U.S.A. Learns is a free ESL instructional program developed primarily for immigrant adults with limited English language skills who cannot attend traditional classroom programs because of difficulty with schedules, transportation, or other barriers. The site offers practice activities in listening, reading, writing and speaking skills as well as life skills necessary for success at work and in the community. All instructional materials are online; there are no videos, workbooks, or other materials for printing. Learners can use U.S.A. Learns independently or under the auspices of a tutor or teacher. The potential learner might work from home, a public library, or a workplace setting.
Three Courses of Study
The U.S.A. Learns Web site consists of 3 distinct programs:
- First English Course: 20 video-based, beginner-level units
- Second English Course: 17 video-based, intermediate-level units
- Practice English and Reading : 42 intermediate-level stories and activities
The Second English Course is intended for learners functioning at NRS levels 4-5, generally considered Low Intermediate to High Intermediate ESL. Some aspects of this course may contain slightly lower and higher level material. Those familiar with English for All developed by SCOE will recognize the Second English Course as an upgrade and expansion of that popular online course.
The activities in the Practice English and Reading section will be beneficial to ABE and GED students, as well as immigrants building their English skills. The stories in this section are designed to build vocabulary and comprehension skills.
Computer Skills and Technical Requirements
Learners do not need advanced computer skills to use U.S.A. Learns. Our usability testing to date indicates that learners with fairly limited computer skills and only moderate educational attainment in their native country can do well in the program.
Basic computer skills needed to navigate the learning activities:
- Mouse (click and scroll)
- Keyboard (letters, punctuation, backspace, shift key, space bar)
- Web browser (open a browser, navigate a basic Web site, click buttons and links)
The U.S.A. Learns site is accessible from almost any computer with a fast Internet connection. U.S.A. Learns will not operate via a dial-up modem connection.
Learners need a computer with:
- A fast broadband Internet connection (384 Kbps or faster).
- An up-to-date Web browser with the Flash plug-in.
- A sound card.
- Speakers or headphones.
The wide bandwidth requirements for U.S.A. Learns make it unsuitable for use in classrooms or computer labs. Even with a fast Internet connection in the school or lab, simultaneous use by as few as three learners could slow the program to a crawl and make the learning experience frustrating.
The Role of Teachers and Tutors with U.S.A. Learns
U.S.A. Learns is designed primarily for individual distance learning outside of the traditional classroom. But a tutor or teacher can use the Web site's learning management system to create an online class and support one or more students in their studies. The learning management system enables educators to view students' work and provide feedback online.
Teacher management features allow teachers to:
- Create an online class.
- Print an instruction document to help learners sign up for the online class.
- Monitor a student's progress and scores.
- Score and comment on writing assignments.
- Post messages to the online class.
Students who enroll in an online class with a teacher go to www.usalearns.org/class.
One of the appeals of distance learning is the freedom it gives students to study at their own pace and at times and places convenient to their busy everyday schedules. However, it also removes the social support of a classroom teacher and fellow students who offer encouragement, feedback and motivation. Teachers and tutors of U.S.A. Learns will need to develop strategies to support and motivate students to stay focused on their learning needs and goals in the online learning environment.
The official fact sheet on U.S.A. Learns can be found at: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/factsh/usa-learns-fs_0811.pdf