Thursday, 26 June 2008

The new digital divide: those that can and can’t use web 2.0 (the “competent learner”)

At the recent EFQUEL (European Foundation for Quality in eLearning) forum in Lisbon, the delegates enjoyed the presentations around web 2.0, informal learning and social collaboration. These methods seem to be changing the way people learn. However, they were very concerned that many lecturers/tutors and some students could not use these new web 2.0 tools.

In the roundtable question and answer session, I answered a number of questions around what I call the “new digital divide” (see the above 2 minute You Tube video! or go to The old digital divide was around access to a computer and the web, while the new digital divide is between those that can use web 2.0 and those that can’t. Those that can’t use web 2.0 will increasingly be at a significant disadvantage (web 2.0 is around social collaboration and user generated content. It is amazing how much you can share, interact and learn from the various “How to…..“ guides, from Wiki‘s, blogs, RSS feeds, communities of practice etc).

As a society, we need to ensure that people have the skills to be a competent learner with web 2.0. We need to teach people “how to learn”. In a way this isn’t a new concept as a good teacher will always nature competent learners.

At my company (Ufi learndirect), we hope to produce new resources or courses to help people become a competent learner in the web 2.0 world (in order to explain web 2.0, how to use it and how it can help you learn). This will hopefully help to overcome the new digital divide and help learners to use the web for lifelong learning (it will also help people to learn with learndirect as we increasingly incorporate more and more web 2.0 tools into our curriculum).

Please do email me at if you would like a copy of an (internal!) report on the “Modern Digital Divide”. This was written by Ben Tomkinson who works in my team at Ufi. It’s a really good report which outlines how the digital divide has changed. As a result we need to change our solutions to the issue.

That’s the end of the blog (!!), but please continue to read if you want a flavour of Ben’s report.

PS. The original term “digital divide” emerged in the mid 1990s to describe the gap between those that own a computer and those that don’t (the term then changed to describe those who had regular access to the internet and those that don’t). It was felt that those who do not have access to the internet will be disadvantaged and that society/government needed policies to bridge this divide (75% of “hard to reach” people/those that are socially excluded are also digitally excluded).

The digital divide is reducing (now 64% of the population are online). The issues are changing rapidly - it is not just about access to the internet, there is a different rural vs. urban issue (more about cost and speed than access), the male/female divide has disappeared etc. There is still a digital divide with the disabled in particular, with older learners (though reducing!) and those that have severe multiple barriers (eg. a combination of many areas including, low skills, debt, drugs, homeless, unemployed). In addition, some middle class/wealthy people don‘t want to use the web for various reasons. It is no longer a working class vs. middle class split (see

The new digital divide for me is between those that can use web 2.0 and those that can’t.

I hope that Ufi learndirect will be able to help bridge this gap. But I also hope that Government’s (UK and EU) can shift their policy. Much of Government policy still seems to address the digital divide of the mid 1990s rather than the digital divide of 2008.

PPS. The other hope is that web 2.0 is meant to be intuitive. I don’t fully subscribe to this at the moment, but hope that one day it will be!!! Web 2.0 is certainly easier to use than web 1.0!!!

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