Directions for Future Research

Although the principles outlined in this booklet are well researched with other populations and can be applied with adults, studies on motivation and adult literacy are scarce.

Research is needed to:

•   identify instructional approaches that motivate engagement and persistence for adults with low literacy;

•   develop measures of adult motivation and persistence so that better information can be gathered on how to motivate adult learners’ persistence;

•   understand more about learners’ motives and circumstances—in terms of jobs, families, health issues, and other factors—in order to design better supports for persistence;

•   understand how the features of texts and tasks affect motivation;

•   examine group differences and similarities in the factors that influence motivation to persist. Although principles of motivation apply across populations, learners may differ in their persistence based on age and other characteristics;

•   identify technologies that could aid persistence, and determine how technologies can best be introduced and their use supported in ways that increase rather than decrease motivation; and

•   identify the conditions that affect motivation to enroll in adult literacy courses.

Learners can underestimate the amount of time and effort needed to learn a complex skill such as literacy. Research on employee training in the workplace suggests that “pre-training” geared toward establishing appropriate expectations for learning new skills can be helpful both for the learner and for those whose support will be instrumental to the learner’s success. Family, peers, supervisors, and coworkers can exert important influences on motivation. The limited amount of research that has examined people’s motivation to persist in adult literacy instruction shows that people were more likely to persist if they had a strong social support network. They were also more likely to persist if they had previously engaged in learning experiences after formal schooling and had a personal goal, such as helping their children or obtaining a more lucrative job.

In contrast, persistence was undermined by the demands of everyday life and low levels of social support. More needs to be known about how to help adult learners set appropriate expectations for their progress and encourage the social support system they will need to persist.

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