Digital Inclusion and Learning - A Special Issue of Research in Learning Technology
Digital inequities relating to socioeconomic status, income, level of education, ethnicity, gender, age, connectivity and geography are still affecting levels of access to technology for all kinds of people. Digital inclusion research therefore has a role to play in providing explanations and solutions to these inequities. This special issue on digital inclusion and learning aims to sharpen our focus on what is known and unknown about digital inclusion in the context of learning, learners and education. Our conceptualisation of digital inclusion encompasses a wide range of technologies, learners and learning contexts.
Research in the field of digital inclusion, particularly that which has focused on documenting the “digital divide”, has probably done a good job at increasing understanding of differences and inequities. Both large scale and small scale surveys have shown continuing demographic gaps with socioeconomic status, income, level of education, ethnicity, gender, age, connectivity and geography all consistently found to affect levels of access to technology. There is little basis, therefore, for being complacent about digital inequalities. Whilst we know that inequities exist, there are a number of things we still do not know much about and to which future digital inclusion research could usefully contribute. A number of research challenges exist including:
- developing a conceptual framework that broadens our understanding of the complexity of digital exclusion and captures a wide range of inclusion-related opportunities, processes and outcomes;
- developing methods that enable us to directly capture and get to the heart of the experience of the digitally excluded/included;
- learning from existing individual and collective digital inclusion practice(s) in order to understand why sometimes technology related opportunities are not taken up, or inclusion outcomes don’t change.
These challenges will require digital inclusion research to elicit new data; to find new ways of getting this data or to aggregate data that already exists; and to do something useful with the data once it has been obtained. To meet these challenges, digital inclusion research will need to jump two hurdles. The first hurdle is that of being bold enough to step outside of current traditions in digital divide/inclusion research, if required, in order to collect and analyse data in different ways and consequently transform understanding. The second hurdle is that of being sufficiently robust and systematic in order to provide the necessary evidence of success (or failure) that persuades relevant key stakeholders to take transformative action.
These challenges are particularly pertinent for digital inclusion researchers working in learning and education contexts. The role for formal or informal learning in promoting digital inclusion could be described as essentially one of increasing the social capital of the digitally excluded; where social capital is understood as access, ability to use and desire to use technology. This role is not unproblematic and consideration of the role education might play raises important questions about whether education is reaching or can reach all those digitally excluded learners that “need” to be reached; how education can help learners make informed choices about technology access and use, including the choice to be digitally disengaged and the extent to which educating the digitally excluded leads to both genuine digital and social inclusion.
About the Guest Editors
Jane Seale is Professor of Education at Plymouth University. She has undertaken a number of key national co-ordination and leadership roles in the field of e-learning and research including President of the Association for Learning Technology and Co-Director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. Jane’s research operates at the intersection of education, technology and disability and she has over 20 years of experience examining the role of technology in promoting inclusion, particularly for those with learning disabilities. Her 2006 book “E-learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice” is in over 450 libraries world-wide. Currently Jane is convenor of the TLRP Technology Enhanced Learning Digital Inclusion Forum and has produced a commentary which reviews current digital inclusion research and practice literature.
William Dutton is Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, Universityof Oxford, Fellow of Balliol College, and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Southern California. In the UK, he was a Fulbright Scholar 1986-87, was National Director of the UK's Programme on Information and Communication Technologies (PICT) from 1993 to 1996, and founding director of the OII during its first decade, for which he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Professor Dutton is Principal Investigator of the Oxford e-Social Science Project (OeSS), supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, and Principal Investigator of the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS), a key resource on the use and impact of the Internet in Britain, that is one component of the World Internet Project, an international collaboration comprising over 20 nations. His concept of the ‘Fifth Estate’ has created a new research project and a book in progress. His service includes chairing the Advisory Committee for Englandof the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), and participating on the Innovation Committee of NHS Direct.
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