Automatization and Retention of Literacy Skills in Adult Learners

James M Bebko
Thomas Rhee
Carly McMorris
Magali Segers


Findings from recent efficacy studies comparing literacy program types suggest that struggling adult readers often make limited to moderate gains across varied types of literacy interventions, with no specific approach consistently surpassing others to date. An alternative to comparing program types is to investigate whether there are specific characteristics or skills that vary by individual that can predict higher gains and skill retention across program type. Using an experimental, prospective, longitudinal design, the present study examined the role of automatization (over-learning) of component skills involved in reading during participation in general literacy programs. On average, participants in the study gained the equivalent of one full reading grade-level after participation in programs for six months. The degree of automatization of reading skills was found to be the strongest predictor of gains made during programs; a measure of automatization was also the strongest predictor of subsequent retention of skills, months later at follow-up testing. Implications for adult literacy practitioners and directions for future research related to skill retention are discussed.

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