Post-Pandemic Instructional Modalities in Adult Education

May 31st, 2024 | Blogs


From June 2023 through April 2024, World Education led a community-engaged research initiative on behalf of the Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN). This opportunity funded short-term research projects to unearth instructional and programmatic innovation, make visible teacher knowledge, and offer insights aligned to the National Action Plan for Adult Literacy’s goals of access, quality, and/or uptake of adult learning opportunities. This blog is one of five reports from the funded research teams  of this initiative. 

By Ashley Simpson Baird, Ph.D.

The Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many aspects of life, work, and school through expansions in virtual accessibility. However, after initial shifts to virtual or remote instruction in March 2020, most schools eventually returned to fully in-person instruction. The work-from-home or in-office flexibility that many workers still embrace typically is not an option for students or staff within an educational setting. Briya Public Charter School—an innovative two-generation school serving immigrant parents and their young children—challenges that notion by offering classes in multiple instructional modalities. This study investigated that approach to adult education in alignment with ALL IN’s National Action Plan for Adult Literacy goals related to access, quality, and uptake. Specifically, the findings from this study provide evidence to (1) discern how different modalities of instruction may facilitate access to education, (2) understand the relationships between modalities and student outcomes, and (3) highlight the relationship between modalities and enrollment patterns to influence uptake by adult learners. 

Setting and Methodology

At Briya, adult learners enroll in English, high school diploma, or workforce classes. From March 2020 to June 2023, the school offered hybrid (a mix of in-person and virtual) and virtual classes for adult learners (see Table 1). Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, Briya began offering in-person, hybrid, and virtual classes. Offering all three modalities simultaneously presented the unique opportunity to examine staff and student experiences and outcomes across modalities. 

Table 1. Pandemic Shifts in Instructional Modalities at Briya

School Year Instructional Modalities
2019-2020 In-person → virtual
2020-2021 Virtual
2021-2022 Hybrid and virtual
2022-2023 Hybrid and virtual
2023-2024 In-person, hybrid, and virtual

This study builds upon three years of action research on instructional modalities at Briya to further investigate the outcomes and experiences within each modality. Table 2 contains the research questions, data collection methods, and data sources for the study.

Table 2. Study Data 

Research Questions Data Source 
What are the characteristics of students who participate in each modality?  Student data collected during registration and enrollment 
What is the relationship between modality and student outcomes?  Attendance, test data, student-teacher conference data
What is the relationship between modality and access to wraparound supports?  Case logs from student support workers 
What are student and staff experiences in each modality? Student and staff survey tools 

The study was rooted in community-engaged methods for participation in the research design and interpretation of findings. Through community meetings, staff and students offered feedback on the proposal and implementation of the study. After data analysis, a group of students and educators met to review the data and discuss the findings in light of their personal experiences. 

Observations to Date

Analysis of student data (N = 565) indicated interesting patterns related to enrollment and class preferences. Learning preferences were the most common reason in-person and virtual learners cited for their chosen modality, whereas work schedules were the determining factor for hybrid learners. Relatedly, the hybrid modality had the highest proportion of employed students (55.7%). In-person learners were also more likely to have a child enrolled in Briya (53.5%).

Student outcomes varied by modality. Virtual learners had the best attendance (82.4%). Basic and advanced level students demonstrated the most academic growth in in-person classes whereas intermediate students showed the most growth in hybrid. Virtual students had the highest rate of goal completion (86.7%) and in-person students most frequently utilized wraparound support services. In-person students also had the highest rates of satisfaction (96.4%). Overall, 70.9% of learners indicated that they would re-enroll for the 24-25 school year; however, in-person learners had the highest proportion of students who indicated that they would re-enroll (79.8%). Table 3 provides a high-level summary of these findings. 

Table 3. Findings Summary

In Person Hybrid Virtual
Highest enrollment X
Access to childcare X
Highest attendance X
Academic growth X (level dependent) X (level dependent)
Access to wraparound supports X
Goal attainment X
Student satisfaction X
Re-enrollment X

Twenty-nine adult educators completed surveys on their experiences this school year: eight instructors of in-person classes, fourteen hybrid, two virtual, and five supervisors. Like their students, educators also expressed high levels of satisfaction with their chosen modality. In fact, four in five adult educators indicated they wanted to continue teaching in the same modality next school year. The remaining educators—from all three modalities—were uncertain of their preferred modality for next year; no educator said that they did not want to teach in their current modality next year. Adult educators appreciated the ability to express their preferred teaching modality which was directly related to their beliefs in what students needed to be successful academically. 

Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice

Briya’s decision to once again offer in-person adult education classes after the pandemic was initially driven by its early childhood educators. They knew that Briya’s youngest learners (ages 0-2) would benefit from more days of in-person instruction and would be more likely to attend if their parents’ classes were also in-person.

This study found that not only did in-person instruction offer measurable academic benefits to some adult learners, but it also increased their access to wrap-around support, was related to higher student satisfaction, and increased the likelihood of re-enrollment. However, other modalities also met adult learners’ myriad needs including scheduling flexibility and learning preferences. At Briya, adult learners can be successful in any modality, and offering both students and educators a choice allows them to teach and learn in the modality that meets their needs. Offering all three modalities has benefits for staffing. During a challenging time to recruit and retain educators, offering choice and flexibility for teachers may give Briya an advantage in competitive hiring. 

Future research should examine whether these patterns hold in other adult learning contexts and over time. At present, Briya plans to continue to offer adult education through in-person, hybrid, and virtual classes for the foreseeable future.

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