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USA Learns helps immigrants learn English

Watch IRS professor Jerome Johnston discuss a new Web site
designed for immigrants >

A new Web site that teaches English to Spanish-speaking immigrants has attracted more than 500,000 visitors in its first three months of operation.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the site,, is the result of a collaboration between Project IDEAL at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the Sacramento County Office of Education in California.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the usage this new site has attracted so far," says Jerome Johnston, an ISR research professor and Project IDEAL director. "It's an important attempt to increase our capacity to supplement classroom-based English as a Second Language instruction for some 12 million U.S. adults who have low levels of English proficiency."

The site has been averaging more than 7,000 visits a day, with users studying the materials for 25 minutes per visit, Johnston says.

Before launching the site, Project IDEAL staff conducted extensive testing in communities around the country, including Detroit. Even adults with little or no computer skills were able to use the site.

"For the last 10 years, we've been working on the problem of adult literacy," Johnston says. "Even though there is a large classroom-based effort, this only meets the needs of between 5 and 7 percent of adult learners. So we've been concentrating on using technology to increase opportunities and reach more adult learners.

"USA Learns is one of many experiments in using technology to get more resources out to learners than we've been able to afford to do using only classroom-based education."

Online instruction is more accessible to adults who may be juggling several jobs and family responsibilities, and who find it difficult or impossible to attend formal classes. "USA Learns is available whenever learners have the time to study," Johnston says.

Online education also has great potential for assisting U.S. workers to retrain for new occupations and careers, Johnston says. "We're making tremendous progress in developing online learning programs that are both effective and user-friendly. These programs are shaping up as important tools in creating a workforce that fits the needs of the 21st century."

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