02nd May, 2020 by Katharinet

When it comes to engaging people with digital technology, motivation has been a steadfast and stubborn barrier. This has been reflected in research many times over. Indeed, last year’s UK Consumer Digital Index from Lloyds showed that, of the 4.1 million people in the UK who are offline, three million (75%) had no interest in understanding the benefits the Internet can offer. Nearly half (47%) said that ‘nothing’ would get them to go online

Yet in recent weeks, and fuelled by the nation’s lockdown, we have seen a noticeable shift in people’s attitudes to learning and gaining essential digital skills.

Becoming braver and bolder with learning digital skills

The volunteers and colleagues in our Digital Champions Network¹, who have switched from providing face to face support to giving their digital skills help remotely, tell us that the most surprising and positive thing they’ve seen is learners becoming braver and bolder with getting online. People who have never considered using the internet before now seem to be venturing forwards with keenness and interest.

One of our Network Champions, William, provides a great example:

“One of my learners, who is 80, had a mobile phone and only switched it on for emergencies when she was out and about in her car. She is self-isolating as she is in an at-risk group and after 2 weeks of not seeing any of her friends except when shopping brought to her door, was feeling a quite low.  I remotely helped her to set up a new phone account with unlimited voice calls and text messages. This brightened her day as she could ring and speak for as long as she wanted to without ever running out of credit. 

“She then asked me about what other things she could do on her smartphone, so I helped her again to set up her phone with her WIFI and that evening her family, who live some distance away, started video calling her.  The following day she called me using WhatsApp and her whole outlook and attitude had changed to one of sheer joy as she told me how she saw and spoke to her family, most of whom she had not seen for months.  Using a group video chat, they all talked and laughed into the early hours of the morning, something that she had never even contemplated doing.”

Enjoying and embracing digital technology

This is just one of many heart-warming and encouraging stories we are hearing.  People who didn't ordinarily see the importance of digital technology are now coming to see it as essential. Better still, they are enjoying and embracing it.

Says Network Champion Clare;  “The best moment for me was the smile on a man's face when he successfully got his tablet working and joined a video conference for the first time.  He has a learning disability and lives alone.  He hadn't seen a human face for 5 days, he had a tablet delivered to his home, an easy read guide and phone support to learn to use it.  His smile and his face lighting up will stay with me forever.  Since then he has joined at least one virtual group a day - he often provides the music for our walk and talk group by taking requests for a song to sing us all.”

Digital supports physical distancing whilst maintaining social contact

The onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent social isolation has shone an even brighter light on the need for people to have the skills to use the internet and digital devices. As was brilliantly reframed recently on a webinar by our friends AbilityNet, social distancing is really ‘physical distancing whilst maintaining social contact’. For that, digital technology and the skills to use it, are crucial factors.

Whilst the pandemic has starkly accentuated a digital divide that needs an urgent address, it also seems to have propelled those who were reluctant, unmotivated, or just plain scared, to dust off their tablet, laptop or smartphone and take their first steps online. And do so with curiosity and excitement.

Amongst all the challenges, and aided by the personal support of trained Digital Champions, the recent months appear to have revealed a new readiness to cross the digital divide and an opportunity to break down the deep-rooted barrier of disengagement once and for all. 

Be part of our Digital Champions Network

¹Our Digital Champions Network is an online learning platform that trains and supports people to become confident Digital Champions. www.digitalchampionsnetwork.com. Get in touch to find out how to be a member.