A policy brief that synthesizes insights from our case studies on digital skills training.
Digital skills have attained great importance, as more of the world goes online. We know little about what works to improve digital skills, despite a proliferation of initiatives imparting digital skills globally. This report analyzes the existing digital skills practices globally to identify trends that can potentially improve digital skills training and adoption. The report also references barriers to and drivers of digital skills training.
Our research represents amongst the most comprehensive catalogs of digital skills initiatives across the world, drawing from 339 digital skills initiatives globally and 44 case studies developed through in-depth interviews with project coordinators and secondary research.
The distribution of digital skills initiatives varies by continent. Most digital skills initiatives are focused on Africa and Asia, followed by Latin America, North America, Europe, and Oceania.
There is a heightened focus on certain marginalized populations in the case studies, while attention may be needed on areas such as accessibility and senior-focused digital skills initiatives. Most initiatives among our case studies target students (43%), females (26%), and out-of-school youth (13%); the least represented groups are seniors and the disabled.
We observe that digital skills trainings are geographically bound, with a predominant focus on rural initiatives within our case studies. Half of the digital skills programs are rural (50%), while a quarter of them are focused in urban areas (25%). Only a quarter of them focus on both rural and urban areas, suggesting that there may be substantial differences in the way these programs are designed for rural vs. urban areas. Our interviews also suggested that scaling initiatives is challenging, which may explain the stark focus on a specific geographic boundaries (either rural or urban) within the initiatives.
Although there are many initiatives to teach digital skills to various communities around the world, the report finds that the methodologies including the curriculum, practices, the durations, the devices are diverse.
Most initiatives still use computers (65%) to deploy digital skills training, despite the proliferation of mobile phones across the world as the predominant mode of Internet access. Of the initiatives we studied, only a few used mobile phones (21%) and tablets (14%).
A majority of the initiatives use in-person training (84%), with a very few that use online streaming (16%). Given the proliferation of COVID-19, this distribution may be detrimental to the delivery of digital skills training programs in remote-learning settings.
While the content of the training programs varies widely, basic ICT training and literacy (55%) dominates, followed by computer and software skills (16%), entrepreneurship and vocational training (12%), innovative education (10%). Our interviews suggest that the initiatives may be out of step with the adoption patterns of general populations. This focus on basic ICT training (often on computers) may not be useful within a remote-learning setting, as the population predominantly shifts to using mobile phones for several tasks. The second-highest focus of training programs in terms of providing skills for employment and jobs is encouraging.
We also found great variation in the duration of the programs, ranging from 2 hours to 100 hours, and from an academic semester to academic year. Only 2, however, allowed for a self-paced learning option. This may disadvantage people unable to make specific times for the training, often women and girls.
Most initiatives are medium to large in terms of scale, reaching over 10,000 people. A lot of these initiatives work in partnership with other institutions such as schools, libraries, or public telecenters with nearly 42% of our case studies partnering with over 100 institutions
Most case studies were digital skills programs are initiated by NGOs (57%), followed by private sector (20%). Government initiatives were comparatively sparse (16%). This also manifested in the economic models, as 65% of the case studies relied on grant-funding, having important implications for sustainability.
Given that the majority of the digital skills training programs we profiled are offered free of charge, lack of sustained funding (13%) is the biggest challenge for the sustainability of these programs, followed by limited and irregular electricity access (9%) to maintain the programs, lack of skilled manpower (8%), lack of access to devices (7%), resistance from the community (6%), coordination challenges between local organizations and funding agencies (6%), lack of Internet access (6%), and lack of locally relevant content (6%).
The report also highlighted that we lack the evidence on what combination of digital skills methods make the most impact on these communities. Most of the initiatives measure impact through qualitative methods, with every few quantifiable impact metrics that permit cross-regional and cross-country comparisons.
Table 1: Regional Distribution of the 339 Digital Skills Programs in the Database & Case Studies
|Region||Digital Skills Initiatives in Database||Digital Skills Case Studies|
Table 2: Target Population of Digital Skills Programs Across 44 Case Studies
|Girls & Women||12||26%|
Table 3: Rural vs Urban Distribution of Digital Skills Programs Across 44 Case Studies
Table 4: Technology-use in Digital Skills Programs Across 44 Case Studies
|Mode of Delivery||Count||Percentage|
*Double-counted if needed
Table 5: The Content of Digital Skills Training Programs Across 44 Case Studies
|Basic ICT Training||42|
|Information gathering and sharing||38|
|Employment||ICT for the workplace||12|
|Business planning and project management||8|
|Accessing remote employment||2|
|Education (Teacher Training)||Developing and accessing curricula||12|
|Incorporating ICT in classroom teaching||7|
|Remote connection to resources and institutions||5|
|Advanced ICT Training||Web design and development||6|
|Animation and game development||3|
|Gender Equality||Gender access and use||12|
|Social Skills||Creative expression||7|
|Financial Literacy||Online banking services||7|
|Literacy||Reading and writing||5|
|Agriculture||Modern agriculture techniques||3|
Table 6: The Duration of Digital Skills Training Programs Across 44 Case Studies
|One time||2 to 20 hours||5|
|Self-paced||1 to 4 weeks||9|
|2 hours per week||1 academic semester||3|
|1 hour per week||1 academic year||9|
Table 7: The Number of People Digital Skills Programs Reached Across 44 Case Studies
|Individual||Fewer than 1000||8||32%|
|1000 – 10,000||5||20%|
|10,001 – 1 million||10||40%|
|More than 1 million||2||8%|
|Institution||Fewer than 50||3||25%|
|50 – 100||4||33%|
|More than 100||5||42%|
Table 8: Scale of Digital Skills Programs Across 44 Case Studies
Table 9: Economic Model of Digital Skills Programs in Database vs Case Studies
|Economic Model||Digital Skills Initiatives in Database||Digital Skills Case Study|
*Double-counted if needed
Table 10: Stakeholder Group of Digital Skills Training Programs in Database vs Case Studies
|Stakeholder||Digital Skills Initiatives in Database||Digital Skills Case Study|
Table 11: Impact Indicators of Digital Skills Training Programs Across 44 Case Studies
|Employment||Employment opportunities, internship and job acquisition, career skills, pursuing a career in ICT, entrepreneurship||16||29|
|Academic performance||Educational outcomes, grade improvement, test scores, graduation||10||18|
|Empowerment||Social support, inclusion of women and girls, preventing child marriage, family integrity||8||15|
|Digital literacy skills||Basic ICT skills, coding skills, Internet use skills, application use skills (mobile money)||8||15|
|Communication and engagement||Communication effectiveness and efficiency (teacher & parents; within community), participation in public programs, community participation||7||13|
|Economic well-being||Access and use of online financial services, opening bank accounts, send/receive money||4||7%|
|Health||Early childhood health, maternal health, mental health||2||4%|
*Double-counted if needed
Table 12: Methods Used to Measure Impact of Digital Skills Programs Across 44 Case Studies
Table 13: Top Self-Reported Challenges of Digital Skills Training Programs in Case Studies
|Lack of sustained funding||14||13%|
|Limited and irregular electricity access||10||9%|
|Lack of skilled manpower||9||8%|
|Lack of access to devices||8||7%|
|Lack of Internet access||7||6%|
|Lack of local and relevant content||7||6%|
*Double-counted if needed
|Adaptive Technology Center for the Blind||Ethiopia||To train visually challenged users through vocational training in basic computer skills and converting more than 2,000 literatures to Braille text|
|Africa ICT Right||Ghana||To equip girls with the skills and enthusiasm necessary to pursue a career in STEM by providing ICT classes after school|
|African Women Power Network||Nigeria||To provide ICT-based training to women farmers with improved agricultural methods and materials|
|Beyond Access||Bangladesh||To establish a network of 24 libraries in Bangladesh to introduce literacy and ICT resources to early grade children|
|Beyond Access||Myanmar||To transform libraries into sustainable public technology hubs|
|Child Help||Sierra Leone||To help young women stay in school by providing digital literacy training, scholarships, and mentoring opportunities, to eventually end child marriage|
|CEDRO||Peru||To equip women with business and financial organizational skills, and to provide solid foundation in digital literacy and e-commerce.|
|Comcast Internet Essentials||United States||To provide high-speed broadband Internet with subsidized connectivity, access to low-cost devices, and digital training in multiple languages for the underprivileged communities|
|Connected North||Canada||To provide indigenous students with virtual fieldtrips, intercultural interschool collaboration, mentorship, and tutoring access remotely|
|Datamation Foundation||India||To provide both basic and digital literacy training, online vocational training, and advice for domestic violence for the marginalized women|
|Digital Lighthouse||Myanmar||To provide public and underprivileged children with basic smartphone-based digital literacy skills|
|Digital Village Squares||India||To empower rural elementary school students, low income communities through deploying learning stations with computers|
|e-Daara Thieyetou||Senegal||To provide primary school students with computer-based in-person training in a rural school|
|The Education Foundation for an Open Society (EOS)||Romania||To provide caregivers with training and resources to develop competences and reduce the digital divide among elderly people|
|Escuela+||Colombia||To provide students with Innovative teaching pedagogy via audio/visual technology via Satellite broadband streaming|
|Fundza||South Africa||To provide access to online reading resources for youth through mobile-phone based application to improve reading and writing skills|
|Fusion||Sri Lanka||To provide ICT education to rural communities with partnerships with local community telecenters|
|Ghana Code Club||Ghana||To provide students with basic computing skills through computer-based in-school training|
|Give1 Project||Gambia||To provide young girls with basic and advanced ICT training in an all-girls tech camp after school|
|Gram Marg||India||To provide women mobile-based training on how to seek health information online, how to use e-governance services, and how to use banking services, and privacy and security|
|Ikamva Youth||South Africa||To equip learners from the disadvantaged communities with ICT knowledge, resources, and access to tertiary education or job opportunities|
|InCode.2030||Portugal||To provide citizens computer-based basic and advanced ICT training by government across the country|
|iSocial Infolady||Bangladesh||To provide rural women tablet-based in-person training on how to seek health, banking, and government services online by rural women|
|Internet@MySchool||Yemen||To provide secondary students with Wi-Fi hotspots at school|
|Internet Policy Observatory||Pakistan||To foster fiber and satellite Internet connectivity nationally by deploying "Internet houses," often located in local administration offices|
|Intel She Will Connect||Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa||To empower young women socio-economically by providing basic technological skills program through online community, app-based, and in-person training|
|Kioscos||Colombia||To provide digital kiosks that enable community Internet access points and offer satellite Internet services to unconnected communities|
|Maendeleo Foundation||Kenya||To provide students with basic and advanced computer trainingvia computer- and mobile-based in-person training|
|Makaia||Colombia||To provide coffee farmers with basic ICT and financial inclusion trainingthrough Computer-based in-person training|
|Medha||India||To provide college students with basic ICT skills through computer-based in-person training|
|Myanmar Book Foundation||Myanmar||To equip underdeveloped communities with Internet access, devices, software, and locally tailored training programs in libraries|
|NASCO Foundation||Ghana||To offer necessary ICT skills to young people by establishing computer centers in schools and digital literacy teaching|
|National Computer Board||Mauritius||To develop a regional ICT hub by implementing 600 Wi-Fi hotspots with 10 Mbps Internet connection through fiber-optics and introducing 270 computer clubs around the island|
|Online Vidyalaya||Nepal||To provide students and teachers with educational use of social media through computer-based in-person training and web application|
|Pohnpei Catholic School||Micronesia||To provide students and teachers with access to online educational resources through Wi-Fi hot spots in school|
|Project Tawasol||Tunisia||To provide students with ICT training and Web design through Raspberry Pi-based in-person training|
|SAARC Development Fund||Bhutan||To generate new employment opportunities using contemporary ICTs and provide rural populations with access to government services online|
|Siyafunda CTC||South Africa||To empower, educate, and e-connect communities by deploying knowledge centers and offering e-Learning skills training|
|Sprint||United States||To provide low-income students in San Jose with free tablets and Internet|
|The Reach Trust||South Africa||To improve low-income families' and students' lives by offering cost-effective mobile applications including early childhood development and career advice|
|Universal Learn Today||India||To provide students and teachers with ICT education through computer-based in-person training|
|Universal Service Fund||Pakistan||To provide girls and young women with basic ICT training through computer-based in-person training|
|Zaya Learning Lab||India||To provide Internet access and educational materials to students and teachers through ClassCloud-based technology|
1 World Connected is a research project of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition at the University of Pennsylvania. The project seeks to provide detailed, contextualized data through case studies of grassroots projects around the world. We have compiled a first-of-its-kind database spanning more than 1000 such initiatives from more than 50 countries, and compiled, through semi-structured interviews, 120 case studies on both demand- and supply-side efforts. Demand-side efforts are designed to encourage adoption and use. Supply-side efforts aim to extend Internet coverage.
The project is significant in two ways. First, it provides a grassroots-level understanding of what works and what does not in different contexts. Second, it aggregates lessons from numerous community-level initiatives all over the world and analyses emerging trends.
The goals of the project are three-fold: