Research and Reading

There are many organisations with websites dedicated to the publication and dissemination of research undertaken in the adult and family literacy field. Here are just a few recommended by TCAL, as well as some noteworthy research publications to download.

National Literacy Organisations


ProLiteracy is the leading resource and champion for adult education and literacy worldwide. It is the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the United States and for more than 60 years, has been working across the globe to change lives and communities through the power of literacy.

Literacy Aotearoa

Literacy Aotearoa is a national organisation of adult literacy providers and is a leading commentator on literacy issues in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Literacy Aotearoa’s definition of literacy is: Literacy is listening, speaking, reading, writing, numeracy and critical thinking, interwoven with the knowledge of social and cultural practices. Literacy empowers people to contribute to and improve society.

National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA)

Since 2000, Ireland’s National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) has been using television, radio, print, telephones and the internet to provide educational opportunities to people who want to improve their literacy. NALA operates a Distance Learning Service and provides tutor support over the phone and internet. We also manage an e-learning website where people can have their skills assessed across a number of areas and then be prescribed an individual learning plan to improve these areas.

National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)

In Australia, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has funded a number of research projects. The reports developed from these projects examine a wide range of literacy and numeracy issues, from evidence-based teaching and learning strategies, to the professional development needs of literacy practitioners.

National Centre for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)

In Canada, the National Centre for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) was a federally funded research and development centre focused solely on adult learning. NCSALL offered an accessible, timely, and valuable source of pertinent information for the field of adult literacy education. All materials are available to download.

National Institute for Literacy (NIFL)

In the US, the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) was created to provide national leadership on adult literacy through improved communication and information exchange. The Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) Resource Collection provides free online access to high-quality, evidence-based, vetted materials for use by adult educators.

National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC)

The National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC) was established by the UK government in 2002 as part of its Skills for Life strategy that aimed to improve the literacy, numeracy and language skills of adults in England. On this website you will find over 150 publications produced by NRDC since then, including research reports, research reviews and policy analysis.

Major international research publications

Kruidenier, J. R., Macarthur, C. A. and Wrigley, H. S. (2010). Adult education literacy instruction: A review of the research. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

McShane, S. (2005). Applying research in reading instruction for adults: first steps for teachers. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy

Dehaene, S., Cohen, L., Morais, J., & Kolinsky, R. (2015). Illiterate to literate: Behavioural and cerebral changes induced by reading acquisition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 234–244.  – research demonstrating that adults develop the same brain structures as children when learning to read.

Kilpatrick, David A. Assessing, preventing and overcoming reading difficulties. (2015). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. (*Includes research on children and adults)

Dehaene, S. Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read (2010). USA: Penguin. (*Includes research on children and adults)

Citizen Literacy – reading and writing for everyoneCitizen Literacy White Paper (p.6)

Janet McHardy’s Research

Dr Janet McHardy has extensive experience teaching, mentoring and advising in adult literacy and numeracy, and vocational education contexts in New Zealand and Australia. Her specific expertise includes building reading skills with a focus on research informed practice. The practices of less-skilled adult word-readers and those that teach them were the focus of a series of publications and a PhD completed at the University of Western Australia. 

McHardy, J.  and Chapman, E. (2021). What strategies do less skilled adult readers use to read words, and how aware are they of these strategies? Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 71 (1) 73–8

McHardy, J.  and Chapman, E. (2019). The Teaching Focus of Adult-Reading Teachers When Developing Word Reading Skill. Literacy Vol. 53 (3)

McHardy, J. and Chapman, E. (2019). Adult literacy teachers’ perspectives on reading difficulties and the origins of these difficulties. Adult literacy education, Spring 6-18

McHardy, J.  et al. (2018). How less-skilled adult readers experience word-reading. Australian journal of language and literacy Vol. 41 (1)

McHardy, J.  and Chapman, E. (2016). Adult reading teachers’ beliefs about how less-skilled adult readers can be taught to read. Literacy and numeracy studies Vol. 24 (2)

2021 Video presentation: Striving to be a responsive practitioner

Presentation on ‘Striving to be a responsive practitioner’ by Dr Janet McHardy, guest speaker at the Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy 2021 Professional Learning Event ‘Getting Research into Practice’. Janet discusses the research she undertook while completing a PhD at the University of Western Australia in 2017 on the topic of ‘Less-skilled adult word reading: the experiences and practices of readers and teachers’.

Stephen Reder Reading

Dr Stephen Reder is professor emeritus of applied linguistics at Portland State University. Reder’s research and advocacy interests focus on adult literacy and language development, lifelong and lifewide learning, and the impact that adult education programs and policies have on equity of social and economic outcomes.

Reder, Stephen (2012) The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning: Challenging Assumptions
This Research Brief, published by Montreal’s The Centre for Literacy, provides key findings and recommendations following a study about the development of literacy in adult life. Key questions addressed as part of the research included:

  • To what extent do adults’ literacy abilities continue to develop after they are out of school?
  • What are adult learners’ patterns of participation over time in literacy training and education? In other learning contexts?
  • What life experiences are associated with adult literacy development?
  • How do formally organised basic skills programs contribute to these learning trajectories? Workplace training? Other contexts and activities?
  • What impacts does adult literacy development have on social and economic outcomes?

Wicht, A., Reder, S., Lecher,C.M. (2021). Sources of individual differences in adults’ ICT skills
Abstract: We develop an integrative conceptual framework that seeks to explain individual differences in the ability to use information and communication technologies (ICT skills). Building on practice engagement theory, this framework views the continued usage of digital technologies at work and in everyday life (ICT use) as the key prerequisite for the acquisition of ICT skills. At the same time, the framework highlights that ICT use is itself contingent upon individual and contextual preconditions. We apply this framework to data from two recent German large-scale studies (N = 2,495 and N = 2,786, respectively) that offer objective measures of adults’ ICT skills. Findings support our framework’s view of ICT use as a key prerequisite for ICT skills. Moreover, they demonstrate that literacy skills have strong associations with ICT skills, largely by virtue of their indirect associations through ICT use.

Reder, S. (2020). A Lifelong and Life-Wide Framework for Adult Literacy Education
In this forum, I argue that adult literacy education needs to be repositioned within a new framework of lifelong and life-wide learning, a framework in which new policies are formulated, programs are designed and evaluated, and research is funded and carried out. To appreciate how much this suggested framework differs from the neoliberal framework in which adult education is currently embedded, it is worth considering briefly how neoliberalism has gained its foothold in (some would say its stranglehold on) adult education.

Tasmanian Research

TasCOSS (2011) Tasmanian Voices: Adult Motivations for Learning Core Skills
The primary purpose of this research was to capture the views, thoughts and ideas of Tasmanian adults with low core skills in order to gain an understanding of what would motivate them to engage in core skills programs. This qualitative research project
consulted ninety (90) adult men and women across Tasmania. Thirty (30) of those adults were currently engaged in a literacy program and sixty (60) were disengaged, in the sense that they were not currently participating improve their core skills. Summary of findings: Low core skills significantly impacted on the everyday lives of the majority of adults participating in this research. Many adults reported being unable to perform everyday tasks, and were limited in their capacity to fully participate in the workforce, and to contribute to and fully participate in family and community life. Many reported increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and frustration, low self-confidence, and limited personal aspirations.