Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


Current reports of literacy rates in Australia indicate a persisting discrepancy in literacy skills between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australian adults at a time when the literacy demands of work and life continue to intensify. There are many perspectives of the literacy needs of Aboriginal adults, including opinions from the literature, literacy practitioners, and Aboriginal community members themselves. These needs include adult basic education skills such as reading, writing and mathematics education, as well as employability training and the ever-increasing demand for technology competencies.

Current and active projects worldwide are attempting to alleviate literacy issues and lessen the glaring skills discrepancy in Aboriginal communities by providing opportunities for flexible learning contexts in online, live-time, and mobile environments. The goal of implementing these synchronous platforms is to provide flexible learning opportunities to suit learners’ busy schedules and needs, while enabling them to learn in “anytime, anywhere” environments.

The purpose of this research was to investigate how the literacy needs of adult learners in an Australian Aboriginal community could effectively be supported by the use of synchronous technology. The aim was to develop best practices to support adult literacy learners in Aboriginal communities within this context.

The research questions were three-fold. Firstly, the research identified the adult literacy needs in Aboriginal communities as derived from three sources; the literature reviewed, literacy practitioners interviewed, and from discussion with community members. Secondly, the types of supports and technology already in use by literacy practitioners in Aboriginal community settings were examined. Thirdly, and central to the research, was the creation of a set of principles and a model to be applied in similar teaching and learning contexts.

The theoretical framework for this research was a combination of three theoretical perspectives; Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory, Lave and Wenger’s (1991) situated learning model and Henderson’s (1996) multiple cultural model. The three perspectives, depicted as encompassing circles, became more refined and introspective of the learning landscape of Aboriginal communities as each layer of theory was added.

To investigate the creation of an environment that best supports adult Aboriginal literacy learners with the use of synchronous technologies, a research approach that could incorporate practitioner knowledge and community participation in the creation of a solution was desirable. A paradigm that could also provide opportunities to test the solution was needed. For these reasons, the design-based approach (Reeves, 2006) was employed.

The process of research when using a design-based approach was undertaken in four phases. Initially design-based research involved the identification of the problem of literacy skill acquisition, and support and technology currently implemented. In the second phase, a collaborative community engagement project was developed as a solution to the problem identified. This was based on the draft-guiding principles drawn from the literature, consultation with literacy practitioners, and the community. The third phase of the research involved three iterations of the project in which the guiding principles were refined and the project reflected and improved at each phase. Finally, in the fourth phase of the research, eleven design-based principles emerged that will guide future research in the areas of online learning and Aboriginal adult literacy learners. This phase also presented an original model that added a further dimension to the assembled theoretical framework. The proposed Community Strength Model offers a conceptual approach to systems of learning in Aboriginal communities, starting with community-based goals and directions, and building shared learning experiences through authentic voice and community strength.

Together, these design-based principles and Community Strength Model can inform future directions in curriculum design and teaching approaches for community-based synchronous learning for Aboriginal adult learners.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.