a field was maturing. Using the analogy of an adult learner “portrait,” it highlights the importance of a variety of learning outcomes that go beyond traditional measures of knowledge and skills acquisition. Although built on Canadian evidence, the implications extend to other nations who have invested in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and other Western countries. The canvas for this portrait will emphasize the relevance of such outcomes for different types of literacy learners, in various settings, along three diverse learning pathways. The journeys that are documented include: collaboration in communities of literacy learners and partnership building; adults acquiring higher skills during the life course; and mature adult learners experiencing identity transformation. 


Download the Article


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