For a study released this week, Pew Research Center interviewed more than 2,750 people who have access to the internet. They devised a new measure of connectivity called “digital readiness,” and arranged internet users into five distinct categories based on their readiness. Three of those categories contained people who are “relatively hesitant” to use technology for learning, even though they have access to a reliable internet connection.
“The data show that there are real barriers to drawing people to use digital resources for learning,” said John Horrigan, the Pew study’s lead author. The main barriers that Horrigan and his team identified were a lack of digital skills and a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to find trustworthy information on the internet.
Horrigan named the least technologically savvy group “the unprepared.” His study found that the 14 percent of Americans who fell into this group are the least likely to use online learning tools, due to the barriers he identified.
A small group of Americans—just 5 percent—were categorized as “traditional learners.” Even though they’re interested in learning outside the classroom, they prefer to avoid using resources tools to do so.
At 33 percent of Americans, the largest single group of internet users is made up of “the reluctant.” They’ve got better computer skills than members of the “unprepared” group, but they’re very unfamiliar with educational resources online and where to find them.
Altogether, the study found that just over half of Americans who have access to the internet don’t have the tools to use it effectively, or at all, for learning. And when the Pew researchers examined the demographic groups that were most likely to show up in the three “hesitant” groups, they found a handful of traditionally disadvantaged groups: minorities, women, and lower-income households.
The same types of divisions appear to be affecting enrollment in online courses. Although free and open to all, MOOC enrollment is biased toward the already highly educated and the relatively wealthy, according to a pair of studies from researchers at Harvard and MIT.
One study published last year examined the average neighborhood income of enrollees in nine Harvard MOOCs by matching up students’ mailing addresses to census income data. The researchers found that the neighborhoods that MOOC students lived in had an average income of $14,000 more than the average neighborhood in the U.S.
In another analysis, which examined more than 150,000 students who took at least one of 68 online courses that Harvard and MIT offered between 2012 and 2014, the same authors estimated that for every $20,000 added to the average income of a person’s neighborhood, the odds that the person would enroll in an online course increased by 27 percent.