Overcoming fear with digital learning in the community – #UKGovCamp 2014


There’s only so far you can go with hardware and software if you don’t get the venue and the context right for your audiences.

This is sort of a write-up of a small workshop I hosted on digital learning at UKGovCamp 2014. For those of you that don’t know what UKGovCamps are about? Have a look at the video below – and watch out for Puffles.

This is also something that both Steph Gray with the digital skills gym and Fred Garnett with a series of slides here and here, have also been looking at.

As with these sorts of workshops, they seldom go down the route of discussion you think they are going to go down – which is what I like about them. As a result you end up learning lots – hence my point in the video contribution above. (That and I’m slowly getting used to hearing my voice being played back).

Flipchart 1 - where we heard an example about teaching digital through booking concert tickets
Flipchart 1 – where we heard an example about teaching digital through booking concert tickets

What interested me about the first set of exchanges was that it was not focussed on basic skills or pieces of software. It was about creating content that was relevant to the audience. In this case, Sue and Claire spoke about their experiences of delivering basic training to people in their communities. In their case, the hook was introducing digital within a very specific context chosen by the people doing the training: Concert tickets for a well-known boyband from the 1990s with the initials TT. The challenge for any course tutor is how to make your materials flexible enough to cope with what the audiences want. Hence my complaint about a previous basic web-design course that did not do that. Does this mean that you cannot prepare materials for formal courses until you’ve sussed out the people attending your course?

Psychological barriers to learning

We then moved into what the psychological barriers to digital learning were – note Fred’s slides above. Obviously there’s significant academic literature in this field. But how do you apply it to something that is still very new to lots of people, while on the other hand is part of life for others?

Unpicking fear in learning
Unpicking fear in learning

This got me thinking about traditional ‘computer rooms’. I’ve never liked these – at school, college, university or even the workplace. Having these big bulky things in front of you is a barrier between you and other people. That’s why when I went to the Government Digital Service’s HQ for the first time a few years ago with Puffles (see my blogpost here) I noticed that there were very few barriers in the way – most people worked with mobile devices in their day job.

You have some people not liking school environments because they had a difficult time at school when children – quite often the very people you need to reach out to on basic skills. Ditto with libraries – where I heard the term ‘Shuushy people’ for the first time. You know the stereotype – the old lady dressed in grey curtains and crystal jewellery covered in dust watching out for anyone talking in the library. Again, the inertia of some people’s negative experiences in childhood. Yet the libraries of 30 years ago are not the libraries of today – those that are still open that is. Cambridge Central Library is a very different place to the one I first visited in the mid-1990s – as this Shape Your Place post describes.

What would a nice learning environment be like?

Part of me is thinking of a warm, light-filled and stimulating room full of beanbags where we can bring our own devices and top-up with food and drink as and when. You see such environments in cash-rich creative firms – often when they go over the top & fill them with ‘boys toys’, but the principle I feel is still sound: Can we create publicly accessible warm, friendly and stimulating learning environments?

NEWZ-SPOOF: “Don’t use the internet! It’s full of crime and hate and nekked laydees and Oh! If only the government would turn this subversive machine at the off switch!!!”

Which is the other fear – one that has come up regularly when I’ve asked councillors about what they think the barriers are to people using social media. If the only experience you have of social media is what you read in the print newspapers, is it any wonder? I remember talking to a local resident at a local drama costume centre in 2013. She was a reader of a well-known newspaper that unfortunately very recently targeted one of my younger followers. Yes, not happy. The local resident concerned had retired had no idea of the sort of content the newspaper was putting online – very different to what was in the print edition. How do you go about educating people about how to deal with the fear? Or perhaps more importantly, do people know where to go to seek help and support assuming bad stuff does happen?

No funding left

Certainly as far as public funding is concerned.


But then we had an interesting discussion about the role of employers – particularly of large firms. Is there a role that they need to be playing about educating their staff about all things online? OK, it may not be directly related to their day-to-day role, but is there something to be said for big firms providing or paying for such training, or even leasing the hardware and line-rental at preferential rates for their staff? Is there something to be said for them hosting a ‘bring your gadget to work day’ and doing skills shares there?

Digital Merthyr

Finally we were told the story of digital Merthyr. This matters because the town is one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK and has been for quite some time. Brighton has an annual digital festival – see here. What is there that the rest of us can learn? Cambridge councillors – I’m looking at you. This is because a number of UKGovCamp delegates have been following the fun and games Puffles and I have been having with you in the week before. Let’s say that they think there is significant room for improvement on your side. (The good news is some of them have expressed an interest in coming up to Cambridge to help).


3 thoughts on “Overcoming fear with digital learning in the community – #UKGovCamp 2014

  1. I have been working with digital inclusion in Qatar for nearly three years now and am encountering all the same barriers and fears that we in the Uk in the line of work are used to. Plus a few new ones such as additional barriers for Arabic women and migrant workers, mostly around language and isolation for the first group and community language support and cost for the second. We have to be very focused on content for mobile devices are the mobile penetration is very high in Qatar. Any content we develop has to be highly localisation, contextualized etc.

  2. I’ve summed up my approach to these issues here http://thehugofamilyblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/introducing-the-hugo-team-1-john-popham/ in short:

    – Go to where people are, don’t wait for them to come to you;
    – Reasons for using the internet are different. Some can be harder to find than others;
    – No one voluntarily begins using the internet because they want to access Government services;
    – Most people use the internet for fun. The newcomer’s introduction should also be fun;
    – Show people what others do with the internet. They might want to join in;
    – Demonstrate that internet use is a part of “normal”, everyday life.

    I think there are some who are frightened by the vastness of the internet, but my experience has often been the opposite. Many who have never experienced the web just don’t know there is anything on it of interest to them.

    Being online is a huge amount of fun, and we need to show people they are missing out by not being part of it

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