Televised adult education courses reimagined for the on-demand generation

Public broadcasting offers courses in basic math and language arts skills for in-demand industries

For decades, public broadcasting has been addressing the needs of underserved populations and adult learners who may not have gotten their high school diplomas and are struggling to advance in the workforce. Now, the Kentucky public television station that created some of the most iconic adult educational programming has shifted its curriculum online.

KET Workplace Essential Skills is a new multimedia series created by Kentucky Educational Television (KET). It teaches basic math and language arts skills through courses focused on seven specific industries: manufacturing, health care, information technology (IT), transportation and logistics, marketing, sales and service, hospitality and tourism, and construction.

The online courses evolved from the KET adult education emphasis established about 50 years ago says Tonya Crum, Senior Director of Education for KET. In the 1970s, KET implemented General Educational Development (GED) preparation programs for viewers who didn’t have a high school diploma or equivalency. Crum likens the GED broadcasts, coupled with workbooks, to a correspondence course.

The KET programs became a national resource when PBS stations across the country began airing the content. This year—with a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—KET launched its Workplace Essential Skills online.

Teaching Math and Language Arts in Context

Each course includes instruction, practice, and 34 video segments. Videos show professionals doing jobs within specific industries. The lessons include teaching basic math and language arts skills in the context of the specific industry. For example, in health care, the video shows someone measuring medicine. In tourism and hospitality, someone measures ingredients in a kitchen.

“Within construction, we teach you the math necessary for measuring square footage to figure out how many shingles you need for a roof. In health care, it would be different, measuring in milliliters. Manufacturing, you measure in millimeters,” Crum says. “We address real-life work skills. Why do we need to learn square feet, fractions—we make it relevant and contextualized within the work they’re studying.”

An additional course—offered to complement the seven industries—teaches soft skills. These include problem solving, communication, and teamwork dynamics.

Learning at Your Own Pace

Crum’s team created the curriculum, scripts, and workbook materials, in consultation with sector experts. Videos are five minutes or less, produced to be short and digestible, for easy learning and retention. As each segment is completed, students take a test or quiz, and then receive a certificate of completion.

Students who don’t pass a test receive more than just a grade. They receive immediate feedback.

“You get a study plan, such as, ‘Here are the areas where you’re having a hard time. We suggest you start with these lessons…’ and provide direction for learners. It’s not just marked as a wrong answer, but we tell them what they need to do to get to the right answer,” Crum says.

The program was created for independent learners, accessible for purchase through KET’s online store for $12 per course. But learning centers across the country can also purchase the study system which includes additional class management tools.

Removing Barriers to Economic Advancement

“Most of our target population is adult learners who need some assistance and motivation. Some have had a hard time in regular school and may not have the foundation they need to learn on their own.”

“Health care and manufacturing are the most populated courses, but that is because they debuted in 2018 as our first pilots and then we began rolling out sectors two at a time. Soft skills is widely used and was the most requested course when we launched our ‘free for 30 days’ offer. We continue to support educators and learners through this difficult time,” Crum says, referring to the pandemic.

Because students can access and complete courses at their own pace, Crum says KET’s online education programs are ideal for people looking to break into a preferred industry, and even pursue higher education.

“For folks who are high school dropouts, or coming out of corrections, as an example, they need this foundation. Maybe they use the GED program to pass an entrance test to get into a local community college to get an associate degree. We really view these courses as a good strong foundation, but in a way that gives an introduction to each sector,” she says. “They are good examples of how, in real life, we use those basic-level skills.”