As we look towards the new year, CTN is focusing on knowledge sharing to work towards a more digitally inclusive world.
Those who are cut off from the digital world often lack the tools needed to get connected: a device and affordable high-speed internet access. Yet even if people gained access to these tools, many of them would remain excluded from life online. To fully embrace the internet’s benefits and resources, one must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to navigate a device.
Unlike the tangible necessities of getting online, digital skills cannot be given or bought. They take time and patience to build — along with an environment that encourages learning and asking questions. We can easily provide information about the internet, but many resources can’t be accessed without a foundational knowledge of digital skills. If someone has never turned on a tablet or used a touchscreen, for instance, how would they find an informational web page on affordable internet services or the Affordable Connectivity program?
To build a more digitally inclusive society, we need to focus on sharing skills among our communities and helping those on the margins. In the coming year, we hope to build and promote a culture of knowledge by doing these three things.
- Creating an environment of open communication and trust. People with limited tech experience might feel intimidated to start learning. Maybe they are not sure that the internet would be useful to them. Or maybe they haven’t had an educational resource available in their native language. It’s unlikely, then, that first-time tech users could learn digital skills through a large group class or generalized training video. Instead, we need to offer slow-paced one-on-one and small group classes that encourage an environment of learning. This also involves training each instructor to answer questions with empathy and kindness.
- Cultivating and leveraging intergenerational connections. Having grown up in the information age, younger generations are more digitally savvy than older generations — making them an important source of knowledge sharing. At the same time, older generations have life lessons and experiences that younger people lack — making them a source of wisdom and connection. By bridging the gap between different age groups, we can encourage a reciprocal sharing of knowledge within communities. At CTN, we actively recruit college-aged and young adult volunteers to serve as digital coaches for older adults. We hope to expand this initiative to create a network of volunteers across the country equipped to help older adults build digital skills.
- Sharing experiences, challenges, lessons, and mistakes between different organizations. Many agencies and nonprofits want to tackle the digital divide in their community. However, launching a new program requires resources and time. To expand our digital inclusion efforts, CTN is launching a capacity-building program that will equip other agencies with the tools and knowledge they need to implement their own digital inclusion initiatives. This will entail sharing best practices for trainers, providing customized curricula, and placing organizations in a cohort of other agencies to learn from each other’s experiences. The goal is to build a collaborative environment where agencies small and large can feel supported in getting their communities connected online.
For all its pros and cons, the internet provides virtually limitless information and resources — operating as a source of abundance rather than scarcity. It is full of educational programs, workforce development resources, news and information sources, communication and creativity outlets, and more. Yet as life becomes easier for those who are online, it also becomes harder for those who are unconnected to fully participate in society. It’s our job to lower the barrier to entry, openly share our knowledge, and ensure that everyone can join the digital world.