The Learner Web Partnership

A Multi-State Support System for Broadband Adoption by Digitally Marginalized Adults

Learner Web Partnership

The Learner Web’s Digital Literacy Partnership is funded as a Sustainable Broadband Adoption project by the Broadband Opportunities Technology Program of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This project builds on and extends an existing community of Learner Web partners that has developed online content and blended it with offline services to strengthen community collaboration around lifelong learning, help youth and adults to transition successfully into postsecondary education and employment, and provide professional development and tutoring support in adult education. 

The new digital literacy project will broaden the on-ramps to the information highway for economically vulnerable and digitally excluded populations. This in turn will increase access for these populations to other services provided by the Learner Web and its community partners. The existing community of Learner Web partners and library of shared Learning Plans has been supported by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a National Leadership Grant designed to strengthen community collaboration to support literacy and library services.

The Learner Web Partnership addresses the primary barriers to broadband access and use among adults in the United States: affordability, lack of digital literacy skills, and a perceived lack of content relevant to their daily lives, needs, and future aspirations. These barriers are exacerbated among populations that have the lowest levels of broadband access: primarily low-income adults who lack a high school education. This includes a growing—and increasingly diverse—population of adults from immigrant and language-minority communities.

The Learner Web Partnership proposed by Portland State University (PSU) involves coalitions in two states (MinnesotaNew York), two regions (Central Texas and South Texas), and two cities (New Orleans, Louisiana and Richmond, California). The project will increase broadband use among low-income, low-literate, ESOL, and other vulnerable populations by implementing Learner Web, an innovative online system of self-paced Learning Plans. Over 30 months, the project will develop and implement Learning Plans focused on digital literacy (at home, at work, and in the community), education on how to be an informed consumer of broadband technology, and orientation to career pathways. These Learning Plans will also be available in Spanish. Two additional Learning Plans will be developed to train volunteer and paid tutors and computer lab assistants to support new broadband users.

Learning Plan Design Team comprising the Minnesota Literacy CouncilProLiteracy Worldwide, and experts in adult learning, computer-delivered education, and strategies for language-minority and other populations will oversee work on these new Learning Plans. An important hallmark of the Learner Web system is its emphasis on providing self-paced online learning and the face-to-face support of trained tutors and computer assistants. Another important feature is its potential for sustainability: it is built on an open-source software platform and its Learning Plans will be distributed to interested organizations before, during, and following the federal grant period.  

Sixty-three (63) community anchor institutions in the six national partner areas will collaborate to identify and recruit potential new broadband users. The Learner Web Partnership comprises a broad range of community anchor institutions: adult basic education (ABE) and employment/training programs, colleges and community colleges (including a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution), K-12 schools, public libraries, social services agencies, public safety and public housing agencies, and nonprofit community-based organizations dedicated to improving adult literacy, employability, and related skills. A lead sub-recipient organization for each of the six national sites will coordinate Learner Web Partnership activities among the local community anchors. Each sub-recipient organization will also be represented on a National Leadership Team which will meet four times in Portland, Oregon to share information, monitor progress, address issues or concerns, and plan for dissemination/replication of the project.

The Learner Web Partnership will allow 23,538 vulnerable adults to move from being “new-to-broadband” users to “broadband-ready” users. Participants will complete at least two of the three Learning Plans (on digital literacy and broadband consumer education), requiring an average of 15 hours of self-paced learning per user, and will receive an average of four hours of face-to-face tutoring and assistance. Using the Council of Economic Advisors methodology, it is estimated that the project will create 64 direct jobs-years, 41 indirect jobs, and 23 induced jobs. The Learner Web Partnership will also demonstrate a sustainable model for increasing broadband use among highly diverse and vulnerable adult populations.