Welcome to the Absolute Idiot's Guide to the Digital Divide. Hopefully, some thought provoking ideas are below to help you better understand both yourself and others as teachers and learners.

Some thoughts...

Watch this video, from Professor Mike Wesch at the University of Kansas. While the video describes university students, it could just as easily be describing VET students as well. Do you recognise these students? Is this the education and training environment that you remember, or has it changed?

The Australian Institute for Social Research (2006) notes that “as information and communication technologies (ICTs) gain in capacity and usage as part of a shift to an ‘information economy’, their importance to individual life chances intensifies. The gap between those who are able to access and apply those technologies and those who are not is often described as the ‘digital divide’.” Wikipedia (2008) suggests that “groups often discussed in the context of a digital divide include socioeconomic (rich/poor), racial (majority/minority), or geographical (urban/rural).”

But – further research has indicated that there are more reasons than those mentioned above, by Wikipedia. Partridge (2007) notes that “as personal computer prices have fallen and internet services to the household have become increasingly less expensive, the socio-economic perspective of the digital divide becomes less convincing to explain all reasons for ICT non-use.” What then, influences a person’s decision to use or not use ICTs?

In her doctoral thesis, Partridge (2007) quotes Vernon Harper (n.d.), who “has suggested the existence of two digital divides: access digital divide and social digital divide. The access digital divide was based upon cost factors and frequently discussed in terms of the presence of computers or internet access in the household. The social digital divide was "a product of differences that are based on perception, culture and interpersonal relationships that contribute to the gap in computer and internet penetration" (Harper, n.d., p. 4).” She also notes that the digital divide “refers to the division between those who have access to, or are comfortable using, information and communication technology (ICT) (the “haves”) and those who do not have access to, or are not comfortable using ICT (the “have-nots”).”


It is this concept of comfort in using ICTs that is of interest. As an individual, how comfortable are you in using ICTs? How would you describe yourself?

a) Not an ICT user
b) An “only when I have to” user
c) A relatively confident user
d) Wouldn’t use anything else

Why do you think this is?

Or, is this you?

Original taken from the show "Øystein og jeg" on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) in 2001.


What about your students? Does the description you have chosen for yourself match the experiences of your students? Are they more confortable in the digital environment, or is it the other way around? Why?

Some further thoughts...

Like many things, they way in which a person uses technology (including ICTs) or chooses not to use them can be as much about confidence in using it as it is about having skills which allow the successful use of it. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory has been used in many fields of enquiry to research and explain behaviour. Partridge (2007) notes that “SCT postulates that a person will act according to their perceived capabilities and the anticipated consequences of their actions… According to SCT behaviour is best understood in terms of a reciprocal relationship between personal factors, behaviour and the environment.”

Partridge (2007) also notes that “SCT has two core constructs: self-efficacy and outcome expectancy. Self-efficacy is the more important of the two and refers to a person’s judgement of perceived capability for performing a task… Outcome expectancy refers to a person’s belief about the outcomes that will result from a given behaviour. These outcomes could take the form of physical, social or self evaluative effects… If people believe that they can take action to solve a problem, they will become more inclined to do so and feel more committed to this decision. In contrast, self-efficacy involves an individual’s beliefs about his or her ability to perform a particular behaviour.” In other words, the more a person believes that they can successfully use a piece of technology, and will get from the technology the outcome that they want, the more likely they are to want to use it.

How does it affect teaching?

Liaw (2004) notes that "In general, constructivist approach focuses more on problem solving and thinking skills. Additionally, it also emphasizes the learners ability, to solve real-life and practical problems. Based on human cognition, the innovation educational computer programs, like Web-based learning, can be developed constructivist paradigm. If we employed Web-based learning in appropriate ways, it is a revolutionary tool for education. However it is a confusing technology for beginning computer users because it can be used in so many different ways. Thus, if there is a mismatch in the use of the Web for training, it can lead to loss of the learner's attention, boredom, information overload, and frustration (Berge, 1998). So one challenge, for those designing Web-based learning environments is to seriously consider which developing method will best enhance the presentation of information for learners and faculty."

Keeping in mind SCT, when designing a learning activity, object or environment, while some students will have high self-efficacy and high outcome expectancy, not all will. Therefore, a range of activities, which keep in mind the differences between students is just as important in the electronic classroom as it is in a physical one.

Accommodating this in teaching delivery

So – to make the teaching and learning experience more successful, viable and enjoyable – there are many things which need to be accepted and allowed for, including the other skills that the students will need to successfully complete the activities you have set.

Think about the activities you have set for your students to complete in the past. In addition to the skills directly related to the content that you are teaching, what other skills to they need to successfully complete your classes and assessments? Can you list out all of these skills? Do you ensure that your students have the underlying skills that your assessments require they have? Do you make students aware up front the skills that they will need? Do you have some alternatives or additional support mechanisms in place for students to access if the need to? Choose one module that you deliver, and see just how long the list of prerequisite skills are that you expect students to have before they ‘arrive’ in your ‘class’. Ca you make this shorter, or do you need to make sure that your module has prerequisites so that students have the skills before they arrive?


The Australian Institute for Social Research (2006) The Digital Divide – Barriers to e-learning. Retrieved 15/04/2008 from

Liaw, S. S. (2004) Considerations for developing constructivist web-based learning. International Journal of Instructional Media Vol. 31, Iss. 3; pg. 309, 13 pgs. Retrieved from Proquest via QUT Library 12/04/2008.

NRK (2001) Medieval help desk call.
"Øystein og jeg". Retrieved 140/04/2008 from You Tube

Partridge, H. (2007) Establishing the human perspective of the information society. PhD Thesis. Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology.

Wesch, M. (2007) A vision of students today. Retrieved 15/04/2008 from You Tube

Wikipedia (2008) Digital divide. Retrieved 15/04/2008 from