Research into digital inclusion and learning helps empower people to make the best choices

Britain is failing to exploit opportunities to give everyone fair and equal access to learning technology because – despite detailed knowledge of who is digitally excluded – too little research has been done to identify the best ways to tackle the problems.

The Association for Learning Technology explores the evidence in detail in a special issue of its peer-reviewed journal Research in Learning Technology on digital inclusion and learning. While research has focused on documenting the digital divide – with income, education, ethnicity, gender, age, connectivity and geography all playing a part – more must be done to ensure effective intervention and empowerment, say researchers writing in the journal.

Shortcomings are as likely to be a result of insufficient human support as is the lack of access to digital technology, say the guest editors Jane Seale, Professor of Education at Plymouth University, and William Dutton, Professor of Internet Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute.

“We argue that empowerment involves making informed choices about technology use, but that learners often require support – human intervention – to make these choices. However, current digital inclusion research has failed to produce a detailed critique of what constitutes empowering support from educational institutions and their staff.”

Research papers published in the journal highlight many cases where excluded groups are sold short by the lack of evidence. For example:

  • As the Government’s plans for ‘‘working’’ prisons gather pace menial work is increasingly valued far higher than learning, despite the key role good IT skills and improved technologies are seen to play in rehabilitation
  • Because of the traditional way learning is organised, ICT-related requirements of students with disabilities are often better met on campus than at home where the need is greatest
  • Digital technology helps raise educational underachievement among Travellers’ children but it requires professional support, not IT equipment alone. While this is expensive initially, costs plummet as well-planned projects empower community members to help sustain good practice

Three challenges to researchers, say Seale and Dutton, are first, to broaden understanding of the opportunities for inclusion and how to overcome obstacles; second, develop better understanding of the experiences felt by the excluded and, third, to understand why technological opportunities are often not taken up.

The special edition of the journal illustrates a further, more fundamental point: the need to get research evidence swiftly and cheaply into the hands of other researchers and practitioners through wider use of Open Access publishing – making all publicly produced research free for all to read and reuse.

Research in Learning Technology itself has been an Open Access publication for more than a year, resulting in a sharp rise in usage while sustaining quality. Also, following a Government decision last July to accept the recommendations of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch, ALT was commissioned by the Open Access Implementation Group (OAIG) to create resources providing information, advice and guidance for stakeholders including learned societies on moving to and managing Gold Open Access.

The project team is due to complete its work during March 2013.

ALT has also submitted evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s Short Inquiry into Open Access earlier this month, as well as to the parallel House of Commons Business Innovation and Skills Committee’s Inquiry into Open Access. In both cases, whilst supporting the Government’s push to make publicly funded research he Open Access, ALT calls for steps to be taken to reduce the maximum contribution to APCs that funders will cover, putting greater effort into “winning hearts and minds” for Open Access more generally and to allow each broad subject area to have transitional arrangements that fit its circumstances for example. To access ALT’s response to the House of Lords Inquiry go to (For the time being ALT’s response to the Business Innovation and Skills Committee’s Inquiry is the property of the Committee. It will be made public in due course).

The issue of digital inclusion is key to making use of technology in learning and teaching across sectors successfully,” says Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT. “It also has wider implications for the provision of services and participation in what is an increasingly digital working environment.

“As a scholarly society ALT has taken a big step in supporting and promoting this kind of research by making its journal, Research in Learning Technology, Open Access, causing it to be taken up by a far larger audience than before. Technology develops at a pace that requires the sharing of new research at a fast rate, enabling knowledge exchange and fostering collaboration amongst an increasingly globalised community of researcher, policy makers and practitioners.”

The link to the Research in Learning Technology journal is


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Notes to Editors

Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT, is available at 07747 771461

About the Guest Editors on the special edition

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 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.

William Dutton is Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of 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.

About ALT

1) ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) is a professional and scholarly association which brings together those with an interest in the use of learning technology. As the UK’s leading membership organisation in the learning technology field, we work to improve practice, promote research, and influence policy.

2) Over 1000 individuals belong to ALT, as do over 220 universities, colleges, other learning providers, Government Agencies, and businesses.

3) Association for Learning Technology (ALT), Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0BP Tel: +44 (0)1865 484 125 Fax: +44 (0)1865 484 165 Email: URL:

ALT is a Registered Charity in the UK, number: 1063519

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