Research Vision

ProLiteracy Research Agenda

This document provides an aspirational statement of ProLiteracy’s effort to facilitate and lead research activities for the adult education field. It provides a vision statement, articulates a research focus, and identifies key roles that ProLiteracy can play in promoting and advocating for high quality research that informs the field and improves practice.

Research Vision

ProLiteracy supports, conducts, and collaboratively facilitates research that can increase and accelerate learning outcomes for adults seeking to improve literacy, numeracy, or language skills or who lack a high school credential.

Research here is defined as “a systematic inquiry to describe, explain, predict and control the observed phenomenon.” (Babbie, 1998). ProLiteracy values research that employs qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods used to implement basic, applied, exploratory, causal, intervention, or replication studies conducted by researchers in university and other formal research settings, by practitioners and learners, and through partnerships across these contexts.

What all approaches must have in common is the articulation of a clear and focused research problem, a neutral (unbiased) research question, a research design that is well matched with the research question, and a systematic data analysis process. The research should lead to deeper understandings of or direct applications to challenges and problems in program and instructional design and delivery and contribute to measurable improvements in learner outcomes. It should be relevant, actionable, applicable, and accessible to practitioners and also of use to learners, policy makers, and funders.

Research Focus: Program Quality

With a commitment to improved learner outcomes, ProLiteracy’s research priority is to investigate a wide range of factors that can improve program quality. Such a focus invites numerous research questions and approaches, and yet is still specific.

Elements of program quality include but are not limited to (Alamprese, 1999; Patterson & Mellard, 2007):

  • Program management
  • Program capacity
  • Program recruitment and intake
  • Assessment
  • Instructional resources, formats, and strategies
  • Instructor characteristics
  • Instructional leadership and professional development
  • Non-instructional student support services
  • Other contextual factors

ProLiteracy research efforts will address at least one element of program quality in every project it funds, participates in, or implements.

ProLiteracy’s Role

ProLiteracy seeks to play a meaningful role in advocating for, initiating, facilitating and sustaining research efforts. Activities that can advance these efforts include

  • Helping to facilitate efforts to identify and respond to the research priorities of practitioners. This may include facilitating meetings of researchers and practitioners in order to identify shared problems of practice related to program quality; identify their root causes; and develop or identify a theory of improvement.
  • Initiating or seeding small-scale studies and research summaries that can contribute to convening discussions and ultimately stimulate researchers to further test and refine emerging program quality models. These might include
    • environmental scans
    • literature reviews
    • commissioned, small-scale and pilot studies
    • opractitioner research mini-grants
  • Disseminating and providing professional development on the use of research findings
    • Publish the research journal: Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy
    • Commission and publish “Research Briefs”: concise, short summaries of research on topics of interest to the field
    • Commission “White Papers” that synthesize research as a way to propose initiatives or guide policy related to program improvement
    • Provide sustained professional development and training to help teachers and program managers learn about and apply research findings in their practice
  • Providing advisement, oversite, and feedback on research activities implemented through ProLiteracy funding or facilitation
  • Participating in funding efforts that have the potential to sustain specific research initiatives and long-term potential for researchers to focus on program quality and other pressing research needs. This may include “match making” between researchers and funders and researchers and programs as sites of study.


Alamprese, J. A. (1999). Adult basic education: Strategies for supporting learning. Bethesda, MD: ABT Associates, Inc.

Babbie, E. (1998). Survey Research Methods (2nd ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.

Patterson, M. B., & Mellard, D. (2007). Program Characteristics that Predict Improved Learner Outcomes. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal, 1(2), 83–92.