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Unlocking the Potential of Digital Learning in Adult Education: An Intro to Key Resources from the California Department of Education and ISTE


In response to the evolving digital environment, the Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN), a leadership project for adult education in California, identified an opportunity to help educators use technology to improve adult learning. Drawing inspiration from a similar initiative in K12 education, OTAN created a collection of resources aimed at addressing the specific challenges and possibilities within adult learning environments. 

The project, which began as a request from the State Director of Adult Education, Dr. Carolyn Zachry, has been embraced and shepherded by OTAN, State Leadership Project Partners, and the wider adult education field throughout the state. The importance of technology in education, work, and life for adult students was highlighted during the pandemic. OTAN and the broader adult education community in California are committed to backing this effort by supporting instructional staff in leveraging digital tools to help students achieve their goals in school, at work, and in community life. 

This post aims to offer educators with an overview of these resources and how they can help programs design and implement future-ready classrooms. These resources include:

- The Digital Learning Guidance (DLG) is the cornerstone of the project. Written based on extensive research and with the support of an advisory board of adult educators from across California, the DLG was designed to help adult educators implement effective and meaningful digital learning experiences for adult learners.

- The Educator’s Course (EC) is a facilitated online course hosted in Canvas that helps educators unpack the DLG and consider ways to implement the Guidance in their classrooms. 

- The Facilitator’s Guide (FG) is a training resource that enables educators to design and deliver synchronous professional development events based on the insights from the DLG.

- The Reader's Guides offer a valuable companion to the Digital Learning Guidance, providing a succinct overview of each chapter's key ideas. Each summary begins with a thought-provoking question that sets the stage for exploration and concludes with questions to consider, encouraging reflective engagement with the material.

The transition to digital learning is not just a trend but a paradigm shift. In an increasingly digital society and economy, it's crucial for educators to integrate technology into classrooms, preparing adult learners for academic, professional, and personal success in the digital age. When technology is effectively utilized, it can significantly enhance access to and the efficacy of training programs, leading to more equitable and inclusive opportunities.

These resources, developed with a blend of practical and theoretical considerations, aim to support educators in facilitating effective digital learning experiences. The collaborative effort involved key stakeholders including OTAN, CASAS, CALPRO, the California Department of Education (CDE), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and an advisory group, ensuring a well-rounded and relevant approach based on the current needs and goals of the adult education community in the state.

Guided by ISTE's expertise in technology and education, the development of these resources was thorough, beginning with an extensive landscape scan of existing frameworks to ensure a comprehensive and informed approach. This was complemented by a meta-analysis of other research, ensuring a robust foundation for the project. ISTE also facilitated focus groups, gathering key stakeholder input to inform and enhance the Guidance. This methodical and inclusive process underscores the commitment from OTAN and ISTE to producing high-quality, effective learning tools that are informed by research, expert opinion, and direct feedback from those most impacted by the Guidance.

About the Digital Learning Guidance (DLG)

The DLG provides comprehensive guidance on how to design and deliver effective digital learning experiences, offering a blend of practical and theoretical insights. Chapter topics include: Ensuring Equity and Access, Foundations of Adult Education and Digital Learning, Designing Flexible Learning Experiences, Adopting Models that Work, Data-Driven Instruction and Digital Assessments, and Fostering Healthy, Equitable, and Inclusive Digital Communities. Starting with 'Ensuring Equity and Access' as the first chapter was an intentional choice, as it sets the tone for the entire DLG, emphasizing the importance of equity as a foundational element in shaping all digital learning strategies and practices.

On a practical level, the DLG includes recommendations for specific digital tools and technologies in adult education. This includes suggested platforms for online learning, applications for administrative tasks, and tools designed for student engagement and assessment.

The DLG intertwines these practical aspects within theoretical frameworks that contextualize the tools within adult learner theories. This approach empowers educators to grasp both the 'what' and the 'why' of digital tools. By merging practical tool recommendations with a deeper understanding of their application, the DLG ensures educators are not only equipped with the right tools but also the knowledge of how to effectively utilize them in various learning scenarios. 

“I'm very impressed with this document. It's thorough, current, addresses challenges, and offers solutions to those challenges. In terms of the size of the document, districts/divisions/schools can poll their teachers to see where their interests/concerns lie and focus on one thing in terms of training/PD/CoPs.”

- OTAN Advisory Member, Josh Eick, LAUSD DACE.

In addition to the comprehensive guidance, OTAN published Reader’s Guides that offer a valuable companion to the Digital Learning Guidance, providing a succinct overview of each chapter's key ideas. The Guides offer educators a simple and accessible format for quickly understanding key ideas from each chapter. Video vignettes offer anecdotes and case studies from the field, showcasing how California adult educators are leveraging the DLG to create accessible and effective digital learning experiences. 

Who can benefit from the DLG?

The DLG is designed for a diverse audience within the adult education ecosystem, including classroom teachers, support staff, counselors, and school administrators. It was developed with the understanding and belief that when it comes to effective digital learning, every staff member in an adult school can play a crucial role in supporting adult learners. Therefore, any staff member can find valuable insights within the DLG.

For classroom teachers, the DLG offers strategies for integrating technology into lesson plans and assessments. Support staff can find tools for streamlining administrative processes, while counselors may use the guidance to better advise students on digital literacy. Administrators can gather insights into managing digital transformation at an institutional level. 

M'Liss Patterson, Director, Adult & Alternative Educational Programs, Garden Grove Adult Education, had this to say about the value of the DLG:

“The DLG is a crucial tool for adult educators and administrators who seek to create meaningful digital learning experiences for adult learners. The document starts with a brief history of adult education, then moves to the significance of supporting students with equity and access to digital learning experiences. Each chapter provides tangible steps towards creating an adult education program that benefits learners with different levels and from diverse backgrounds.” 

This feedback underscores the DLG's practicality and adaptability across various educational roles.

About the Educator’s Course (EC)

The Educator’s Course was designed to help California adult educators and administrators effectively apply the principles and recommendations from the Digital Learning Guidance (DLG) in their work. The course is structured into content modules that align with the chapters in the DLG, providing a coherent and comprehensive learning experience that follows the structure of the DLG. Each module includes hands-on examples, application activities, and quizzes, complementing the theoretical aspects of the DLG. 

The EC is currently available as a facilitated course experience and will soon be offered as a self-paced option, offering flexibility for different learning preferences and schedules. In pilot testing, it’s estimated that each module takes about 1-2 hours to complete.

One educator had the following to say about their experience with the online course:

“Module 3 taught me strategies for redirecting my thinking as an educator and how to improve my teaching practices. I have gained new knowledge on how to best serve my students.”

About the Facilitator’s Guide (FG)

The Facilitator's Guide (FG) was developed to assist trainers or professional development providers in delivering DLG-based training for educators. It includes practical deliverables like slide decks, handouts, and lesson plans suitable for various learning settings such as workshops and bootcamps. 

Each section of the FG contains two or three activities that supplement the learning from the DLG. Importantly, the FG complements the Educator's Course. The EC, as a self-paced course, can be used to extend professional development experiences, with chapters and modules that can be leveraged before, during, or after training sessions, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application.

“As a new administrator, the course gave me plenty of examples of other organizations to help answer questions that I had regarding the many uses of technology at my site.” John White – Stockton School for Adults

Looking ahead - what’s next for the DLG?

Educators and administrators are encouraged to leverage the DLG, EC, and FG based on local program goals and needs. Given the dynamic environment with the advent of new digital tools and resources, OTAN is planning to continue revising and evolving these resources to remain current and relevant for adult educators.

Adult educators outside California are invited to review the DLG and share insights on its effectiveness and opportunities for improvement. California-based adult educators are encouraged to review the DLG, EC and/or FG and provide feedback about what’s effective and what could be enhanced. All input is crucial for the planned revision of the DLG, set to begin in July 2024, ensuring these resources remain relevant and impactful.


The DLG, EC, and FG are essential tools in advancing adult education through digital learning, offering practical and theoretical guidance for educators and administrators. These resources enable effective integration of technology in adult learning environments. 

Feedback from users, especially in the context of the upcoming revision in July 2024, is vital for ensuring the resources remain current and impactful. Educators are encouraged to actively engage with these tools and share their insights to support continuous improvement. 

For more details or to provide feedback, contact

To learn more about ISTE's SkillRise Initiative, visit