apple The ABCs of Retention

Here are some tried and true strategies for effective learner recruitment in literacy programs.

  1. “At-risk” learners. Identify “at-risk” learners and implement needed supports during intake. Communicate any “at risk” concerns to instructors or tutors.
  2. Build on learner strengths. Success leads to success! Start with what learners already know and go from there. Point out when learners make progress and encourage them to continue. Encourage learners to let you know when they use their new skills in everyday life or on the job.
  3. Celebrate progress. Hold a celebration of student progress and invite current and past students and their families and friends.
  4. Displays. Have a prominent display in your agency of the various successes experienced by students (learning and personal).
  5. Early success. Ensure that adults experience success early on in the learning process in order to build confidence and self-esteem.
  6. Field trips. When appropriate and feasible, offer a field trip related to the needs and interests of the students. For example, visit an employment resource centre, or visit the community college, or just go out for a hike in the woods.
  7. Gifts. Give small, inexpensive gifts to learners to recognize excellent attendance or achievements.
  8. Holiday event. Hold a holiday get-together for current and past students. This helps current students to informally bond with each other and with staff and volunteers. Students who have dropped out may return for an informal event and this may help to re-engage them in learning.
  9. Internet. There is no end to the possibilities! Learners can use the Internet to practice basic computer skills, such as keyboarding and using the mouse. They can also use it to read information. You can find something for everyone on the Internet, whether their goal path is independence, further education/training or employment.
  10. Jobs. Research reveals that many adult learners are motivated to come to literacy programs to get or keep a job. In order to serve this group of adults, ensure that your literacy program offers instruction and learning materials and resources related to employment.
  11. Know other community services. Since literacy agencies cannot meet all of the needs of adult students, literacy practitioners need to know what other community supports and services are available.
  12. Library. Put up a display of student activities and successes at your local library.
  13. Mentoring. Use a mentoring or buddy system for orientation, homework and support needs.
  14. Newsletter. Start up a newsletter in your agency that is researched, written, designed and circulated by learners. This will help to increase learners’ skills, confidence and knowledge as well as build community in your agency.
  15. Orientation. Provide an in-depth orientation process so that a learner gets a clear understanding of the program, what is expected of them and what it takes to be successful in a literacy program. This helps learners to see if the program fits in with their needs and creates awareness about the supports available to help them succeed with the learning experience.
  16. Photos. Make a scrapbook of photos that celebrate student successes.
  17. Quality programming. Adult learners are busy people. Offering quality instruction, relevant learning materials and overall programming that meets the needs, motivations and goals of learners is a key retention tool!
  18. Retention team. Set up a retention team made up of students, staff and volunteers. This team should discuss and act upon retention issues in your agency. This will help ensure that a stronger and more intentional focus is put on retention. It will also help your agency to continually follow a fresh and student-centred approach.
  19. Suggestion box. Put up a student suggestion box in a prominent place to give the students the opportunity to give you quick and easy (and if desired anonymous) feedback about the literacy agency.
  20. Training. Provide professional development opportunities for tutors and instructors on effective strategies for learner retention and on issues that support retention such as enhanced teaching techniques, effective use of materials, multiple intelligences and learning disabilities for example.
  21. Unique needs. Be aware of the unique needs of each learner. Given the complex and demanding lives lead by adults, a “one size fits all” approach does not work.
  22. Volunteers. Put time and effort into ensuring an effective match between an adult learner and a volunteer tutor. The tutor’s strengths, weaknesses and interests should be matched with a learner’s strengths, weakness and interests.
  23. “We miss you”. Send cards to learners who are often absent or who have dropped out to let them know they are missed!
  24. Explore learning styles. Adults have different strengths and ways of learning. In ordering to better understand and validate the different gifts and needs of adult learners, take the time early on in programming to explore individual learning styles.
  25. Year. Ask students to think about their literacy skills a year ago. Then point out their successes in the past year! This can encourage students to continue with literacy learning. You can also talk about what they might be doing a year from now and how they will achieve that goal.
  26. Learning Zone. Sometimes it takes a while for adults to get comfortable with learning. The first few weeks of enrolment are critical for learner retention. Welcome new students to “the learning zone” and talk openly and honestly about the challenges associated with returning to school as an adult.
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