About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Reflections on Citizen Literacy Taster and the CareerTech Challenge Fund


We see adult literacy as a matter of social justice. According to UK government figures 6 million adults of working age have low levels of literacy, which is a major social and economic disadvantage in a modern economy like the UK.

There is considerable stigma attached to being an adult with low literacy in our society, which can make it difficult for people to seek help.

One of the aims of the ‘Taster’ project was to overcome this fear of seeking help by providing a smartphone app that learners can use before they seek out a local adult literacy class. We know from experience that building confidence and a positive attitude are key success factors for all learners

How does the app work?

This is one of the first smartphone apps designed specifically for adult literacy learners. It makes effective use of technologies like voice and handwriting recognition. As well as our technical innovations, the educational design is a first in the field for adult literacy.

Our approach is based on our own experience of working with adult learners in community settings, most of whom own and use a smartphone. The app is supported by an integrated package of teacher handbooks and student workbooks for use in face-to-face settings.

The learner app will always be free, open access, with no adverts, no in-app purchases and no capture of personal data. You can watch a short video about the app here.

We are working on a teacher version of the app that will allow teachers to register their students to join a virtual classroom that can support students between their face-to-face classes.

Where is the app available?

The app is available for download from the Google play and Apple App stores globally. The supporting printed materials (Teacher Handbooks and Student Workbooks) will also be available globally via online print on demand services. To reach our learners we will work with community and professional networks

What progress have we made to date?

We have been user testing the app design since October 2020 and using the feedback to refine the design. We have reached 1,187 individual users via the site and have had over 15,000 page views. The feedback from learners and teachers has been outstanding.

It treats the learners like adults and having the consistency of using the same app throughout the course will facilitate access, making it much easier for learners to achieve autonomy in study.


Lessons learned

Opportunity to engage in low-stakes, bite-sized literacy learning was appreciated by beginner literacy learners.

Learners appreciated being able to access an app that is ‘always with you’; they did not have to wait until their next adult literacy class (if they were attending one), and they could assimilate using the app within their daily routine.

Teachers and advocates also reported that a benefit of the app was that it offered ‘bite-size’ learning opportunities, which could be used by learners in their own time and/or as a way to improve and develop their skills in-between face-to-face learning.

There is an urgent need for age-appropriate adult literacy resources

We designed the course drawing on our experience of working with adults existing knowledge. The app was viewed by learners, teachers and advocates universally as a welcome change from the ‘cat sat on the mat’ phonic-approaches that have been designed predominantly for children.

The critical role of advocates and trusting relationships in literacy learning

Covid-19 has stripped away almost all face-to-face contact between adult literacy learners and their teachers and/or their advocates, which meant that questionnaire return and engagement in interview has been significantly reduced for our evaluation.

This is an important finding in itself in relation to working with beginner adult literacy learners; it highlights the importance of a trusting and caring relationship with a teacher or advocate, and the critical role they play during face-to-face work in building learners’ confidence and self-esteem - to engage in literacy learning opportunities but also to share their views and opinions about their learning.

Future plans

The Citizen Literacy team are aiming to have the full Part 1 course and supporting resources completed and available in the summer of 2021. The team is also working on Part 2 and Part 3 Courses that would take a learner to study at GSCE level and a registered teacher version of the app.

To find out more, contact [email protected].


Citizen Literacy App Partners

You can watch the Citizen Literacy CareerTech Challenge pitch video below


Diane Gardner

Head of Applied Research, City of Glasgow College

John Casey

Senior Learning Technologist, City of Glasgow College