Digital skills needed for people to thrive in an Internet-mediated world
We have had the pleasure of supporting a range of digital skills programmes. Associate Professor Lesley Gardner of The University of Auckland decided to talk to different providers, and the people they help, to understand the digital skill gaps and consider the challenges and opportunities.
What the research is all about
In the project, Lesley’s focus was on the digital skills people need to feel work-ready. Her research allowed for a comparison between what people and businesses need, the programmes available to them, and how they operate.
“It is clear that the population of New Zealand must be digitally competent in order to survive and thrive,” Lesley says.“Many citizens lack basic digital skills to access digital services and even don’t know what they are seeking and where to ask for help.”
Lesley and her research team, Saima Qutab and Udayangi Perera Muthupoltotage, reached out to training groups working in Auckland for the digital skill development of seniors, women, and young adults of Māori, Pasifika, immigrant, and refugee origin.
They went along to observe some training sessions, and spoke to 11 programme directors, managers and coordinators, four content designers, 11 trainers, four library trainers, and 16 trainees.
“While changes to education to provide basic digital literacy skills have begun within primary and secondary education, and is also well advanced in the tertiary education sphere, there are significant sectors of the community who still do not possess the requisite digital competencies.”
What Lesley and her team learned from the kōrero
One thing that stood out to Lesley and her fellow researchers was the passion of the people involved. While it’s a challenging role, many of the trainers were moved by the people they helped and were themselves grateful for the social connections the programmes offer.
Beyond that, the research highlighted insights into what different people hope to learn and gain through these programmes. This included workers with minimal tech knowledge (cleaners, manual labour, and drivers) and home-staying adults—especially women and caregivers. Seniors also reported feeling socially isolated in a world that is increasingly digitised.
“They need to learn and, in most cases, re-learn the usage of online applications to access their finances, health services and to main communication with their health support, family, friends, spiritual support (churches, temples, gurdwara, mosques etc.) and community.”
The ongoing challenges of digital skill development
The researchers noted that most courses were very basic, at either level 1 or 2, and opened the door to things like managing monthly household budgets, online banking, health services, and online classes. Learners had an initial, positive experience, and were often surprised by their own capability. The opportunities available online seem endless and the participants want to keep learning!
The fundamentals are essential, but people want to develop skills that will enable them to join workplaces where advanced tech skills are required.
“The respondents shared that it is rather difficult for them to participate in formal courses as they have elderly or young children to look after. Regarding online courses, they need guidance about the authenticity, validity and impact of the courses.”
A challenge in this resource-limited sector is ensuring opportunities for learners to continue to progress.
On the flip side for the trainers, there is a fair bit of duplication of efforts. Plus, funding is usually tight and contracts are often limited to 3 or 6 months at a time.
What’s next on the horizon?
Lesley hopes her team can continue to unpack the information gathered, and they have hours of interviews left to code and analyse. The next step is furthering the learning from this research to publish in national global outlets and to extend these findings to suggest practical improvements the digital literacy in New Zealand.
“We now have a clear understanding of existing gaps in the current skills and training provision, and we are in a position to assist with the improvement of current methods and training materials.”
The research team have opportunities to continue working with these groups and to move on to the co-creation of culturally sensitive course material. There’s also a need for training new and existing facilitators as other applications and systems emerge in this very dynamic field.
“We are at the point where, through the advancement of technology, there is no turning back and somehow our preparedness as a community is being challenged.”
Lesley Gardner is an Associate Professor in information systems, in the Department of Information Systems and Operations Management (ISOM) at the University of Auckland Business School. She was the recipient of a 2020 digital inclusion grant from InternetNZ.