Chapter 3: Challenges participating in learning programs

What happened in literacy and basic skills (LBS) programs during the pandemic?

It’s not only learners who encounter barriers and restrictions without internet and a computer at home. Programs are also limited in what they can do to support learning and literacy development—both digital and print. Learners can’t complete missed assignments or catch up. They can’t access interactive sites to build skills and knowledge. They can’t spontaneously do complex searches, complete online forms or watch videos. If they depend only on their smartphones with limited data, they likely monitor their data use and save it for emergencies. Some must limit the use of their cameras to save their battery (batteries in refurbished phones and computers don't tend to last as long).  

As an outcomes-based system that makes funding decisions based in part on the ability of learners to complete specific assessments, programs with higher numbers of learners without internet and a laptop at home are at a disadvantage. Compounding these challenges are more complex life circumstances of learners such as lower levels of education, requiring more time and effort to reach learning goals. The programs with clients  facing some of the biggest challenges and barriers are non-profit organizations in the community with limited funds and resources too. 

When programs had to close their facilities during the pandemic, educators working in community and school board programs were far more likely to rely on paper-based instruction and phone calls. College respondents, on the other hand, were far more likely to mobilize the use of a learning management system (LMS), indicating both their learners and staff had additional technology-related expertise and support. Some students had access to loaner laptops provided by colleges. Colleges also work with learners who have higher levels of education and likely, more familiarity with online learning. Learners with less experience and fewer opportunities to gain online learning expertise are in programs with minimal or no technical and online instructional support. It isn’t a level playing field.

Published articles that examine the challenges faced by adult learners and families

The first two articles feature LBS programs: one in Renfrew County and one in Orillia. The third features a secondary credit program for adults in Thunder Bay that works with many Indigenous learners. The fourth is a feature that appeared in Toronto Life magazine addressing the challenges many families experienced as parents tried to support their children's education, a situation experienced by many adults in LBS programs.

“Instructors at adult training centre in Renfrew County relying on mail, phone calls.”

“Most of our students don’t have the ability, or even the access to online learning,” said Graham. “If they don’t know how to use a computer, they are not going to try doing anything online.” 

“On top of everyday challenges, pandemic brought additional issues for adults looking to complete education.” 

“It’s fine for kids who have high-speed internet, fancy laptops and tech-savvy adults around to help out. This is a story about everybody else.”