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Adult Learning Activities | California Distance Learning ProgramCDLP

What is Distance Learning?


California Considerations

Distance Learning Legislation

In 1993 the California legislature passed EC 52522 permitting the Superintendent of Public Instruction to approve adult school plans to spend up to 5% of their block entitlement on innovation and alternative instructional delivery. This authorization and the subsequent initiative are commonly known as the Innovation or 5% Program.

Education Code 52522 NEEDS OF ADULTS

(a) The Superintendent of Public Instruction may approve school district plans for adult education innovation and alternative instructional delivery. School districts making an application under this section shall demonstrate how the needs of adults will be addressed by programs, including, but not limited to:

(b) School district approved to implement demonstration programs under this section may expend up to 5 percent of their adult block entitlement for implementation of approved programs.

Any adult school wishing to request authorization for the innovative programming submits an annual application to the California Dept. of Education. The online application is available on the California Department of Education's Adult Education Office's Innovation Program Web page. Authorized programs are required to submit an annual final report outlining program design, learners served, and accomplishments. These requirements may change. Click on "See participating adult schools" for examples of applications and reports.

In practice the distance learning approach is the primary use. Other program options so far have proven unfeasible (work site skills instruction and alternative reimbursement) or are really distance learning in concept (home-based and community based study).

Role of the Instructor

All California adult education apportionment programs administered by adult schools must have an instructor assigned to manage the instruction. This function cannot be delegated to second parties. Instructional strategies that include distance learning must clearly define how the learner and instructor will interact and communicate. Approaches that optimize the communications are important.

Current Uses

The Innovation Program began in earnest in 1995. Almost all the innovative programs have fallen under the California Distance Learning Project's definition of distance learning. This means that several key requirements must be met. They are:

The importance of the two-way communication cannot be overstated.

Approximately 50,000 unduplicated adult learners were enrolled in 2003 - 2004. In late 2005 89 adult schools have applied to operate Innovation Programs for the current fiscal year.

Bar graph showing unduplicated learners

There are two approaches to distance learning in California - the hybrid or supplemental approach and the pure distance learning approach. The supplemental model has the learner enrolled in both classroom and distance learning classes, allowing him or her to extend learning opportunities. The pure distance learner cannot or will not attend classroom instruction and is served solely by remote learning.

Media Used in Distance Learning

The following figure summarizes the most popular adult school Innovation Program approaches approved for 2004 - 2005. Video / DVD checkout is by far the most popular. Text materials, workbooks, and study packets are used alone and with other instructional media.

Bar chart showing most popular adult school Innovation Program approaches

The video and audio media normally are provided on a checkout basis with packets of printed materials and work assignments included. They constitute over 3/4ths of the recent and current innovative approaches. The checkout model is easy to manage unless large numbers of learners are involved. Recent additions to the video choices make this an appealing approach for learners who cannot regularly attend classroom centered learning.

The current use of the Internet as the primary instructional medium is limited. However, it will increase in its use as the low cost course-length curricula are available. The Internet as an interactive instructional delivery and communications system may redefine some aspects of distance learning. Internet based instruction is often described as "distributed learning" since the actual learning content may reside on multiple computers.


Historically the approved Innovation Programs have been required to submit an annual application to be authorized and a self-evaluation report to summarize outcomes. The reporting requirements have been simple and easy to follow. One result was that the data and information were idiosyncratic to the reporting adult education program. In the spring of 2000 the California Dept. of Education appointed an ad hoc work group to review the need for more standardized reporting. In May 2000 administrators from the approved Innovation Programs suggested elements to be combined in a uniform reporting system. In 2001 the model was simplified further by the CDE. In the summer of 2002 an interactive online application was initiated.

The annual Innovation Program interactive application form is available on the Internet, and standardizes the accountability (demographic and program data) reporting based on the Tracking of Programs and Students (TOPSpro) Entry and Update records. (all adult schools are required to utilize these data elements as part of their apportionment related reporting.) Other information elements are descriptive and numeric in nature and will be idiosyncratic to the particular Innovation Program. The annual report form is available interactively on the Internet.

The California Distance Learning Project produces an annual statewide summary report summarizing the TOPSpro and CASAS pre - post test data for the Innovation Programs. The reports can be found at the California Distance Learning Project Web site (Innovation Program Reports).

Data on Program Participation

The distribution of unduplicated learners by area of instruction are shown for program years 2005 - 2006. ESL instruction has predominated since the Innovation Programs began in 1995. This is based on TOPSpro data.

Bar Graph


Three primary constraints face California adult schools wishing to provide distance learning as a delivery option. The independent study programs suffer from inadequate course materials. Many adult schools offering Innovation Programs have reached their cap and would like legislative permission to serve more learners. The smaller programs cannot generate enough instruction via the Innovation Program option to make it attractive.

California Trends

There seem to be two trends occurring at the same time. The video checkout low tech approach is increasing in popularity. It is easy to integrate into a program’s instructional strategies. The number of quality video products aimed at the adult basic learner is increasing.

At the same time Internet based instruction aimed at the adult basic learner is beginning to emerge. Preparing instructors to work with these online courses is a weak point as is the absence of online course length curricula.

Delivery Models

Video Checkout

Photo of book textThe video checkout model is by far California's most popular distance learning approach. Typically, the adult learner will register at a school site and select distance learning as the instructional delivery method. Sometimes the learner learns about the distance learning option in a class or when reviewing class schedules and concluding that there are conflicts. Likewise, some students, especially ESL learners, enroll in both classes and distance learning to speed the learning process.

The learner, following assessment, assignment and orientation, is given a packet including an instructional video and work sheets. When the learner has completed the worksheets, he or she meets with the teacher or instructional aid to review progress and receive the next assignment. The nature of the work sheets and assignments vary by program, but often include work sheets and supplemental materials.

Some instructional video series are linear, requiring the learner to start with the first video and progress to the end. Other video series are organized into episodes that form the series, or they have a progression regarding the theme but not the instruction which permits a more random assignment of the videos.

The face to face intervention occurs when the video is dropped off. Since the learning is quite self directed, some learners will require substantial support while others will require little support. Portfolios are often developed for each learner to document progress and special activities.

Managing a video checkout program requires a sufficient supply of videos and print materials, scheduled times to meet with learners, and procedures to monitor individual progress. Hacienda La Puente, Alhambra Adult School, and Los Angeles Unified School District were the early adaptors of the video checkout system.


Traditional telecourses with the talking head and no interaction between the instructor and learner do not fit the CDLP distance learning definition. The interactivity is essential for learning theory, practical and legal reasons. However, it is difficult when television is the primary means of communication.

The California model is referred to as a "wrap around." It originated at the San Juan Unified Adult School through a local cable consortium. In California a few adult schools offer telecourses for their learners. In addition to the enrolled learners, there is an undefined informal learning audience of people who watch telecourses but are not enrolled.

What's a "wrap-around"?

In television news, a "wrap-around" is the term used to describe what is done to enhance with a pre-produced story. During a live broadcast, the anchor will set up the story for the viewers, for example a dangerous fire in a downtown warehouse. The scene will switch to a tape of the fire story produced in the field by the reporter; complete with crashing walls, daring rescues and roaring flames. After the taped fire footage including an interview with the fire chief is shown, the reporter will re-appear live on the scene. The anchor and the reporter may discuss the fire, commiserate about the victims and offer safety tips to the viewers.

In distance education, a "wrap-around" is the term used to describe what is done with a pre-produced educational video. During a live telecast, the teacher will set up the story for the students, for example a workplace situation where a new employee, with limited English proficiency, is learning how to operate the copy machine. The scene will switch to a tape of the workplace; complete with skilled actors playing the roles of new and experienced workers, a real office with real office equipment and ESL level-appropriate dialogue written by experts in the field of ESL education. After the video is over, the teacher will re-appear live and discuss the lessons learned in the video. At-home students will be encouraged to call-in live to discuss the video, practice speaking English and ask questions.

Both examples have many elements in common:

Utilizing the "wrap-around" format in distance education is a low cost option that offers the high professional quality of pre-produced educational videos with the familiar comfort of a live local instructor. To be successful at reaching adult students and keeping them engaged, distance educators must adapt the techniques of teaching to include those of television that have proved to be successful. While teachers are able to base their lessons on materials that have been professionally produced, they still maintain control over the presentation and interpretation of the lessons shown. The live element of the class allows the students to participate and thus feel connected to the teacher.

The "wrap-around" concept offers the best of live and pre-produced classes on television. After all, who wants to just hear about an exciting event like a fire, when you may see it happening and talk about it live on television from the safety of your own living room?

Internet Delivery

There is a separate unit on Internet delivery. In all likelihood elearning will be commonly used over the next five years because of the interactivity, richness, and flexibility of the instructional materials.

Multi-media Resources

Curricula and learning materials have been constructed using video and print, CD-ROM and/or the Internet. This permits adult education organizations to adopt some or all the media into their curricula as circumstances permit. The products include the "English for All" high beginning ESL video, print, CD-ROM, and Internet course materials. Check out English for All. The very popular California Distance Learning Project's online TV news stories, redesigned for adult basic education learners, are continually upgraded. Click on any of the 11 home page icons for a wide variety of learning modules,exercises, and tests. Interactive ABE learning materials are available online at TV 411. Information on these products and course authoring tools can be found at Cyberstep.

The California Distance Learning Project

The California Distance Learning Project (CDLP) goal is to help expand learner access to adult basic education services in California. This goal has four major tasks:

Both of these projects, supported by the California Department of Education, help incorporate instructional technology into adult basic education.

Next Steps

Ideally most adult basic education curricula should be delivered in multiple media, allowing the learner to take advantage of the variable times, media, and learning style options. Over the next five years the increased integration of web based learning with traditional learning will occur. Beginning ESL distance learning course length materials are scheduled to be available online in 2007. This was not considered possible ten years ago. Demand for this kind of material through on-line access continues to grow in California. The skill and drill activities associated with language acquisition can be provided using the visual and aural features of the Internet along with the interactivity of item testing and feedback.

The distance learning will remain as an alternative to and supplement for traditional classroom instruction, not a replacement.


Distance Learning Design>