September 20, 2016

Digital Readiness Gaps

2. The spectrum of digital readiness for e-learning

Because digital readiness encompasses a range of characteristics – people’s digital skills, trust in information, and use of tech in learning – it is impossible to develop five groups of the “digitally ready” from a single question. Instead, cluster analysis of the answers from the group of questions on skills, trust and use allows us to place respondents in groups according to the similarity of their answers.

On the subject of digital readiness for learning, one can imagine that one end of the spectrum contains people with low levels of knowledge of tech terms, little confidence with computers, and quite low levels of tech use in personal learning. At the other end are people who are very sophisticated when it comes to technology – they know what they are doing and they know the terminology. In between, some people may have a decent level of confidence with computers, but not much awareness of “ed tech” terms, and perhaps moderate levels of using the internet for learning.

For this study, the inputs were people’s answers to the questions listed in Chapter 1. The cluster analysis yielded five distinct groups, covered here in the descending order of digital readiness:

Digitally Ready: One-in-six adults (17%) make up the Digitally Ready who are confident in their online skills, display little hesitation about finding information online that they trust, are familiar with the emerging “ed tech” world, and have the technology assets to take advantage of it. They are well-off economically, highly educated and likely to be in their 30s or 40s. (See the Appendix for detailed breakdown of the demographic and tech usage traits of all the clusters.)

Two-thirds of the Digitally Ready have done some personal learning on the internet in the past 12 months, and four-in-ten (40%) say most or all of their learning takes place online. This notably exceeds the norm for a typical adult (31%). Further, the Digitally Ready are twice as likely as the average to have taken a course online: 33% have.

Cautious Clickers: This is the large middle grouping among the five clusters. They are the one-third of adults (31%) who are confident in their digital skills and are relatively aware of new “ed tech” concepts. They are distinct from the Digitally Ready because they are less likely to engage in personal learning either offline or online. For instance, Cautious Clickers are about 10-percentage points less likely than the Digitally Ready to attend meetings such as a book club or take courses pertaining to a hobby.

At the same time, Cautious Clickers turn to the internet for at least some level of personal learning at rates somewhat above average: 60% have. They are also more likely than average to have taken an online course (23% have). But their concern about trusting online information is real: 59% express concerns, which is right at the average and significantly less trusting than the Digitally Ready. This may be the source of their caution. At the same time, Cautious Clickers do use the internet for personal learning; some 37% use the internet for most or all of their learning vs. 31% for all personal learners. With respect to socio-economic status, the Cautious Clickers have above average educational and income levels. They are highly wired, with nearly 90% having home broadband or a smartphone.

After the Cautious Clickers come three groups that can broadly be categorized as relatively hesitant when it comes to using digital tools for learning. Some of them are not online at all. Others use digital tools, but are significantly less confident of their skills and are less sure of their capacity to find trustworthy information online. The groups are:

The Reluctant: This group makes up 33% of adults, and they have learning and tech asset profiles that are very similar to The Unprepared. What distinguishes this group from The Unprepared (see below) is the nature of their digital preparedness. They do not express much worry about being able to trust online information, but their confidence with computers and other electronic devices is a bit below average. Some 43% say they are very confident with computers, compared with 54% for all adults. Very few – just 1% – are very aware of any of the new “ed tech” concepts on our list.

Even though they have some degree of comfort with their digital skills, their reluctance manifests itself in relatively low levels of internet use for learning purposes. For instance, just 6% have taken an online course, and their use of the internet for all or most of their personal learning, at 23%, trails the figure for all adults who have done this (31%). Demographically, they are middle-aged and have relatively lower levels of income and education.

Traditional Learners: This is a small set of adults (5%) who are active learners, but not very keen on using technology to pursue their learning. Some 84% of Traditional Learners have done at least one personal learning activity in the past year, but they are fairly traditional in the way they pursue it. Part of this has to do with digital skills and trust. They generally need help with getting new devices to work (74% vs. 45% for all adults). And fully 90% say they have worries about whether they can trust information online, compared with the 60% of all adults.

Traditional Learners are generally familiar with new “ed tech” terms, but are less likely than the Digitally Ready and Cautious Clickers to use the internet for personal learning or to take an online course. To take one clear contrast, 40% of the Digitally Ready do some or all of their personal learning online, while this is true for just 23% of Traditional Learners. Demographically, Traditional Learners are more likely female, ethnically diverse, and lower- to lower-middle income.

The Unprepared: This group comprises one-in-seven adults (14%). Though half engage in basic lifelong learning activities such as reading “how to” magazines or other publications of interest, they do not venture too far beyond that. Some 63% have done at least one personal learning activity in the past year. Few (8%) are very familiar with new “ed tech” terms, and this group captures the two elements of low levels of digital readiness. The Unprepared are not confident in their digital skills: Only 17% are very confident with computers, less than a third of the 54% for all adults who say they are. Additionally, 87% of The Unprepared say they have difficulty determining what online information is trustworthy. They do not often turn to the internet for most or all of their learning (just 6% have taken an online course and 18% use the internet in their personal learning) and they have low levels of tech assets. They are an older group, with relatively lower levels of household income and educational attainment.

The Reluctant, Traditional Learners and The Unprepared are classified as relatively hesitant because they generally rank below the Digitally Ready and Cautious Clickers along several measures of digital readiness. The Unprepared are the most digitally wary because they rank low in all measures of skills, trust and use. The Reluctant differ little relative to all adults with trusting online information, but are not highly aware of tech terms and rate somewhat below average on measures of their tech skills. Traditional Learners show high levels of concern about trusting information they find online and are very likely to say they need help in getting gadgets to function. Relative to other groups, they are less likely to use the internet for learning.

The nearby charts show how key measures of digital readiness – use, trust and skills – compare across the five groups.

There is more material on the characteristics of each of the groups – in terms of how they answered the questions about digital readiness, the kinds of personal technology assets they have (which were not inputs into the statistical analysis that created the groups), and demography. The report’s Appendix contains tables with this information.