Improving Adult Skills Education: Early Findings to Inform the Teaching Skills That Matter (TSTM-SkillBlox Instructional Support Pilot

The TSTM-SkillBlox Instructional Support Pilot is exploring how the TSTM instructional framework, delivered through the SkillBlox online platform, can improve technology-enabled adult skills instruction. 

We launched the first component of the pilot, an implementation study of TSTM, in Fall of 2021 to explore the needs and experiences of teachers who are aligning their instructional practices with TSTM. We found promising practices and identified obstacles to inform development of SkillBlox that supports TSTM implementation. 

About the TSTM-SkillBlox Instructional Support Pilot

Callout describing this initiative's connection to OCTAE and a brief description of the TSTM framework

This project is a collaboration of the American Institutes for Research and World Education, a division of JSI, partners in the CREATE Adult Skills Network. It is designed to support TSTM scaling efforts by providing teachers with an innovative tool and relevant content for integrating TSTM into their existing instruction. 

The project has three components: 

  1. An implementation study in states participating in the federally funded TSTM initiative.
  2. The feature development of SkillBlox, an application for adult educators to identify, structure, and share open educational resources aligned with the TSTM framework and other adult education standards.
  3. pilot study with two stages: (a) an initial study of the usability of SkillBlox and the feasibility of implementing it in the classroom to support TSTM-aligned instruction, and (b) an implementation and outcomes study.

Implementation Study Findings

We explored teachers’ early efforts, promising practices, and challenges in using and scaling up TSTM-aligned instruction in Fall 2021-Summer 2022 through a set of virtual focus groups and a survey conducted in eight states.

In terms of the TSTM skills, topics, and teaching approaches used (see “Core Elements of the TSTM Framework” below), all teachers surveyed reported that they integrated at least four of the nine TSTM skills extensively, and over two-thirds said that they integrated at least eight skills extensively into their instruction. Most teachers (80 percent) reported integrating at least two of the five TSTM topics extensively into their instruction, and all teachers integrated at least one of the two TSTM instructional approaches extensively.

Core Elements of the TSTM Framework

Table that lists out the 9 TSTM skills, 5 TSTM topic areas, and 3 TSTM teaching approaches

Note. From

In talking with teachers, we identified several promising practices in scaling TSTM-based instruction within states:

  • Providing opportunities for teachers to work and learn collaboratively in multiple ways that build on their existing knowledge and strengths.
  • Offering access to coaches and others who are knowledgeable about TSTM, including through flexible “office hours.”
  • Leveraging TSTM lessons in the existing TSTM Toolkit and dividing them into smaller modules for easier adaptation and integration into instruction.
  • Obtaining buy-in and the support of state and local administrators for scaling up TSTM.

We found that teachers’ TSTM implementation was constrained by two main challenges:

  • Pandemic-related transitions to online instruction.
  • Lack of time and capacity to integrate TSTM into instruction, exacerbated by the loss of trained TSTM “teacher leaders” and the part-time status of most adult education teachers.

Implications for TSTM Implementation

Efforts to continue support for TSTM rollout and scale-up are underway at the federal, state, and local levels. The implementation study findings are intended to help inform those efforts and to guide the development of a set of new instructional resources and features in the SkillBlox application that support TSTM-aligned instruction, along with PD and technical assistance materials to support users. TSTM-SkillBlox is one potential way to help bring the field closer to the goal of widespread integration of TSTM-based instruction in adult education classrooms, as shown in the graphic below.

Flowchart showing how promising practices and challenges lead to project goals

Note. From Teaching Skills That Matter-SkillBlox Instructional Support Pilot.

We will use what we learned from the national initiative to support TSTM scale-up during the pilot in two ways: 

  1. Designing SkillBlox features and open and free resources to reduce the time and difficulty associated with integrating TSTM into instruction. The TSTM-aligned content and instructional planning features of SkillBlox will make it easier for users to find relevant digital resources and activities in the SkillBlox library. 
  2. Incorporating promising practices for supporting TSTM scale-up. The supports for using SkillBlox during the pilot—including virtual training sessions, “office hours,” and other technical assistance—will provide the flexibility teachers identified as being important by “meeting teachers where they are.” The training sessions will also model how to create and adapt lessons—a practice cited by teachers as being especially helpful—and provide opportunities for practice, discussion, and reflection. 

For more details on the TSTM implementation and pilot, please read our report here.