Researching the Role of Digital Technology in Widening Participation.Report as inadecuate

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The use of information and communications technology (ICT) to facilitate easy access to lifelong learning for all is one of the central tenets of the United Kingdom (UK) government's drive to establish a more inclusive learning society. Advocates have highlighted the need to free learning from the traditional confines of educational institutions and to foster instead a culture of lifelong learning based on convenient access to resources and materials through technology. The creation of "virtual colleges" in the UK has been portrayed as one means of widening access to learning opportunities for those excluded from participation in lifelong education. A study asks whether technology is really capable of widening participation in adult learning; whether technology introduces problems as well as solving them; and how research can be conducted. Using existing research and surveys, the study found that initiatives such as the Digital College of Wales face major obstacles to registering those already excluded from learning because a majority of those people do not have computers or access to the Internet. Those who benefit from the virtual college tend to be young, white, male, urban, and middle class, the same group who has benefited most from traditional learning. Besides barriers of access, nonparticipants are also constrained from participation by family influence, another barrier not easily overcome by digital technology. In addition, it is not clear whether digital technology can do more than merely transmit information, and therefore it may not lead to better reasoning skills and increased participation in life. Therefore, it can be seen as rational for an individual to decline to participate in this form of lifelong learning, although government policy prescribes it as a good for all. The study concludes that, at present, those who stand to gain most by digital learning technology are the providers and special-interest groups. (Contains 33 references.) (KC)

Descriptors: Access to Computers, Access to Education, Adult Basic Education, Developed Nations, Disadvantaged, Distance Education, Educational Needs, Educational Practices, Educational Technology, Family Influence, Foreign Countries, Information Technology, Internet, Lifelong Learning, Nontraditional Education, Outcomes of Education, Postsecondary Education, Student Characteristics, Student Motivation, Technological Advancement, Virtual Universities

Author: Gorard, Stephen; Selwyn, Neil


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