Local + technology + scale: English language learning for communities

You’ve probably noticed that I bang on about the “local + technology + scale” model quite a lot. This is an approach that Tinder and our community partners have developed over many years and through which we’ve supported over a million people.

The premise is this:

  • you create some high quality online content in partnership with people and organisations who know a lot about a topic, and, you host it somewhere accessible like Learn My Way

  • you enable and encourage flexible use of the content with local (even hyperlocal) places and partners in communities – like UK online centres – and support them to engage people, train them and support them to progress

  • and then you do this over and over again to reach scale.

This model has been really successful when teaching people about digital skills and we’re now extending that to other informal learning as well. Today we’re able to announce that we will be able to apply the model to a new area of learning – English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). The project is called English My Way, and it has been funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government through their English Language competition.

In October I visited to two UK online centres – JET in Newcastle and the Mercy Foundation in South London (pics included). In both of these centres I met people who were keen to learn how to use the internet but English wasn’t their mother language and they were new to speaking English. Language was a massive barrier for them which they had to overcome before they could really learn how to use the web.


Speaking to Hilary at JET and Victoria at Mercy Foundation, and many other centres around the country, we’ve discovered that there isn’t a lot of free low level English language learning content available, and it’s clear that it’s really needed. To support our community partners and the people they work with, we’re working with two highly experienced partners – BBC Learning English and the British Council – to deliver the new English My Way project.


So now we’ve heard the great news, the hard work starts! Over the next few months – together with BBC Learning English and the British Council – we’ll be developing both online (and some offline) learning content to support people to improve their English language skills using an innovative blended learning approach. We’ll also be working closely with community experts within the UK online centres network, creating within it a smaller network of English language centres who will begin delivery in April 2014.

And of course, I’ll be sharing all of the developments with you as we go along, so watch this space!

Digital nation – get the picture

Now we’re getting pretty much stuck into the 21st century, how do we make sure we’re really embracing this very digital world we live in? We have a choice to grasp the opportunity that being a digital nation can bring us or choose to remain a digitally divided nation – and I think the choice is a pretty clear one

Digital exclusion = poverty, lack of opportunity, inefficiencies, under employment, health inequalities, isolation, no-go communities, and people left behind.

Digital growth = high employment, world class skills, top notch services, prevention of poor health and crime through use of data, successful businesses, good education, well-being and happiness.

Which one would you choose?

The world of digital inclusion has been through quite a lot of iterations and I’m delighted with recent additions, such as Martha Lane Fox’s new charity and our close partner, Go ON UK, and most recently the Government Digital Service’s new Digital Inclusion Team. While we’ve achieved a huge amount, I’m not particularly interested in looking back at where we were. What I am interested in is learning from what’s worked, and in analysing who still needs support and inspiration.

Since I live and breathe the key stats and facts about digital inclusion, I thought it would be helpful to collect them in one place. What started as a scribble in a notebook is now a beautiful infographic – so you can literally get the digital nation picture – which brings together the killer facts and stats we need to know and that clever organisations like Ofcom, ONS, Oxford Internet Institute, the BBC, and others, collect regularly.

Our new infographic tells of the divided world – the 36 million on the sunny side of the divide, as well as the 11 million still in the digital dark. We don’t just know about who lives on the two sides of this divide but also about what the digitally included do online, and what the benefits are in both personal and economic terms.

Digital Nation Infographic14

What’s really frustrating is that we do know what works. In the centre of our infographic is a tree of inspiration which has eight ‘leaves’ which cover how to do digital inclusion. They include outreach – helping people where they live work and play, hyper-local delivery in informal community spaces, local marketing, one-to-one support from volunteers and tutors, partnerships with trusted intermediaries to reach the hardest to reach, free, flexible access, and bite-sized, self-directed learning. No matter who I talk to about their programmes and schemes, these eight elements appear in some guise or another.

So having gathered these stats and facts together, and created that tree of inspiration, the next obvious question is “So what?” I’m keen that we actually use our collective knowledge to drive action, and I thought I’d give a view of what I think should happen next. Basically we don’t need more data on the who or where; we need data on the what works and how to have the biggest impact.

So let’s start here. Do we need more evidence? Yes – definitely. There are lots of isolated projects that appear to do good things, but we’re not systematically collecting the evidence about what’s working or why. To become a digital nation, do we just need to do more of the practice we already know works? On one level, I think we do. I need more. But, I also think we should get cleverer too.

It’s not just helping people to use digital, but using digital to help people. That’s about better use of data to provide personalised online learning that works for each individual. It’s about sharing data through APIs and using open source practices, embedding each other’s learning content, and working on platforms for co-creation to involve the learners in defining content and helping to produce it.

We also need to get cleverer about partnerships. We need to work together to amplify, scale and share the pockets of good practice. And to help us spread the word we need the ears of leaders in big and small businesses, local government, central government, innovative technology companies, social housing providers, further education colleges, libraries, think tanks, community organisations, Foundations and philanthropists.

More interest in a ‘cause’ doesn’t necessarily mean more action – it could just mean more talking, and that’s what we need to avoid. So let’s start here, from this evidence, from this picture. Let’s work out how we can get to be the most digital skilled nation in the world, how much that will cost, and just get on with it. Picture that.

Thank you to Alyson Rhodes at The Art Department for the inspiring design and getting it all down on paper for us.

Note: Infographic is HERE and you need the separate sheet for all of the sources for the data which is HERE

Closing the health gap using digital inclusion and data

Today in the Guardian Online, I’ve got an article arguing that the preventative care revolution depends on closing the digital divide.

Across the UK, 11 million people have poor digital skills and half those who are offline have a disability. Digital inclusion is now a matter of life and death.

Read the article in full over on The Guardian Online