Adults and Young People as Digital Learners Barriers, IMPACT OF A LACK OF SKILLS and motivators

The impact of not being digitally literate on adults and young people

There are six main impacts that both adults and young people experience as a result of not being digitally literate. They are as follows:

Financial impact

If an adult or young person is not digitally literate in society today then they are at a disadvantage when it comes to shopping for the best bargain in that they have less of a choice of products, finding a job and improving their skills and knowledge. Young people would also have no access to student finance websites so could lose out on support and grants. Adults could also miss out on any benefits or pensions applications, to which they may be entitled. Ironically, those without digital literacy skills are the ones who most need to manage their finances more carefully to avoid debt and yet they are the ones who would benefit from giving the awareness of personal finances that online banking can give quickly and easily. Most of the best deals are found online when shopping. As far as employment is concerned, most jobs are advertised online only, meaning that these jobs do not reach the digitally illiterate. As a direct consequence of this, there will be an unskilled workforce and jobs available that people will not have the skills to do. This has an obvious effect on the economy.


Without skills in the field of digital literacy and the social interaction that occurs as a result of digital knowledge, i.e social media such as Twitter and Facebook, people, especially adults, will feel isolated from certain groups and not be able to develop their lifelong learning skills. They will not able to keep in touch so easily with family and friends and take advantage of video calling, Skype and Face Time. They could also feel socially excluded and also out of touch with the world as technology moves so quickly. They will, therefore, form their own opinions and ideas about certain topics. Young people tend be heavily involved with social media and the digital world, therefore a young person who does not have digital literacy skills would feel excluded from different groups both while in education and in their home life.Some people living in rural areas who are not able to get internet access could also feel isolated. Access is a big part of society's digital divide as even some people with access to the internet have a very low connection and this can effect what they can use on the internet.


Adults and young people who do not have digital literacy skills will not be able to get the best jobs. This is because most jobs, in today's society, will now expect people to have a certain level of technological understanding to be carry out the role to the expected standard. Without digital literacy skills or the ability to be able to afford a computer and internet access, neither group will not be able to search for jobs and know what is available for them to apply for. They would also not be able to research the company they would be applying to for a job. This would also give them a major disadvantage in comparison to other candidates. Many websites offer support, in a written or visual manner, with interview techniques, CV building and filling in application forms. They will also miss out on being able to apply online.All of these things will greatly disadvantage someone who is not digitally literate.

Getting the best deals

People with internet access are able to shop around and use comparison websites for the best deals before making a purchase. Using the internet to pay for goods can result in such things as discount for payment via direct debit and going paperless with utility or mobile phone bills. Internet users tend to benefit from money off vouchers for loyalty in certain stores also. Using the internet to shop also gives everyone a good idea of how much things cost, making budgeting on limited income much easier. Shopping online can also save time and money. If both groups are digitally illiterate or are unable to afford a computer or internet connection, then they would not be able to shop online and therefore could potentially end up paying more for their items. In some rural areas where the internet connections are poor, people would have to spend extra money travelling to shops to be able to buy what they needed.

Lifelong learning/education

If someone does not have digital literacy skills it can be very hard for them to be able to 'learn for life' as they may not have the skills to do this themselves. A lack of skills can impact on a young person's education in this day and age. The digital world advances at such a fast pace which could make some people feel scared of using new technology, especially adults. Some people will not have the literacy skills, let alone digital literacy skills, to be able to find the courses that they could attend. This could lead to depression and isolation. Young people can also be disadvantaged in the classroom without these skills too. They would be unable to share/collaborate on VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) like Blackboard and Moodle or with their peers on a homework project and they would be unable to use trusted websites to research. The quality of homework production could also suffer as schools teach and require homework to be completed on digital tools. Their parents, without digital literacy skills, will also find themselves unable to assist their children with digital based homework and they be able to keep a check on how their children are progressing at school, as this often done online.


Both groups would be unable to research information online relating to a health complaint and possible treatment and also find it hard to keep up to date with current health and well being advice. In addition, a lot of doctors' surgeries offer appointment bookings online as well as requests for repeat prescriptions, by not being ale to access these, time and money could be wasted. They will not be able to access interactive programs such as NHS Healthcheck UK that offer health checks and advice.Young people, particularly, would be unable to access websites for sexual health and may be too embarrassed to go to doctors which could end up in unwanted pregnancies, STD's etc. They will also miss out on joining support groups for encouragement and guidance and also they will not able to join online forums or blogs to share information and gain support from others about an illness. Without digital literacy, people, both adults and young people, with disabilities are unable to access the many tools available to assist them such as sign language and dyslexia.

Reasons why some people may not have fully developed digital literacy skills and the barriers to developing these skills

In this day and age, it is highly unlikely that a young person would not own, use or at least have access to, at least one digital device. However, there are a variety of reasons why a young person may not have developed digital literacy skills from such devices or have barriers in the development of such skills. The same can be said for adults, however, they are less likely to own, have access to or use a device the more mature they are.

For a start, they or their family may not be able to afford to buy or/and run a digital device. Someone living in a deprived area may feel that internet connection is lower on their list of priorities than those living in a more affluent area. Financial circumstances can also mean that the person may not have the most up to date device or technology, for example, they may chose an Android phone rather than an iPhone because it is cheaper. This can have significant effect on young people as this can cause a divide in friendships and even bullying. Certain financial constraints can also affect colleges, schools and training providers. Those who can update their technology do and those who cannot, do not. This can affect the young people learning in these institutions. In this situation the tools are likely to be limited and tend to be reserved for specific subjects rather than digital literacy. The educational places themselves and their marketing position in the education field can also be affected by this. The same is true for the workplace. Software is more commonly rented for as long as it is needed rather than bought, as it costs the company less. The introduction of any new software in the workplace can cause fear amongst employees, which can lead to them avoiding work (high sickness rates) and also leaving their employment. This causes a barrier to them developing their digital skills, as it in fact puts off the inevitable in future employment or may lead to them taking up poorly paid unskilled jobs where digital skills are not required (which are few and far between). As such this can also put a strain on the economy in the long term.

There may also be issues with their location, in that they cannot access the internet where they live, if they live in a remote place, or the internet connection is slow and poor. This can affect what devices, tools and technologies are available to them. An example of this, an adult who lives in a remote rural location near a mountain may be far less likely to have a high speed broadband connection due to the cost of linking the house to the wider network (telephone cabling may not be sufficient in this case). In this case, another issue with a remote location and lack of financial support is access to resources and also support. A local library could be miles away for such a person and even then, due to funding constraints, they may not possess any or limited (and maybe dated) digital tools.

A person’s cultural or/and religious influences may affect their use of technology. This is especially so when it comes to parents and their children, and can become problematic in the household when the young person is also influenced by peer pressure. This can cause them to be ostracized by their peers. Alternatively, they may fear that they may become a victim of cyber bullying or grooming etc (often produced as a result of media publicity of such issues) and refrain from using digital devices, especially if they are already being bullied. They may also be put off by the sense of self-image portrayed in social media and the pressures that that involves.

It is, however, more likely that a more mature adult may feel that they are ‘too old’ to learn new skills and rely on others to do things like internet shopping, look up information and deals on line. They perceive digital devices and tools as being for ‘young people’ (‘digital natives’) rather than for them (‘digital immigrants’). They feel that they have ‘got by’ without it so far, so they do not see the point in learning new skills or the purpose/benefits that new technology and digital devise may provide. They, therefore, lack motivation and confidence to develop new digital skills. They will often believe that they are so far behind and unable to keep up, especially with the introduction of new technologies on a daily basis. They can feel that it is like learning a new language. This is the most likely reason that they may not engage in digital literacy.

They often fear that they will do something wrong or make a mistake when using a device or tool and break it. This may or may not be the result of a negative experience when using digital tools. They also are fearful about what others will think if they are not digitally literate and may think that others will perceive them to be behind the times. As a result they often do not take digital skills seriously, attaching little importance to them and will often avoid using them or bringing them up in conversation. They often fear the internet as a result of being given or misinterpreting information in the media, from others, etc. An example of this could be the fear that by accessing the internet, they are open to viruses accessing their computer which can transfer to them and make them ill, that by accessing the internet others can steal from them and obtain information on them. They may also fear that it will make them less sociable, having often witnessed that young people tend to ‘glued’ to such devices and not interacting with family and friends.

People of all ages may also have poor basic skills (literacy or and numeracy or/and English is their second or other language) which are required to understand basic instructions and language involved in using certain technologies. They may also have trouble with problem solving when something perhaps goes wrong with a digital device or tool.

They also often lack the awareness of the benefit of these new technologies and digital devices can have on them, i.e. that they can make their lives easier and better, by enhancing the way that they perform a wide variety of tasks. An example of this is where an adult or young person does not see the link in the development of such digital skills and their place in the job market, i.e. that it can improve their marketability.

Disability can be a massive barrier to becoming a digital learner or to a learner accessing the digital world, without any suitable aids. For example, someone who is visually impaired may need an application or some software that provides an audio description of what you are doing on your desktop or devices that are voice activated

As such all of these factors can also be a massive barrier to the development of the person’s digital literacy as well as prevent them from developing such skills in the first place.

Overcoming these barriers

There are several ways in which a person may overcome such barriers. Firstly, the financial issue discussed above can be overcome by the provision of free digital tools without limit in local libraries and putting on free taster sessions in local cafes, community centres, care homes (to target the perception of the more mature adult that digital literacy is only for the young), etc. In addition to this, local authorities could provide this service via the use of ‘digi’ bus (to access more remote areas) to travel around the local area, as a library van, may do. This may also help a disabled person access digital resources rather than them having to travel, especially if the appropriate equipment and applications can be used in this resource. This would help them to also recognise the benefits of using such devices to their lives and also may help to address any cultural barriers, if, for example, technology can be shown as helping young people learn and in a more positive light, and not the negatives that are more frequently witnessed. Advertising such benefits via the media can also help. To combat the attitude of the more mature adult to digital tools, in addition to the idea above, local churches and community centres could run a ‘Techy’ tea, which more mature adults would be encouraged to attend I order to teach young people such skills as knitting and sewing in exchange for the young people teaching them technical skills using digital devices. Software and devices could be offered and bought by schools, colleges and other educational institutions for a reduced cost (subsidized by the Government). This would help improve learner skills. Encouraging people to improve their basic skills level would also help. Using digital tools to assist with this would not only improve their basic skills and confidence but also their digital skills and confidence simultaneously. They will be encouraged to use their problem solving skills throughout.

Reasons why someone may want to develop these skills

This said, there are a number of reasons why someone, of any age, may want to develop these skills. They may be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic motivation

More money and better deals

Much better financial management

Promotion and highly skilled

Communicating and keeping in touch

Downloading and listening to music and media

Increasing social circle

If they are intrinsically motivated they are motivated by factors inside themselves, such as having a sense of belonging in a social circle. They may want to find out what, where and when certain leisure activities are taking place, e.g. exercise classes or cinema times, information on hobbies, interests, as well as find old friends and find out more about their family history. This tends to motivate the more mature digital learner, as soon as they recognise that they can increase their social circle (and all the positives that that can involve) via social activities and hobby groups advertised on line in the local area, by using the internet. They may also want to improve and update their skills, for themselves and for employment purposes.

One of the key motivators to develop digital skills for young adults is the use of social media. Most young people, and indeed adults, use some form of social media and post details of events that they are attending and share photos and information of themselves and places/events that they have been to. They will often be greatly influenced by their peers. By using social media they can increase their social circle and access to social events or/and leisure activities that may interest them. They overall may gain pleasure and enjoyment from using the internet.

Extrinsic motivation

People may want to improve their lifestyle by gaining a promotion or improved job prospects by accessing training (possibly even remotely) and applying for university using the internet. They can also save money by shopping online or going to comparison sites using the internet. Therefore they are motivated by their desire to improve their financial situation. They also may want more control over their finances at whatever time of day suits them best by accessing internet banking. They may want to also appear to be confident when using such tools wherever they are, not just in the work place, but in front of peers. This maybe the case for young people especially, as their tutors in college and school, or even in a work placement or employment would maybe expect them to have a certain level of digital skill, given their age and the perception that they have been born into a ‘digital era’.

The importance of communication, relationship building and emotional intelligence when working with adults and young people undertaking digital literacy learning

Communication is highly important in the delivering digital literacy learning. There needs to be clear communication between the learner and the tutor for learning to take place. The learner and tutor both need to be able to listen effectively and respond to each other. The interaction between them is the place where the knowledge transaction takes place. It is where information is passed on, where the learner can ask for help, where they can influence a listener or their audience and communication can also be used to entertain

Within communication, verbal communication is often the one most commonly used when interacting with learners. Body language and tone are also highly important within this. It is important to understand both the benefits and weaknesses of this most basic communication.

At the start of a learning programme, the tutor needs to find out what the learner knows in order to develop a plan of learning. This is normally face to face, orally or a written form of communication. This can provide a challenge for the digital literacy tutor, i.e. how to extend the means of communication to include the use of digital tools, techniques and technologies.

Over the years communication has developed so it would be wrong for the tutor not to adapt their method of communication to meet the needs of the learner and to keep up the ‘times’. With the development of communication comes new responsibilities so that the learner can communicate effectively and make the most out of the new technology. As a tutor, it is our responsibility to make sure that they choose the most appropriate method of communication to meet their needs as a learner. When communicating by any digital platform, we must ensure that the communication is clear and is understood. Digital communication can sometimes lack the ‘added’ or vital information given when face to face, as there are no facial expressions, tones of voice or body language to read, and there is, therefore, an opportunity for misinterpretation.

Use of Social Media as a form of communication

The use of social media as a means of communicating with some learners in some teaching scenarios is still forbidden. Some people, usually the younger generation, find communicating in this way the norm and therefore believe it should be used in their education. Some learners, usually from the older generation, disagree because they feel it is inappropriate and meant to be used in a social context. They also can be of the opinion that they do not need to know how to use technology or they may be afraid to use it (as discussed above in more detail). Used appropriately, the use of social media offers a wonderful opportunity to meet the needs of learners and it can be used as a platform for learning even if they are not in the classroom. Most young people have a social media account or accounts of some sort be it Facebook, Instagram or/and Twitter. The use of social media does, however, need careful monitoring. Security settings have to be set and strict guidelines have to be put in place with all learners being aware of them, so that they know what is and is not acceptable. For example, that the posting of offensive pictures and language is not acceptable. Close attention must be given to learners when they are meant to be completing work but communicating with friends or family.

There are also concerns over the maintenance of a tutor’s professional boundaries when using social media in the classroom as a tool. Again, it is the tutor’s responsibility to manage this effectively. Social Media is used so much and is an important part of today’s society that it would be wrong to not include it as an important part of their learning especially when it comes to working collaboratively with others and communicating with their tutor.

Use of mobile phones

Mobile phones are usually used regularly by learners, therefore, not using them when teaching digital literacy could be classed as a missed opportunity. Most mobile phones are now like miniature computers, so not only can they be used to make and receive calls as well as send and receive text messages; they can also be used to access emails, social media, podcasts, for face time, What’s App, use Skype etc. The list of what they can do is endless. However, not every student has a Smart phone or is tech savvy enough to be able to access all the possible methods of communication. Whilst mobile phones do offer many levels of communication for some learners; they could also isolate some learners who do not have an up to date mobile phone. In addition to this, another negative point to bear in mind when communicating with a mobile phone, (with the exemption of voice calls and face to face calls such as Skype) there is always the possibility of things being misinterpreted.

Use of e-mail

Emails can be an excellent form of communication. Sending an email is a superb way to send information quickly and free. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of data that can be sent, especially when sending large files such as pictures and videos. They can be a good way of evidencing work and useful if a paper trail is required. They, along with other forms of online communication, can be a good way to engage digital literacy learners as they would develop digital literacy skills naturally as a result. However, students can be reluctant to engage or share information in this way as there may be cost implications and technical issues. It can be used to give recorded feedback remotely and to send messages to remind or inform learners of any changes to sessions, find out why they missed sessions or of deadlines. It may not be suitable for some students with learning difficulties or limited literacy skills. Emails, like any other digitally written communication can be misread, misunderstood and the use of emoticons can be misleading.

I have chosen to use email to communicate with my learners (see email example in Smart Assessor evidence) because it is an efficient form of communication I used with my colleagues (who were my learners) within which I could properly explain preparation instructions efficiently and add pictures and links for use during the session. I know that all of my learners will have access to and read this email in preparation because it is sent to their work address. With other learners this may not be suitable as sometimes learners will not access their emails regularly and would therefore not pick them up. In this case, an email would not be suitable, perhaps a text message or What's App would be more efficient. However, it is important to note that as most learners tend to have a mobile phone that it is possible to sync their email to their phone and therefore the learner will be notified every time they receive an email on their mobile phone.

Relationship Building

A tutor’s role is to facilitate learning. In order for this to happen, their first priority is to provide a safe learning environment. Part of creating this safe environment is the relationship that the tutor has built with the learner. Some learners come into the classroom with a range of issues that can sometimes get in the way of learning. If the tutor has a positive relationship with the learner, this can help remove some of them and therefore facilitate learning. A positive relationship can be built over time by getting to know the learner and the types of issues they may be facing, being adaptable, approachable and non judgemental in their advice and support on issues faced. In doing this, the tutor is not like a teacher, which many people, young adults especially, will find off putting as it reminds them of negative experiences they may have had in their schooling. A positive relationship and understanding of personal circumstances can assist the tutor to prevent barriers to learning occurring or address them as they arise. It will also motivate the learner to attend sessions.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is a measure of an individual’s abilities to recognise and manage their emotions, as well as the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups.

It is highly important for a tutor to understand emotional intelligence especially when they are developing the digital literacy skills of a learner. All learners have a level of emotional intelligence. Technology, computers and the internet can create quite an emotional response in people, especially the older generation. Learners can become frustrated when trying to use or interact with digital tools and technology. This emotional response will play out in their behaviour too. Some learners can become quite angry very quickly when getting frustrated using a computer. Therefore, planning for a session taking the learners emotional intelligence into account can have a significant impact on the success of the lesson.

Managing emotions can be quite difficult for some learners and they often struggle to respond to things in the appropriate manner. An example of this is on social media sites like Facebook where things are written on posts that stir up an emotional response, or are written in order to influence a certain response in a person. Understanding this and as a tutor, discussing the appropriate way to deal with it, can help a person to manage their emotions and avoid potential conflict. Understanding your own emotional intelligence can also help you to understand the impact of your behaviour on other people. This can be seen when using social media. People can post messages or images on social media that can have either a positive or a negative effect and being aware of this can help to self-regulate what you post. As tutors, it is our responsibility to help create good digital citizens of the future who are aware of the impact that their behaviour has on others in the digital age.

There are number of steps to emotional intelligence such as being sensitive to emotions of yourself and others, reasoning emotions, understanding emotions as well as managing them. The learner should also be able to regulate emotions, respond appropriately and respond appropriately to the emotions of others.

It is, therefore, important to encourage learners to reflect on their own emotions and to identify how they should respond, i.e. to prioritise what they react to. Developing such cognitive skills by the use of such critical thinking can help them evaluate when it is best to engage. Being able to master this skill will help them develop the confidence to support those around them and manage their emotions more effectively without reacting too hastily.

The role of diversity and inclusion in digital literacy

What is diversity and inclusion in digital literacy?

Diversity and inclusion in digital literacy is the same as in any other educational context. It means that all learners’ diverse needs and characteristics should be recognised, understood, accommodated and respected in the learning environment. All learners should be included in digital learning and treated fairly, i.e. no learner should be excluded from digital literacy sessions due to disability, gender, sexual orientation or digital (or other) ability etc. Diversity should be welcomed in fact as a rich source of learning for all, i.e. learners can learn from each other as well as the tutor (and we, as practitioners, may actually learn something too!). Some examples of this could be where certain class members could use digital skills to learn about the religion of another class member or a more digitally literate learner may be able to assist a less digitally literate learner in the use of a tool.

The effect that tutor values and attitudes may have in relation to diversity and inclusion

The tutor has a major influence on how their learners’ values and attitudes develop in general. However, this can be used to assist them to develop positive attitudes towards other class members with diverse backgrounds. If a tutor has a preconceptions and prejudices which influence their planning and delivery then it is possible that they may exclude learners based on these views and differences. This said, it is important that the tutor gives due consideration to any diverse needs, such as disability, as they may, if they do not, inadvertently, exclude such a learner from digital learning. In this case, providing such learners with the right aids to use digital tools such as a speaker for someone who is visually impaired, will help assist in their inclusion.

The different strategies that can be used to ensure diversity and inclusion in digital literacy learning programmes

There are many different strategies that can be used to ensure that diversity and inclusion are achieved in digital literacy learning programmes. Above all the tutor and the learning environment should be accessible for all. The environment in which the learning takes place should be a supportive one, with both the tutor and learners working collaboratively together regardless of the diversity of the group. Encouraging learners to work collaboratively, can help break down any barriers they may have, i.e. using such collaborative tools as Lino It, Hack Pad, Google Docs or Social Media. You must use SPICE when you consider learner needs, i.e. Social, Physical, Intellectual, Cultural and Emotional. You need to ask yourself are you meeting each and every one of your learners’ needs, i.e, are you accommodating their diversity? Above all, people must be viewed as individuals and you must consider how their needs can be met and embraced within the group setting. It is also important to be aware of the group dynamic as well as the individual. Any negative attitudes or opinions should be addressed via discussion away from the main group. Another strategy could be to use a variety of teaching styles to ensure that all learners learn, as well as creating a relaxed atmosphere with clear boundaries, where it is alright to make a mistake. You could also develop and encourage digital citizenship badge or reward to encourage learners to develop their emotional intelligence and act responsibly online. By allowing discussion and debate amongst learners (and have clear classroom boundaries e.g. respect others views etc) negative attitudes and beliefs can be challenged and may even be overturned. This could be done via email, discussion forums or social media. Encouraging the learners to reflect on their learning may get them to think about their attitudes and beliefs and they can record these on blogs, Wikis, their own webpages or discussion forums. Using a variety of digital tools within sessions can help learners understand that diversity is normal and that different people will prefer different tools. By helping them engage with such tools you can expose learners to a variety of possibilities, as well as engage them, for example, the use of Socrative quizzes. Encouraging learners to take different tools and use them in a different way than they know how to, for example, using the camera or video on mobile phone or Nearpod to draw rather than create presentations.


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