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Pew: A generation gap for digital readiness

Digital Readiness Gaps,” a new Pew Research Center report, explores a spectrum of digital readiness, from digitally ready to unprepared. Researcher John Horrigan finds that more than half (52%) of U.S. adults may be considered “relatively hesitant” and the least likely to use digital tools for personal learning.
The research explores three dimensions of digital readiness: (1) the digital skills required to use the internet; (2) trust, namely, people’s ability to assess the trustworthiness of information found online and to protect their personal information; and (3) use, that is, the extent to which people use digital tools to complete online activities (e.g., personal learning or online courses).

person staring at a computer monitor
“Digital Readiness Gaps,” a new Pew Research Center report, explores a spectrum of digital readiness.

The analysis identifies five distinct groups on the spectrum:

Relatively more prepared

  • Digitally Ready (17%): Have technology resources and are confident in their digital skills and capacity to determine the trustworthiness of online information. The Digitally Ready enjoy high-income and education levels, and are likely to be in their 30s or 40s.
  • Cautious Clickers (31%): Have strong levels of tech ownership, are confident in their digital skills, and are relatively knowledgeable about new online learning concepts. Unlike the Digitally Ready, they are less likely to use the internet for personal learning. The Cautious Clickers have above average educational and income levels, and are usually in their 30s or 40s.

Relatively hesitant

  • The Reluctant (33%): Have below average confidence in their digital skills, little concern about their ability to trust information online, and very low awareness of online learning concepts. The Reluctant are middle-aged and have relatively lower levels of income and education.
  • Traditional Learners (5%): Are active learners and have technology, but are unlikely to use the internet for learning purposes, tend to need help with using digital devices, and express above average concern about the trustworthiness of information online. This group is more likely to be middle-aged, ethnically diverse, and lower- to lower-middle income.
  • The Unprepared (14%): Have relatively lower levels of tech adoption, very low confidence in their digital skills, and a high degree of difficulty determining whether online information is trustworthy. The Unprepared are older, with relatively low income and educational levels.

By examining digital readiness, rather than the “digital divide,” Pew’s research highlights the fact that people’s lack of digital skills and trust in technology may, in turn, impact their use of digital resources. In other words, digital literacy and trust may boost meaningful internet use.

As the report observes, libraries understand that digital readiness involves digital skills combined with the digital literacy tools to enable people to assess the trustworthiness of online information. The report also notes that library users and the highly wired are more likely to use the internet for personal learning (55% and 60%, respectively, compared with 52% of all personal learners) and more likely to have taken an online course.

Horrigan notes that the research focuses on online learning, and may not project to people’s capacity (or lack of capacity) to perform health-related web searches or use mobile apps for civic activities, for instance. There also is some fluidity among the groups identified, and the finding represent a snapshot in time that may change in coming years as e-learning evolves.

Unsurprisingly, libraries have long been at the forefront of digital literacy efforts in their communities, as ALA documented in 2013. As the recent Digital Inclusion Survey indicated, all public libraries provide free public access to the internet, and most offer diverse digital content and services, as well as formal and informal technology training.

What’s more, the public trusts libraries to teach digital literacy skills. In a prior report, Pew found that 47 percent of American adults agree that libraries contribute “a lot” to providing a trusted place for people to learn about new technologies. Another Pew report revealed that 80 percent of adults believe that libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools.

This newest report is an important addition to the body of research conducted by the Pew Research Center (including a previous public library engagement typology) and fodder for planning related to digital inclusion efforts, including work underway at the Federal Communications Commission.

Note: OITP Deputy Director Larra Clark will interview Pew researcher John Horrigan for a Public Libraries Online podcast interview, which will be posted in coming weeks.

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Nick Gross

Margaret Kavaras served as the 2016 Google Policy Fellow in the Washington Office.

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