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Technology Based Learning in Workforce Development and Education: A Review of the Research Literature

Release Date

Aug 21, 2020

Publication Author(s)

  • Abt Associates & MEF Associates
  • Alex Silverman
  • Glen Schneider
  • Katherine Gan
  • Zachary Epstein

Research Methodology

  • Literature Review


  • Adult
  • Dislocated Worker
  • Evaluation
  • New Entrants/Reentrants
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult Program
  • Youth

States & Territories

  • All 50 states and three territories


The rapid adoption and evolution of technology-based learning (TBL) has dramatically altered the landscape of education and training in the U.S and beyond. This report focuses on how TBL has been used for work-related skills and training, factors associated with effectiveness, gaps in the knowledge base, and possible directions for future research. TBL, or e-learning, broadly encompasses interventions that rely on advanced electronic or communication technologies to supplement or replace traditional (i.e., classroom-based) instruction and includes a continuum of interventions shaped primarily by how integral the technology is to the learning process. TBL models may rely entirely on technology for learning; may balance the use of technology and classroom learning (hybrid or blended models); or may incorporate some lesser use of technology into a predominantly classroom-based setting.

The literature reveals an array of considerations that shape individual and institutional decisions to adopt and pursue TBL opportunities, as well as challenges that TBL presents in: monitoring and assessing engagement and learning; adapting learning to individual's needs; modularizing learning to allow adults to focus on prescribed skills; promoting motivation and interpersonal interaction; using resources cost-effectively; ensuring individuals have the appropriate supports for learning; and assuring that the skills imparted are responsive to business and industry needs. The few rigorous studies (randomized control trial or quasi-experimental design studies) explored in this review compared TBL and traditional classroom instruction and found that TBL that provides more opportunity for interaction (i.e., blended models) were more likely to have uniformly positive impacts than are those without interaction. Additionally, the evidence suggested that impacts of technology-only interventions may be sensitive to "dosage" (i.e., amount of time learners spend in the intervention) and "locus of control" (i.e., active engagement with and learner control over content and practice work with feedback). The literature suggests several important priorities in future research and evaluation examining the impacts of TBL such as: exploring reliable proxy measures related to learner engagement (e.g., attendance, time on task, assignments completed, use of communication tools); identifying drivers of learner satisfaction; focusing on cutting-edge technologies and their potential to deliver more individualized, learner-centered experiences shaped by real-time feedback; and unpacking the types of populations, program designs, and supports needed for TBL to be deployed cost-effectively for workforce development. There are also many options for such research on TBL, covering a broad spectrum of learning and skill-building areas relevant to the workforce system, including: basic literacy and numeracy, occupational skills, job readiness and employability, job search skills, career advising/counseling, and technological literacy.

Final Report

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