Technology-Based Learning in the Public Workforce System: Emerging Policy and Practices in States and American Job Centers
This report explores the use of technology-based learning (TBL), i.e., educational technology or digital learning, in the public workforce system, where it has been used to extend learning opportunities geographically, reduce costs, and allow for individualizing learning. The research addresses TBL use among local American Job Centers (AJCs) and policies and practices in regard to TBL by state workforce agencies (and their partners), in the following focus areas: employability or "soft skills," basic literacy and numeracy, technological literacy, job search skills, and at the state level, occupational training and certification. The study documents use of and experiences with TBL, perceived barriers related to TBL implementation, perceptions as to the effectiveness of existing TBL-based services, and promising strategies for effective implementation. The study was based on in-depth site visits in 2018 with five state workforce agencies (Massachusetts, Kentucky, Utah, Minnesota, and California) and nine AJCs all of which were actively developing policy or expanding use TBL. Some of the key findings included: a) TBL use was widespread but highly variable, ranging from early stages of piloting to adoption of diverse sets of TBL software and support resources; b) access to technology was improving but still a challenge particularly in rural areas where broadband coverage is sparse and individuals have limited financial resources for at-home internet access or lack reliable transportation options to utilize technology resources or computer labs at AJCs; and c) lack of technological literacy and costs are the most common barriers to the adoption and use of TBL in AJCs. State workforce agencies also noted there were some challenges in coordinating with AJCs in the implementation of TBL and in negotiating the inclusion of online out-of-state training providers on the Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL). Some of the strategies being used to enhance the use and effectiveness of TBL, as identified by state workforce agencies and AJCs, included: 1) developing and cultivating partnerships, with libraries, local community and state colleges, and community-based organizations; 2) increasing remote access and broadband coverage; 3) Providing professional development opportunities; 4) engaging AJC staff in the selection of TBL resources; and 5) building staff capacity to support customers' TBL engagement. The report notes that despite substantial amounts of funds being spent on TBL, there is little research that shows whether these investments are paying off, and that more systemic research may be needed to understand which types and features of TBL are effective, or could be made more so, for the varied customer groups in the workforce system.