There are more than 36 million adults in the United States that lack basic English literacy skills and basic numeracy skills. Only five percent of these adults have access to the education services needed to improve. Low literacy and numeracy skills greatly impact the well-being of these individuals, their families, and their communities. These adults are twice as likely to be unemployed, more likely to be incarcerated, and much more likely to struggle with basic life skills like reading a prescription or credit card statement. Low levels of literacy and numeracy are also passed on from one generation to the next. Children of low literate parents have a 72 percent chance of being low literate themselves.
The struggles of low literate adults are clear, and a solution is needed. The challenge is finding a way to reach 36 million adults. Although place-based education is highly effective, even at full capacity, we can only reach 5% of low literate adults. It is not financially or logistically possible to train enough teachers and tutors to scale up and meet the needs of these adults that need our help the most.
What these adults need is a scalable solution that addresses their specific academic needs and is accessible whenever and wherever a learning opportunity arises.
Eight years ago, 35% of people in the United States owned a smartphone. Today, that number is at 81% and growing. Reliance on smartphones for online access is highest among low-literate and lower-income adults in the US who often have no broadband access or computers at home. These adults rely on their smartphones and always have them with them.
The answer to providing a scalable education solution is a smartphone learning app. With a go-anywhere app, low literate adults can learn anywhere at any time. Most importantly, anyone with a smartphone can access learning, allowing rapid deployment at scale.
The Learning Upgrade App is a proven and validated education solution. Low literate adults learn English and math on their own smartphones, on their own time. The Learning Upgrade App has over 1000 musical lessons that are engaging, fun, and effective. Teachers can track and monitor all student activity remotely, to keep learners on track and celebrate student success.
The Learning Upgrade App is a grand prize winner of the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE. The Adult Literacy XPRIZE was a $7 million global competition challenging teams to develop a mobile app that would result in the greatest increase in literacy skills among a participating group of adult learners in just 12 months. Learning Upgrade was proven and validated in a field test of 12,000 adult learners, and produced the greatest gains pre- and post-test on a standardized reading assessment. Most impressively, the Learning Upgrade App produced gains greater than what learners would have experienced during a year of classroom study alone.
The Learning Upgrade team has developed best practices from our work during the Adult Literacy XPRIZE. First, we found that competition creates excitement and drives action. This is critical in addressing the challenge of reaching 36 million adult learners. Second, we confirmed that provider-based learning is more effective than independent study. Third, we found that rewards need to be aligned to effort, and adult learners need incentives and motivation. Finally, we learned that education providers need training to best utilize key app features and the learner management system.
With everything we’ve learned from the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, we’ve realized that the best way to reach the 36 million adult learners in desperate need of literacy and numeracy skills is through an ongoing competition. The Learning Upgrade Challenge will bring education providers together in competitions to see who can log the most adult learner literacy and math progress each semester. Education providers can join challenges through their associations and receive access to the program. Instructors receive training and then onboard, track, and motivate learners. Providers, instructors, and learners will compete for rewards based on activity during each challenge semester.
The Learning Upgrade Challenge will provide a platform for states, regions, organizations, districts, and more to motivate and encourage education providers within their ranks to enroll as many adult learners as possible. Each challenge has a group of providers, teachers, and learners competing for rewards based on their activity and progress using the Learning Upgrade App.
Organizations looking to create their own Learning Upgrade Challenge can apply with Learning Upgrade. Once your challenge is up and running, education providers can join your team challenge using your dedicated team application form.
The Challenge is based on a 4-month cycle with three semesters to match adult ed calendars. During each cycle, new providers can sign up for the Challenge and receive instructor training to get started. Instructors onboard adult learners into the smartphone app, and each learner starts completing lessons to meet individual learning needs. Instructors track learner progress to monitor and motivate learners. Providers celebrate learner success and the Challenge rewards the top providers, instructors, and learners. After feedback is gathered to improve best practices, the Challenge cycle starts again with a new semester.
Our goal with the Learning Upgrade Challenge is to transform the lives of 1 million adult Learners, and provide a path for education providers to reach out to the 36 million low literate adults in the United States. With the help of Challenge partner organizations and competing education providers, the Learning Upgrade App can continue to change lives.