CROSSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: a basic kit for the adult learner

EGSA would like to introduce the Media Literacy blog’s first guest blogger: Anne Peoples, University of Ulster:


Now seems a good moment to reconsider the Digital Divide and how to equip adult learners to get across it.  We’re led to believe that the Divide is geographical and/ or generational but is this really the case?

Helene Blowers has identified the new Digital Divide (Reality Check 2.010), as one between those with the skills to find and use information and those without.  Among some of the skills she highlights are:

  • Knowing how to “think” about search
  • Knowing how to validate soft information
  • Knowing how to get information to travel to you instead of chasing it
  • Knowing where to find information in new “hot” channels

These skills are neither intuitive nor acquired by osmosis.  Their acquisition is critical to successful learning but they are undervalued and frequently ignored by teachers and students. Mark Moran in a recent posting highlighted growing concerns about children’s information illiteracy, indicating that so-called digital natives have in fact very limited information skills at their disposal.  What hope then for the adult learner’s information literacy skills in the digital age?

Social media can provide a solution and it is worth investing time to put together a learning toolkit, to support a personal learning environment that is fit for purpose.

So how to go about this?  These are my top 10 recommendations to include in a study skills programme for adult learners.  All are free.

  1. Learn about different tools.  Follow one of the many 23 Things courses independently.
  2. Use the online reference resources provided by Libraries NI, or any public library. Library members can access these from home.
  3. Improve search skills and don’t stick to Google. YouTube is the second biggest search engine, offering a vast array of tutorials and lectures on video.  Slideshare is also a useful source for unique content, as are Facebook’s Groups and Pages.
  4. Storing and keeping track of useful web pages is made much easier with Delicious, the social bookmarking site.  Delicious is also a useful search tool in itself.
  5. Personal start pages are a great way for individuals to access their most used social media tools and sites in one place. Try iGoogle  or Netvibes
  6. Get a Google account.  Access books and articles online on Google Books and Google Scholar.  Travel the world on Google Earth and Google Images
  7. Access educational content from universities, broadcasters, museums and individuals on iTunesU, by downloading podcasts from iTunes and check out free course material from Open Courseware and the OU’s OpenLearn .
  8. Read and follow relevant blogs. Subscribe by e-mail or via an RSS feed like Google Reader.
  9. Blogging reinforces learning and focuses thinking.  A private learning blog can record individual learning progress and form the basis of an e-portfolio.  Blogger is easy to set up and use.
  10. Filter information and cut out the timewasting sites. Use De Montfort University’s Information Source Evaluation Matrix, developed as a self-help evaluation tool for students to assess the quality of websites.

Learn how to use these tools and resources and the adult learner will be across the Digital Divide in no time

Anne Peoples


Profile: Anne Peoples has many years experience as a senior manager in public libraries in Northern Ireland, and is a Fellow of CILIP. Anne is currently a tutor in Library and Information Management at the University of Ulster, and jointly co-ordinates the modules on Improving Library Practice and Leadership in Libraries. She develops and delivers introductory courses on Web 2.0 to adult groups and at present is working with her local University of the Third Age. In 2008 she was appointed as a Trustee of the National Museums of Northern Ireland. She uses social media on a daily basis for her personal learning and professional development.

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A Digital Participation Plan for NI

Last Tuesday Ofcom held a symposium to discuss Digital Participation in Northern Ireland. At the event Dominic Ridley from the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills presented the National Plan for Digital Participation (which includes a section on Northern Ireland).  He was followed by Dr Paul Moore, Chair of the Northern Ireland Digital Participation Hub, who introduced the hub’s Digital Participation Plan for NI which is aligned to the national plan.

A reccuring theme through both presentations was the 3 components of digital participation:

  • Digital Inclusion: encouraging and supporting people to get online
  • Digital Life: basic digital skills to increase employability and life chances
  • Digital Media Literacy: using, understanding and creating screen media

The NI Digital Participation Hub will develop an action plan for NI based on the following three phases (the skill level increasing through each phase):

  1. Information: basic skill but requiring high level of encouragement and support – activities can include searching, emailing and online commerce
  2. Participation: more skill and confidence required – activities can include social networking, blogging and online chat
  3. Creative: high level of technical skill – activities can include web design, image manipulation and programming

The plan identifies a number of possible strategic objectives:

  • Launch of a locally focused Social Marketing Programme (SMP) supported Hub members (Feb 2010-Nov 2010).
  • Undertaking of an in-depth qualitative analysis of present provision supported by the University of Ulster (Feb 2010-Jun 2010).
  • Targeting of inclusion strategies to older people (post-55) and rural communities to be facilitated by liaison Hub member organisations and local voluntary organisations (2010-2011).
  • Creation of online social network support groups for young people and adult learners (2010-2011).
  • Establishment of a ‘network apprenticeship’ scheme (2011-2012)
  • Embedding of accredited digital skills in school curriculum (2010-2012)
  • Identification of a sponsor for the supply of ‘affordable’ hardware (on-going).

The driver behind both plans is the Digital Britain report which defined digital participation as:

Increasing the reach, breath and depth of digital technology use across all sections of the society, to maximise digital participation and the economic and social benefits it can bring.

Basically, digital participation is about bringing everyone along in the digital journey. Those who, for whatever reason, do not embrace this journey may find themselves slowly excluded from services and benefits which the digital literate population take for granted.  There are enough significant economic and social benefits for the population and government to ensure that a u-turn in this journey is unlikely.

I would encourage you to read the NI plan and to support digital participation.