Digitalisation is a very important issue, especially in light of predictions of 7m adults being left behind due to digital exclusion in the next decade.
Digital exclusion can be the result of many factors: lack of devices, including smart phones, tablets and PCs, which can connect to the internet and give access to the multitude of digital services available; lack of funds with which to pay for devices, the internet and more; and lack of knowledge, including low levels of digital literacy skills and knowledge about how to use devices, systems and e-safety for example. All of the above can cause someone to be excluded from accessing digital services and reaping their benefits. It is also a cause for concern because technology continues to race forward, and if we’re not careful, it will leave more than 7m adults in its dust. And the knock-on consequences can be severe, effecting feelings of self-worth, social inclusion, pride, confidence, identity, health and community.
So much is online these days. If you’re not too, you’re going to miss out.
The situation for us
Digitalisation is an issue for employers in terms of keeping up with current trends and keeping services up to date. This can be difficult in terms of budgeting for resources, support, products, updates and even the hiring of employees to run them or set them up. It can also involve staff training in order to ensure everyone can access and use the technology adequately.
Digital exclusion affects employers because it can affect their employees. Employees feel pressure to keep up with digitalisation in order to meet the needs of their employers and also the needs of their learners. There’s so much digital technology and services involved in teaching that it’s easy to lose track and hard to keep up with it all. From fancy printers, interactive whiteboards and simple laptop programmes, to the more advanced progress tracking systems, VLEs and online training systems, navigating the plethora of digital tools and resources can be a challenge for even the most digitally literate person.
This can leave employees feeling anxious about their ability to keep up with employer expectations regarding all these tools and technologies, and perhaps feeling inadequate as they compare themselves to others in their teams, departments or service who are using digital technologies in all sorts of interesting and effective ways. We can feel like we’re letting our learners down as well if we can’t support their own use of digital tools and services, and if we can’t guide them on their own journeys.
It can be a minefield to traverse all the different ways to use all the different technologies and find the ones which suit us best, while still meeting the needs of employers and learners alike. Of course, the obvious answer is to spend time learning and developing your digital skills but this is one of the most challenging, especially for those more directly linked to teaching. Yet all staff need the opportunity and time to refresh, learn and develop their skills and knowledge. They need time and support to widen their repertoire, to experiment with and practise their skills but finding the time for this can be a hurdle that seems impossible to cross. The weekly task list is so long already and often a huge juggling act to balance. However, the time does need to be carved from somewhere if we don’t want our staff or our colleagues to be part of the digitally excluded.
What can be done?
As mentioned above, for the situation to change and improve, time, support and resources need to be given for those in need of it. This can be achieved by different means:
• peer mentoring can take place between someone who feels more confident with digital technologies or a particular system/tool and someone with less confidence.
• one or two members of staff can attend external training sessions and disperse the information among the rest of the group.
• in-house training can be purchased, and all can be encouraged to attend so as not to signal anyone out – after all, there’s always something to learn or relearn.
• employers can create their own training materials to support their employees with using their systems.
• employees can shadow others as they use the systems and technologies.
• time can be set aside for individuals to develop their skills.
Why is it important?
Because it’s not just about us and our capabilities with the digital technologies at work, but about keeping up with the rapid digitalisation at work and home. Employers, employees and learners all need to be able to access and use digital tools within our daily lives in whatever we need, without barriers.
It is also important because we need to remember that digital inclusion is part of our domain and duty of care as well. Learners will need opportunities, encouragement and support in order to develop their skills in these areas, alongside their other learning. We need to be aware that it might be a cause for concern and anxiety for our learners, that they might be worried about keeping up with the online aspects or whether their lack of skills and knowledge will affect their chance of success. It may even cause them to feel embarrassed or form part of a lack in self-confidence.
Another reason for thinking about digitalisation and those 7m adults at risk of being left behind… the Centre for Economics and Business Research has compiled a report claiming the financial consequences of not achieving better digital inclusion could in the billions. They also say that investing in upskilling digital skills in the workforce could save £21.9bn within a decade – a £15 benefit for every £1 invested.
Clearly, digitalisation, digital literacy and digital inclusion are all topics we should be discussing and we should be doing our bit to #bridgethedigitaldivide.