Learn My Way: the next step on our journey

Simpler, prettier, and even more fabulous! Can you tell I’m excited? After a lot of time, hard work, and lots of time spent with users, today sees the launch of our new-look Learn My Way – and it’s the biggest (and best) update to our online learning platform in over five years.

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Throughout this deployment we’ve kept two things in mind: simplicity and the user experience.

We’ve long known that many people in the UK have low levels of literacy and numeracy skills, as well as basic digital skills. In fact I recently read some stats which said the 43% of adults aged 16-65 lack the literacy skills that are expected of a 16-year-old, and, 15% of adults are at or below the literacy skills that are expected of an 11-year-old. With these kind of stats in mind, we wanted to make sure that Learn My Way was as simple as possible, so people with low literacy skills – who are most likely to also be the people with low digital skills – weren’t scared off by words and buttons they didn’t understand.

There are 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills – with almost 6 million people having never been online – so something that is visually appealing and easy-to-use to me (and people like me), could be the most difficult and frightening thing in the world to those 12.6 million people.

I personally always thought Learn My Way was a simple online platform. Looking at the new website I can see the improvements. It’s now easier and more user-friendly than ever before and the range of courses ensure that we’re able to help everyone who needs it – from jobseekers, and people concerned about their health, to those looking to follow hobbies online.

At our event for libraries and digital inclusion yesterday, one Library Manager said to me “staff can’t say to me they don’t have time to support digitally excluded people, and then spend time making lesson plans! They can just use Learn My Way – not only is it quick and easy to get started, but it also builds independence as the people learning are in control of what they do, and how fast or slow they want to learn.”

Learn My Way is user-focused, and the courses are all mapped to the basic digital skills framework led by Go ON UK with the London School of Economics, Oxford Internet Institute, Tinder Foundation and others. We want people to learn what they want, or need, to learn when they want, or need, to learn it. But at the same time, we don’t want to stop there if we can provide progression from the very, very basics up to job seeking, money skills, and health literacy. Doing it in a simple and pretty way is difficult, but exciting too.

And it’s not just about the learners

I’d describe the new Learn My Way as a bit like a swan. On the outside it’s shiny, simple, and beautiful, but under the water line – away from the eye – it’s working very hard. The learning platform produces sophisticated data to not only track the progress of the learners but to demonstrate the impact that they’re having on people’s lives to Trustees, funders and more. This data is available for anyone in the UK online centres network using Learn My Way.

If you work in your community, and are not part of the UK online centres network already, it is free and simple for any organisation small or large to get involved, please do get in touch to find out more about how we can help you.

Take a look for yourself

I’m so proud of our new-look Learn My Way and I hope that everyone who starts/continues using it will love it just as much as I do. Well done to everyone involved in the process, from the Tinder Foundation team members to the people in communities who were kind enough to help us with requirements and testing.

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the new website on www.learnmyway.com – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Dementia, digital, and doing things differently

At Tinder Foundation, it’s our job to make good things happen through digital technology – and to make them happen for the hardest to reach, most isolated and excluded audiences. That includes the 850,000 or so people in the UK with dementia – and their carers.

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Godfrey, 68, was knocked sideways by his Alzhiemer’s diagnosis. He describes the disease as like  ‘living life in slow motion’. He stopped socialising, and shut himself away. One day, one of our UK online centre research partners (Age UK South Tyneside) visited his care home, and were showing some YouTube videos of old music performances – including Frank Sinatra. He went over to see what was happening.

Gradually Godfrey learned how to use a tablet. He needed a lot of help – a few simple icons to press for each activity he wanted to do – and different smells to help him recall the processes for each one.

Now Godfrey can Skype his son or daughter with just a touch of a button. He can look up his favourite musicians, and find new music. He’s become a fan of Seasick Steve, and his Grandson in Australia thinks he’s ‘cool’. He’s ordering his prescriptions online now, and he’s found out more about Alzheimer’s disease – so he feels more in control. He’s also joined some specialist groups so he’s getting out and about more.

In Godfrey’s own words, “You don’t realise what you can do until you try it out and it has really helped me stop feeling sorry for myself, snap out of my depression and start looking forward to things again.”

I believe digital skills really can help everyone and anyone live better, more fulfilling lives. And at Tinder Foundation we’ve had a look in greater depth at the role of digital skills and community-based support in improving the health and wellbeing of families affected by dementia.

Today, we’re launching a new research report – Dementia and Digital: Using technology to improve health and wellbeing, that begins to track the impact of technology on both people like Godfrey who have dementia, and their carers. It also scopes out the challenges and barriers to engagement and delivery, and what really works to make technology work well for these audiences.

This small, in-depth research follows on from our three year programme with NHS England to widen participation in digital health. Our aim has always been to reduce health inequalities – recognising the huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded and those at risk of poor health.

It is important to note that carers deserve as much of our time and support as the people they love and care for, and have equal prominence in our report. With so much on their plates already, they were often reluctant to add digital skills to their to-do lists, or to facilitate the learning of those they cared for. Once engaged, though, carers have found digital technology a lifeline. It is a way to create space in their lives for themselves, accessing support, saving time on everyday tasks, and helping the people they care for find both coping strategies and memories.

Ken Brown looks after wife Val, who has vascular dementia. As her appetite has faded, he’s been able to use the internet to research if this was part of her illness, find reassurance and new recipes and tactics to help her start eating more. For Ken, the internet has just made life that bit easier. “It means I’ve got somewhere to go, rather than sitting and thinking ‘what do I do now?’”

Digital doesn’t solve any problems all by itself. But it can help us do things differently, and in doing so make a difference to health, wellbeing and quality of life. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the NHS, with frontline health and care professionals, and with organisations that support people with memory loss and their carers, to ensure these benefits can be realised as widely as possible.

The full Dementia and Digital report can be found on our website. I do hope you enjoy reading it. If you can help us expand our work and take these findings forwards, please do get in touch – hello@tinderfoundation.org.

 

Miles together

At the end of August I spied the Australian Digital Inclusion Index – a new report highlighting the extent of the digital skills gap in Australia and setting down a benchmark to measure future action. I found it particularly interesting as we’ve just started working with an Australian organisation called Leep – and their CEO, Cecily Michaels, is coming to speak at our conference in November.

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Me and Cecily at Harbour Bridge, Sydney

 

As I read the Index, although we’re about 9,500 miles apart, I couldn’t help but feel like there are a lot of similarities between our two countries when it comes to digital exclusion – and here’s why.

In the UK there are 12.6 million people who lack basic digital skills; in Australia the key barrier for some people to getting online and maximising the benefits that doing so can bring is digital ability. It’s clear to me that there is a digital divide in both of our countries and it’s important for organisations – like us and like Leep – to make sure we’re bringing digital skills to those who need it most.

The UK online centres network supports several different groups, from jobseekers to homeless people to older people, and one group that we focus on in particular is disabled people. There are 5.9 million people in the UK who have never used the internet before, and of those 3.3 million are disabled. In Australia the stats are similar: the report states: “People with disability have a low level of digital inclusion (44.4, or 10.1 points below the national average). However, nationally, their inclusion has improved steadily (by 2.6 points since 2014), outpacing the national average increase (1.8 points).”

Leep and Tinder Foundation are now working on a project together in Western Sydney, called the “Leep in Network” – a movement for digital inclusion and people with disability. The aim is to support people with disabilities to develop the basic digital skills needed to participate in society and experience all the benefits that being online can bring. Anyone can join the network: organisations, businesses and councils who are offering services to increase digital inclusion for people with disability, such as learning opportunities, access to free WiFi or computers.

Partners will feature on the network’s free online searchable database – created by us here in the UK – so that people with a disability in Western Sydney can find an opportunity that suits them to develop their basic digital skills. We’ll also be keeping partners up-to-date with newsletters and resources to support them with their digital inclusion programmes.

We will be sharing and tweeting the new tools very soon, so watch out for those, especially if you’re working in or interested in Western Sydney.

It’s all about teamwork

I couldn’t be happier that we’re working with Leep to deliver this project, and hopefully this is just the beginning of working together. We may be 9,500 miles apart but we’re working very closely together.

As an organisation, Tinder Foundation wants a world where everyone can benefit from digital – not just people in the UK. We want to take the digital inclusion message far and wide and we want to reach out to those who need our help.

I really can’t wait for Cecily to share our partnership journey at the conference later this year – make sure you don’t miss out on that one. And in the meantime, please do take a look at the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. It’s a very interesting read and proves that digital exclusion isn’t a nationwide problem, it’s worldwide – and there’s work to be done.

Ditching devices? We don’t need to detox

I returned to work this week after being on holiday for a fortnight. I felt relaxed and ready to get back into the swing of things. I sat down to catch up on all the digital inclusion news that I may have missed while I was abroad and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the key finding from Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report. The headline: “Fifteen million UK internet users have undertaken a ‘digital detox’ in a bid to strike a healthier balance between technology and life beyond the screen.”

I thought it was a joke.

After chatting to my colleagues I realised that it was all true. On one side of the spectrum, in the UK there are 12.6 million people who lack the very basic internet skills; on the other side there are 15m who are so sick of technology that they’re purposefully spending time away from it. The question I have is: why would anyone want to do this?

The Ofcom research says: “The [research] reveals how our reliance on the internet is affecting people’s personal and working lives, leading many to seek time away from the web to spend time with friends and family.”

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Image courtesy of Ofcom

I don’t think this is the reason. I think the reason that so many people have decided to spend time away from the web is because it’s the ‘fashionable’ thing to do. There may be some people who genuinely believe their addiction to tech is affecting their lives, but to me, the problem is with the person, not with technology.

It’s all about balance. All of the digitally included population can choose how much (or how little) digital channels they engage with.

Many people spend more time than they should online because they have a deep-rooted ‘fear of missing out’. Addiction is human nature and technology simply presents new options for this.

The internet makes things easier

Thinking about when I was on holiday for the past two weeks, the idea of going through it without the internet just seems absurd. Technology has been developed over time to help make our lives easier, and I genuinely think that it does. I was able to do my check-in online before reaching the airport, I had all of my travel documentation stored on my phone instead of printing out masses of paper, and even when I reached my holiday destination I was able to do things like look up a TripAdvisor review of a restaurant we thought looked nice to see if it would be a good place to eat. Another thing that I did with my Kindle was download an audiobook before a long train journey, so I could listen to it whilst still being able to take in the gorgeous scenery outside the window.

I didn’t spend my whole holiday stuck to my tablet/phone though – hence why I managed to miss the launch of Ofcom’s report – because I know that it’s OK to not be on Twitter replying to tweets, and I know it’s OK to not reply to an email immediately as soon as it comes through. If something is that important and needs an immediate response, the person will call me.

Smart-snubbing

One aspect of the report that I found particularly interesting (and also quite entertaining) is that 26% of adults have sent texts or instant messages to friends/family while in the same room. Can you believe it?

Smart-snubbing

Image courtesy of Ofcom

And 40% of adults (that’s four in every 10 people) felt they’d been ‘smart-snubbed’ at least once a week, with 17% saying it happens to them on a daily basis. Up until now I had no idea what smart-snubbing is – it means to ignore someone because you’re too engrossed in your smartphone or tablet. This is a prime example of obsession.

To all the ‘digital detoxers’ out there I say, if you want to visit or talk to your friends and family more, just do it! If it’s not possible because they’re in another country, like my son for example, technology isn’t a hindrance, it becomes an enabler. It means I can use services like instant messaging to get in touch with him and make calls through data and WiFi without the big phone bill that used to come with international family contact. I’d never dream of going on a ‘digital detox’ because it would mean not being able to do things I need to and want to do.

Tuesday poll

Yesterday we put a poll on the Tinder Foundation Twitter account asking whether our followers make an effort to spend time away from their phone and the internet. 42% of respondents said that they do, whilst 58% said that they do not. I’d be interested to chat to those who said they do, to find out exactly why they think that they need to.

The internet makes our lives easier in so many ways and to me, giving that up intentionally seems absurd. Maybe my earlier hypothesis was right; maybe the ‘detoxers’ really are just doing it because giving technology up is the ‘in’ thing to do. If that is the case, I can’t wait to see what fad comes next.

Take a look at Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2016.

Reboot UK: The film adaptation

At the beginning of July, I attended an event at BFI Southbank in London to view three films, marking the end of the Open Cinema portion of our Reboot UK project. It was a combined event with the Pathways to your Future programme – a Cisco-funded tech internship programme.

It was an inspiring two hours and a great way to spend a Monday afternoon seeing how the Reboot UK programme has benefitted people, and hearing from some of the partners involved, including Homeless Link and Evolve Housing, really brought home the huge impacts the programme has been having.

I’m very proud of Reboot UK, which aims to help families in poverty, homeless people and people with poor mental health to improve their wellbeing through digital. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’m about to say it again: there are 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills and the groups who are being supported through Reboot are far more likely to make up a portion of this number. They are at greater risk of social exclusion and have the most to gain from improved digital skills and access to online resources.

You can find out more about Reboot UK on the Tinder Foundation website, but the real reason I wanted to blog about this afternoon at BFI is because I want to share the videos. They were created in conjunction with three Reboot UK delivery partners: Leeds Mind, Evolve Housing + Support and Abington Centre of Education and they really demonstrate the impact that the project has had and show how it will continue to support those most in need.

Abington Centre of Education:

Evolve Housing and Support:

Leeds Mind:

Digital health skills: Reducing inequalities, improving society

Today I’ll be at the House of Lords, launching our final report on the NHS Widening Digital Participation in Health programme.

Over the last three years of the programme, our aim has been to help people improve their digital skills, learn more about digital health, and improve their own health and wellbeing as a result. We have targeted those with least digital experience and most health needs in the heart of their communities.

With all of the challenges we currently face as a society, and with all of the pressures on the NHS, giving people digital health skills may seem like it’s not that much of a priority.

I’ll try and explain why it is.

There are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have basic digital skills and these people are those who are most likely to be suffering from poor health. They are also those most likely to be further disadvantaged by age, education, income, disability, or unemployment.

The fact is that there is a huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded, those who are socially excluded, and those at risk of poor health. The Widening Digital Participation programme aimed to see how action on one front could influence the others.

Ron

Ron Dale from Inspire Communities

Ron first went into Inspire Communities – a UK online centre in Hull and one of our pathfinder centres for this programme – because he was about to be sanctioned by Jobcentre Plus for not meeting his job search commitments. Ron was homeless, had a gambling habit, as well as serious mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. He was living in a tent on the motorway, on the occasional Pot Noodle and coffee. He was often hungry and cold, and his physical and mental health were going downhill.

Part of the problem was that Ron’s relationship with his GP surgery had deteriorated, and he refused to go. With the help of Inspire Communities, he was able to look at NHS Choices for advice on managing his symptoms, and to find a new GP. He was able to register and make an appointment online without having to run the gauntlet of travel, receptionists, and other patients.

Plugging him back into the healthcare system was key in helping to connect him to the wider support he needed – and digital was key in doing this. Now he’s found new housing, taking an active role in his own healthcare, meeting his Jobcentre Plus obligations and dealing with his gambling addiction.

Digital matters. Digital health matters.

And Ron’s story isn’t just a one off. Throughout the programme, we’ve found that giving people the digital health skills they need means they’re empowered to take control of their health, improving the ongoing management of chronic health conditions, and helping them to interact better with health and social care services.

We’ve also seen how digital inclusion can improve the social determinants of health – with better digital skills improving prospects for employment, income generation, educational achievement, and social connections. 52% of participants said they felt less lonely or isolated, and 62% stated that they felt happier as a result of more social contact. More than half said they have since have gone on to use the internet to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

On top of this, the programme has also shown that improving digital health skills has the power to reduce the pressure on frontline NHS services. By helping people to move non-urgent medical queries from face-to-face and emergency channels to online ones, we found we could potentially save the NHS an estimated £6 million a year, representing a £6 return on investment for every £1 spent on the programme over the last three years.

In summary, The Widening Digital Participation programme – and the local partnerships between UK online centres and local health and care providers that it has nurtured – has been proven to drive up the quality of care and drive down both health inequalities and health costs, ultimately improving society as a whole. And that’s definitely a result worth celebrating.

You can read more about the programme and download a copy of the report here: nhs.tinderfoundation.org.

Calling England’s libraries, the time to plan for the future is now

Back in October 2015 we launched a six-month project called the Library Digital Inclusion Fund in consultation with the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, funding 16 library services in our network of community partners to run innovative schemes with the aim of increasing their digital inclusion activities, thus increasing their potential and cementing their place in society. Yesterday we launched our research findings from that project, proving that libraries’ community roots and partnerships can address social and digital exclusion – but that more needs to be done.

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The library sector seems to be suffering an existential crisis. They are facing tough times. This new project has established that libraries can, with help, reach those most in need (the 12.6 million people in the UK lacking basic digital skills), helping to connect them to digital information and skills. They work from the ground up and often have the resources – free-to-use WiFi and technology, such as laptops and tablets – that learners need. This makes them an integral part of communities everywhere and to lose any one of them is a great loss. Libraries need to live up to their enormous potential before time runs out. But what can we do?

England’s libraries need a solid digital inclusion strategy

The library sector needs to look ahead and develop a plan for the future. A key element is securing investment to make sure they have the most up-to-date equipment and services. During this year’s Be Online campaign I visited Leeds Libraries and went with them on an outreach session to visit a lovely lady called Molly. It was Molly’s first day with the project – she was learning about the internet through the Libraries@Home service and borrowing an iPad with a SIM card (which was developed as part of the Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund project). Without the proper investment, services such as this will no longer exist, and those already suffering social exclusion will be worse off as a result.

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We also need to think about how libraries can plug into other services to help communities and individuals to thrive. For example libraries could work together with local social housing providers to bring their outreach services to tenants who are otherwise unable to access technology and the online world. This kind of partnership would benefit libraries in so many ways, not least by helping them to prove their worth to local authorities, funders and the wider world, in terms of social impact and economic, digital-by-default support.

Now here comes the stats bit (you knew it would be in here somewhere). We’ve done a few calculations to work out the potential savings to local and national government in the areas where the library services participating in the project are based. Based on what we know about the way our learners shift from using face-to-face and telephone services to online channels, we would expect potential cost savings of more than £800,000 per year just through the project beneficiaries alone. If similar low-scale activities to those which took place throughout the project were implemented across all 151 library services in England, a potential £7.5 million per year of cost savings could be achieved.

Utilising technology and making plans to advance their digital work shows that libraries aren’t just about books any more – it shows that they’re moving with the times and planning for the future. I believe that libraries are not out-dated and not a thing of the past; I believe that libraries are an essential part of communities all across the UK and that they all have the potential to mould themselves and adapt to the developing technological world.

Our project supported more than 1,600 people to improve their digital skills at over 200 branch libraries. Target audiences included elderly people, families in poverty, disabled people and the long term unemployed, with activities ranging from job search skills to keeping in touch; connecting with essential government services to managing long term health conditions; understanding benefits to following hobbies.

Libraries may be an old concept but they are by no means obsolete. At Tinder Foundation we believe that we can help libraries with investment and strategy and this research very much shows that. The time to start planning for the future is now – let’s do it together.

Read our Library Digital Inclusion Fund Action Research Project evaluation report here.