Susan Easton, Head of Digital Learning, Learning and Work Institute

The government have launched a new policy that seeks to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations, with “publicly-funded basic digital skills training being offered free of charge to adults in England who need it”, which will be paid for by the existing Adult Education Budget.

We have long argued that digital is just as important as literacy and numeracy for life, work and learning and work in the 21st century and have advocated for digital as the third basic skill. From our evidence to Baroness Estelle Moriss’ Independent Review of Digital Skills in 2009, to our input to the UK Digital Skills Taskforce 2014 report and our evidence to the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee 2015 enquiry into digital skills, we have used our research and development to evidence the need for digital skills to support citizenship, social and economic inclusion and to identify successful approaches to address digital exclusion.

While I am concerned that any increase in demand could mean cuts elsewhere and limit the flexibility for devolved areas, I recognise the importance of the digital agenda and the need to develop digital skills in a different way. I am genuinely concerned that the government’s commitment to free basic digital skills for adults without additional finding could negatively impact on other areas of adult learning, but believe that creative and holistic approaches could alleviate negative impact, while truly meeting the needs of digitally excluded people and supporting economic growth.

Success depends on overcoming barriers for digitally excluded people, who are also likely to be those who are socially excluded, including; those with low level qualifications, those furthest from the labour market, those in low skilled jobs, older people, those with physical impairments and those in low paying jobs. We have found that, for these cohorts, digital skills are best learned in the context of other provision.

The availability of user friendly digital tools and interfaces, improvements in internet access and the exponential increase of mobile devices has helped many people develop their digital skills. However, there are still 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have those skills. Since an estimated 90% of all jobs will require basic ICT skills within the next few years, it is essential that we use alternative approaches to overcome barriers of confidence, low learning skills and motivation.

In 2002, I monitored UK online centres across Scotland. On one occasion, I visited a centre in a deprived area of Edinburgh, closely followed by a visit to the island of Uist. The Edinburgh centre offered European Computer Driving Licence(ECDL)courses, advertised as “a Europe-wide qualification in basic computer skills.”  They were notably unsuccessful in recruiting people from the local area, and their courses had a drop out rate of over 50%. The Uist centre initially offered similar courses to their audience of island crofters, but recruitment rates were low and their drop out rate was even higher. Crofters said “I don’t have any use for computers and don’t have time to learn about them. I’m too busy”. When the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched their online Cattle Tracing System (CTS), the centre re-packaged their offer as “A quick and easy method of Cattle Tracing Returns”. Crofters flocked to the centre, gaining digital skills while increasing the accuracy of their returns and saving time. Other successful centres took similar approaches, embedding digital skills in everything from creative writing to cookery. 

Our Citizens’ Curriculum provides an innovative, holistic approach to ensure everyone has the English, maths, digital, civic, health and financial capabilities they need, embedding digital skills within other programmes which motivate adults to learn, by ensuring that digital skills are embedded within other programmes which are relevant to their lives and their work.  With the Citizens’ Curriculum, adult learners have not only improved their digital skills but have also increased their literacy and numeracy skills, enhanced their ability to manage money, are more motivated to seek work and access health and public services online.

As the Adult Education Budget is devolved, local areas should commission a Citizens’ Curriculum approach to design provision that embeds digital skills within their wider learning provision. This would not only address the needs of those most likely to lack digital skills, but would also engage more people to learn, retain and develop those skills by applying them to their real lives. It has the added benefits of flexibility, so that local programmes would reflect local digital skill needs and develop the right digital skills to boost local economies while acknowledging financial constraints.

Using this approach, the digital agenda would not limit Adult Education provision, it would expand and enhance it and sustain their progress in other basic skills while preparing them to use the technology of the future as well as that of today.

Digital exclusion has been described as “one of the great social challenges of our age”. The new policy is an exciting opportunity to address that challenge. We should view the financial constraints as an imperative to build on research and evidence gathered over many years to use innovative approaches which eliminate digital skill silos.  

The government’s announcement is an exciting and positive development which could positively impact on social and economic inclusion. We all recognise the value of digital skills to an inclusive society. Employers and businesses recognise the value of digital skills to economic growth. It is imperative that we “get it right” by adopting creative, inclusive approaches to the development of adults’ digital skills.  

Susan Easton, Head of Digital Learning, Learning and Work Institute

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page