Research Overviews


Technology in Adult Education

Educational Product


TV411 is a video and print course designed to teach basic literacy skills and to motivate ABE students to become life-long learners. It is comprised of videos and workbooks designed to encourage student confidence in performing everyday literacy tasks. TV411 was tested in three settings: home study, home study with a tutor, and in an informal but structured group meeting.

  • Students who studied TV411 in a Facilitated Group became more confident in their literacy skills (reading, math and writing), more likely to engage in literacy behaviors on a day-to-day basis, and more likely to plan on continuing their education. In a separate experiment, students in a traditional GED prep program who studied TV411 in a Facilitated Group prior to their GED studies were more likely to stay enrolled in the GED program and earned better grades than predicted(a).

  • A pilot study of home study (study alone and study with a tutor) showed that these distance approaches are best-suited for mature students who have been employed and have some regular structure in their daily lives(b).

Workplace Essential Skills (WES) is a video, print and Web-based course designed to help ABE/ASE learners improve their workplace reading, math, communication and employment skills. The videos present the workplace from the employers' perspective. The workbooks and Web exercises provide instruction in meeting the demands of the workplace. The series was tested in classroom settings and in distance instruction.

  • In classroom settings, many participants showed considerable improvement on standardized tests of workplace reading and math. Students also improved their knowledge of workplace communication and job-seeking principles. they did not improve their skills in these areas, though. WES presents a comprehensive survey of the workplace environment, but full mastery of the skills presented typically requires additional practice and guidance by a teacher(c).

  • A pilot study using WES for distance education demonstrates that this form of instruction can work for certain learners when they are supported by a distance learning teacher(d). Issues of recruitment, orientation, support and student assessment in distance learning contexts are currently under study.

(a) Using TV411 in a Facilitated Group. October, 2001.
(b) Using TV411 at Home: A Pilot Test of Home View and Outreach Models. December, 2000.
(c) National Field Test of Workplace Essential Skills. September, 2001.
(d) Adult Education in Non-Classroom Settings. August, 2001.


Video, Print, and Web in Adult Literacy



Issues and Findings


Broadcast TV, print and the Web to promote adult workplace and GED skills.

Testing the unique roles of video, print and online instruction in adult learning. Can low-literate adults navigate Web-based instruction?  Can professional development for adult educators be delivered on the Web?  What is required to support learners studying at a distance?

TV411 (1999-2001)

Broadcast TV and print to motivate ABE students to continue their education & learn essential literacy skills.

How do TV411's video and print messages affect the beliefs of adult learners regarding their own literacy interests and skills? How do variations in mediation and group support influence the outcomes?

Crossroads Cafe (1995-1996)

Broadcast TV for ESL instruction. 

What are appropriate message designs for viewers with limited proficiency in English? How should messages and tasks be split between video & print?  How can you support learners working at home?


Video & Print in K-12 Education



Issues and Findings


Designing TV for affective outcomes: reducing the limiting effects of sex-role stereotypes on the career-related interests of 9-12 year olds

“Prosocial” television stories can alter the beliefs & attitudes of 9-12 year olds.  “Minor” production elements (e.g. music) can alter greatly the perceived message.  Mediation of messages by teachers and peers is as important as the video story itself.  Effects can persist 9 mos. and longer.  Children’s beliefs about sex-roles vary greatly between 9 & 12.  In creating educ. television, talent—not process—is key. (3)

3-2-1 Contact (1981)

TV for informal science instruction for 9-12 year olds

Stories with science lessons built in can teach difficult science concepts while they increase interest in science. 

TV & mental health promotion

Can entertainment Television promote adolescent coping skills?

TV sitcoms describe life problems reasonably well, but do not provide sufficient cues about how to solve problems.  Schools in generall, and teachers in particular, are not well-suited to conducting mental health promotion activities. (4)

Electronic Learning: From Audiotape to Videodisc

Update the Chu & Schramm Learning from Television book to include the new media of computers

Most media can “teach”; media characteristics shape the potential for learning; newer media have potential for more complex learnings; learner motivation and teacher mediation are keys to learning from any medium; limits of curriculum & technology restrict their potential. (2)

Evaluating the New Information Technologies (1986)

Identify appropriate research strategies to study new media

At a time of rapid evolution of new technologies, more qualitative methods are needed to understand their impact on human learning. (1)

Channel One

Can 12-18 year olds learn current events from a daily 10-minute TV news show? 

They do learn—when the program design “strings together” disparate news stories, when teachers discuss key stories even a little bit, and when the faculty & the schedule is supportive of this non-traditional form of social studies instruction. (6)

Talking With TJ (1991-1993)

TV to facilitate social skills of 6-8 year olds

For 6-8 years olds video stories can provide models of good behavior, but the best learning comes from role-play and behavior practice after the video. 


Educational Computing in K-16



Issues and Findings

Micros in the middle school (1984)

Are middle school teachers ready to teach with computers?

Computer literacy is acceptable as a school goal; teaching with computers is not.

Computers in Early Literacy (1988-1989)

Does the ready availability of word processing in a 1st grade classroom affect writing? 

When computer writing tools are as readily available as pencil & paper, the classroom ecology changes.  Over time, students & teacher’s conceptions of composition and authorship change. (13)

Computer writing consensus project (1988-1989)

Identify tools & strategies for teaching college composition with computers. 

Minimal hardware & software are needed for instruction.  Keys are composing in class on public screens, peer reading, and teacher taking on role of a coach. (5)

Biology Study Center (1987)

Can tutorials facilitate conceptual thinking in science?

Tutorials can be designed to facilitate conceptual thinking of students at all ability levels.  In a large (450 students) lecture class, achievement can be equalized. (10)

Project FLAME (1990-1993)

Can multimedia increase communicative discourse in foreign language classrooms? 

“Authentic” discourse on videodisc, with tailored software to control discourse size and repetition, can greatly increase the amount of communicative discourse in a classroom. (7)

EDUCOM Awards (1987-1993)

What are the most effective computer applications in undergraduate education?

Using a national panel of discipline experts to select software and applications that further student learning.  (11)

OTA Case Studies (1994)

Case studies of colleges and schools that have implemented technology in the classroom.

The colleges and K-12 schools most successful in training teachers how to use technology for teaching follow a variety of non-traditional approaches. (12)


Methods for Studying Technology

Programmatic research efforts have used a wide variety of research strategies to understand the role of technology in the learning and teaching process.  Studies have used ethnographies (3, 6, 13), case studies (6, 12), systematic classroom observation (4, 7), con­trolled experiments (3, 6), and large-scale surveys (3, 6).  Besides the usual statistical analysis tools, Many studies have used new technology to support the study of technology, including databases to facilitate the manipulation of large quantities of qualitative data (6, 10), videotape and event analysis tools to study classroom interaction (7), and the development of a new computer-tool to automate the survey interview process (9).


Selected Bibliography

  1. Johnston, J. (Ed.).  (1984).  Evaluating the new information technologies.  New directions in program evaluation: Sourcebook no. 23. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Johnston, J. (1987).  Electronic learning: From audiotape to videodisc.  Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
  3. Johnston, J., & Ettema, J. S. (1982).  Positive images: Breaking stereotypes with children's television.  Beverly Hills: Sage.
  4. Johnston, J., Blumenfeld, P., Granville, A., Watkins, B., & Wortman, C. (1983, December).  The potential of television and film to promote adolescent mental health.  Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research.
  5. Johnston, J. & Gardner, S. (1991).  Computers and the teaching of writing (video and print).  Ann Arbor: National Center for Research To Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, The University of Michigan.
  6. Johnston, J. Brzezinski, E. & Anderman, E. M. (1994).  Taking the measure of Channel One: A three year perspective.  Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research.  [ED 371 712]
  7. Johnston, J. & Milne, L. (1995).  Scaffolding second language communicative discourse with teacher-controlled multimedia.  Foreign Language Annals.
  8. Johnston, J. & Kozma, R., eds. (in press)  Computing in humanities education.  New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  9. Johnston, J. & Walton, C. (1995).  Reducing response effects for sensitive questions: The computer-assisted self interview with audio.  Social Science Computer Review.
  10. Kleinsmith, L. & Johnston, J. (1991).  Tackling the fear of science: The impact of a computer-based study center on minority student achievement in biology.  In W. R. Allen, E.G. Epps, & N.Z. Haniff (eds.), College in black and white: African american students in predominantly white and historically black public universities.  Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  11. Kozma, R and Johnston J. (1991).  The technological revolution comes to the classroom.  Change Magazine.  23:1
  12. Mergendoller, J. R., Johnston, J., Rockman, S. and Willis, J. W. (1995).  Exemplary approaches to training teachers to use technology.  Washington: US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 
  13. Olson, K. & Johnston, J. (1989, September).  The use of the computer as a writing tool in a kindergarten and first grade classroom:  CIEL Pilot year final report, Part 2.  Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.  [ED343135]