Digital Readiness, Confidence Gaps Affect Online Education

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, access to technology isn't the only thing dividing Americans when it comes to online education. They also fall along a spectrum of "digital readiness," and those who aren't as tech-savvy as others may not bother to learn.

One report showed that the adoption of technology for learning, both for personal and for career reasons, varies by socio-economic status, race and ethnicity, and their level of access to home broadband and smartphones.

Another report showed that many users are unable to use the internet and mobile devices for simple tasks like looking for jobs.

The Pew Center assessed American adults according to five factors: their confidence in using computers, their ability to get new technology to work for them, their use of digital tools for online learning, their ability to determine how trustworthy online information is, and their familiarity with "ed tech" terms.

Researchers used cluster analysis to place people into five groups based on similarities in their answers to questions.

52% of adults were relatively hesitant when it comes to online learning. This group is made up of three smaller groups — the unprepared (14%), the traditional learners (5%), and the reluctant (33%).

The unprepared have low levels of digital skills as well as a low trust for online information no matter its source. They are the least likely to pursue online learning and are the least tech-savvy of all the groups. They are most likely to be women, aged 50 and older, of lower income households and lower levels of formal education. Traditional learners, the smallest group, are active learners who tend to use traditional means over technological ones due to a low trust in online information. They tend to be women and minorities. The reluctant have higher levels of digital skills, but don't use online learning to their advantage and have low levels of awareness of education tech concepts. These tend to be men, aged 50 and older, of lower income households and lower levels of formal education.

48% of adults were more likely to make use of online learning tools. This group is made up of two smaller groups — the cautious clickers (31%) and the digitally ready (17%).

The cautious clickers are tech-savvy enough to use the tech resources at their disposal and have trust in certain proven internet sources, but they are not as likely to have used the internet for learning as the digitally ready are. Most of them are from higher income households, are in their 30s or 40s, and have some college experience. The digitally ready are active online learners who use the latest ed tech tools. They are more likely to be in higher income households and have a higher education level.

The researchers pointed out three notes about the analysis. First, these findings are not applicable to any other activity besides online learning. For example, people may be more, or less, competent at doing health-related web searches or finding a job on their mobile phones. Secondly, there is some overlap between the groups because of the nature of cluster analysis. Thirdly, this is an early stage of e-learning, and these percentages may change quickly in the next few years.

The full report is available on the Pew Research Center website.

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