Five things I've learned in five months
We live in an era of intensive connectedness. For most of us, that means that we are virtually never more than a few seconds away from speaking to someone we love, doing some shopping or being able to access banking and pay bills.
But for 16% of the UK population, this isn’t an option. That’s 9 million people who can’t access the internet or use devices without help – and right in the middle of the greatest and longest public health crisis we’ve faced in many generations.
Our Digital Skills Project is working to change that in our area, and five months in we’ve supported a wide range of people to become more confident online. By working with them to develop their skills by showing them that technology isn’t scary, we’ve been able to make strides in breaking down the digital divide in Eskdale.
It’s been a learning curve for me too. Here’s five things I’ve learned about managing a digital inclusion project since we launched the programme in October.
Communication is key
Remote working is the norm for most of us. Making this transition with digital inclusion has been, at times, a challenge. Where previously we might have been able to share the visual experience of learning – seeing the same screen, pressing the same buttons, making the same mistakes – we are now learning and teaching purely through listening. If you’re like me, a strongly visual learner, that presents an extra hurdle to overcome. So how do we overcome it?
Turn it into a visual experience! Use your words to build a picture – colours and shapes which describe buttons and what they do are much more effective and are easier to retain than jargon phrases. If ‘the wee circle’ makes more sense than ‘the home button’ it means that it’s also going to be easier to remember.
Our ability to communicate is our strongest asset in digital learning and will make for a much more enabling experience.
You are a presence
For a lot of the people we work with, they aren’t just excluded digitally. COVID has effectively forced them to retreat indoors without the option to enjoy previously rich social lives, or even the luxury of a trip to the supermarket. As a result, the support we offer is more than skills development – it can be a lifeline. By engaging in a regular schedule of conversation, you get to know your learners quite well. You learn about their lives and their interests, what makes them laugh and the infinite number of fascinating stories they have to tell. In time, you become a presence in their life – a phone call they can depend on at least once a week.
Don’t just use the time to build up someone’s skills … use it to build up their spirits.
This isn’t school
We know that people lacking digital skills do so for a huge number of reasons, but seemingly educational attainment correlates to the likelihood of having essential digital skills. Sometimes bad experiences in formal education can prevent people from engaging in post-statutory learning, even when those skills are necessary for day-to-day function. That’s why digital inclusion needs to work differently to school. The learning we provide needs to be individualised, informal and purely based on interest. Getting to know your learner over time will enable you to find hooks with which to grab their attention. Do they love killer whales and get exhilarated by seeing pods of them snake through the sea? There are fantastic resources for that, available for free. All the while, they are building up their confidence and learning new skills.
There isn’t an exam at the end, there’s no strict curriculum. There’s just the opportunity to explore and take our time to change what it means to engage in lifelong learning.
We’re in this together
The most common misconception people have is that I am a technologist, with an intimate understanding of how systems work and how to fix them when they go wrong. I might sometimes pretend to be, but I’m not. I’m a community practitioner, with a knowledge of how to instil confidence and skills, and a passion for inclusion. So when a learner has a question that I just can’t answer… what better way to demonstrate how to problem solve? Let’s Google it! We can find the answer together.
The beauty of this work is that we’re both learning new things. Nobody has all the answers and it’s more human, much more real, to admit that.
Skills change lives
This one might not sound like a surprise, and actually the ability to positively change lives is why we all get into providing digital inclusion. What I didn’t expect was the power that learning digital skills has in making a difference to each individual life. There are countless examples that I can think of from just the past five months where we’ve been able to connect people up to their friends via Zoom, where we’ve helped people to engage with training after unemployment, where we’ve enabled a whole new dimension of community life for people who are, currently, so far removed from it. The stories that come from this project are inspirational, and meaningful and sometimes deeply personal.
The transformative power of this work should not be underestimated. We all have the ability to positively impact people’s lives.
This project has been challenging, fun, intense and rewarding to manage. It’s a constant adventure, full of surprises and - for the most part - laughs. I am grateful to all our participants for providing me with such a rich variety of daily interactions, and for learning alongside me.
Interested in learning more about the Digital Skills Project? Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07592 637 562.