Government plans to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations

Amid all of the noise this weekend – ahead of the Conservative Party Conference – about Brexit and grammar schools, the Government has quietly leaked a new policy that seeks to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations. This will mean that there will be “publicly-funded basic digital skills training being offered free of charge to adults in England who need it”.


This makes asking for free, publicly-funded basic skills learning a right for any adult who needs them, and this will be enshrined in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill.

Wow. Great news. There are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have the basic digital skills they need to function in a digital world. This means they’re missing out on jobs, flexible and convenient digitised public services, and personal savings of over £700 a year. And, it’s not just the people who are missing out – it’s the country too, with the Commons Science and Technology Committee saying that poor basic digital skills mean the country is missing out on £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

It’s music to my ears to hear a policy statement that says not being able to use the internet is as important as lacking basic skills in English and Maths. A real policy for the 21st century.

However, is this just ‘business as usual’? This new entitlement will be paid for by the existing Adult Education Budget which is all already allocated, mostly to Further Education Colleges.

Will FE respond appropriately or they will just tweak their plans enough to show willing and carry on as they’ve always done?

The people who lack basic digital skills are the same people who also lack jobs or have low skilled jobs; they lack good qualifications, and are living on low incomes. These people need to be at the forefront of the plan.

Let’s not kill this policy with traditional and expensive classroom learning in formal institutions. Let’s accelerate this policy using brilliant online learning like Learn My Way. Online learning drives up quality through a guarantee for user focus, excellence, and the right content for the right outcomes. Online learning can also drive down costs as it can be scaled easily and quickly. Online learning can empower people themselves to self-serve and take control to improve their own basic digital skills (assuming they have a little skill to start with).

And online learning can provide a universal curriculum for hyperlocal community-based providers who can blend it with great, personalised, informal and local support.

Online learning can deliver high quality at scale, and should form an essential element in the Government’s plan for a 100% digitally skilled nation.

This new policy is really great news. I’m delighted.

I just hope that we don’t miss the huge potential impact a well implemented policy can have on millions of people’s lives. I’m sure we will know more over the coming weeks.

DCMS press release is here.

Another wonderful year

Last week was our fourth birthday. Can you believe it? Tinder Foundation is now four years old. It seems like just yesterday we were starting out – a small team with big dreams and only one government contract to our name. We’ve come so far since then and our strategy has grown and developed from a little spark into a fully blown bonfire. We now have a 50-strong team and our passion to help those most in need to develop their digital skills and improve their lives is stronger than ever.


It was Emily’s (our Research and Specialist Insight Manager) birthday too, so she did us the honours of cutting the cake.

There’s one group of people that we really couldn’t do it without and that’s our network of more than 5000 community partners. You really do make good things happen with digital technology and I couldn’t be more proud of the work you do. Thank you so much to everyone who works with us and helps us too. I’m looking forward to continuing our work with you over the next year and beyond.

As well as our birthday last week we had our annual board meeting and AGM. If you’re not familiar with our board you can take a look at them on the Tinder Foundation website. They really are a very lovely bunch of people and they’re so knowledgeable. They all come from different backgrounds and do very different jobs but they all have one thing in common: they all believe in Tinder Foundation and the work that we do. I’d like to thank the board as well for the experience and the confidence they bring to our organisation year after year.

There’s a lot of really exciting stuff in the pipeline for Tinder Foundation in 2016, including our work to improve the already wonderful Learn My Way. Our team are working really hard to develop the next generation best possible learning platform for our users and I really can’t wait to see the finished product. We played a game in the workshop section of our AGM which involved coming up with an idea to explain the internet to an alien race. The new Learn My Way is going to be so great that if we sent it up into outer space in a rocket, it would definitely be able to teach aliens about computers, the internet and all the wonderful benefits they can bring.


Again a big thank you to our network, our board and to the Tinder Foundation team for just being awesome. Keep doing what you do, because you are truly brilliant at it. Here’s to another year of fun!

The world is changing: the Philippines & digital

Last month I spent four days seeing, listening and thinking about people living in the Philippines.

I’ve found it quite hard to gather my thoughts into a coherent blog, as much of what I saw and thought seemed to contradict each other. Much was shocking and surprising, other things inspiring and familiar.

Yes, I saw abject poverty – young children filthy and weeping by the side of an over-congested road, shanty make-shift homes made of cardboard and scraps. And I heard about poverty, 37% of the population living on less than $3.10 a day. 10 million Filipinos work overseas and send money home, I met a woman on the plane leaving Cebu, she works in Dubai as a Medical Technician and had just had her annual trip home to see her children (aged 7 and 11) – I can’t imagine the pressures on a parent to have to choose to work overseas so her children have a better chance at life. The woman said she lived in one room in a flat with 3 or 4 others (Filipino couples, and families), sharing a home to maximise how much is sent back to the children and elderly parents.

But on the other hand the Philippine Government are well-organised and ambitious for their country. There is a growth in tech hubs and a vision that digital will help their emerging nation grow faster and compete. Part of their goal is more, better paid employment in-country so people don’t have to leave their families behind if they want a decent wage. The Government, with the ITU (the technology arm of the UN), and others signed a pledge for the eFilipino at the event I was at in Cebu. Their plan is that a more successful nation is going to be a digital nation.

So, why was I there?

I was there to talk about digital inclusion of course. To discuss the impact that gaining basic digital skills has on individual lives and on a society, and to see with my own eyes the excellent Tech4ED centres they are developing. That’s ED for Economic Development. They have 300 centres already and more are being established all the time. It was great going to one of their Tech4ED centres in Mandaue – it was really familiar to me. Lots of different people of all ages doing the thing that they wanted or needed – from learning English to applying for a birth certificate.

The Philippine Government are already on the same page as us. They have embedded digital literacy into the curriculum offer they have available in Tech4ED centres which target older people, unemployed people, people needing to do a few basic Government services (such as order a birth certificate), as well as ‘out of school youths’ – that’s children who don’t go to school as they need to work or move around a lot – they can graduate from high school by completing online materials.

Imagining the world in 2030, let alone in 2020, it’s hard to imagine that the Philippines won’t be there competing with us in digital, creating their own digital businesses as well as no doubt supplying other global digital needs. I met a man from Boston via Silicon Valley and Nairobi who has chosen Cebu, Philippines, as the place to establish his social business due to the combination of great need (poverty) and a pool of local digital talent.

Digital literacy in the Philippines is about making sure people don’t leave people behind as the nation accelerate to greater economic development – and they get that. They already have programmes but they think Learn My Way is better than what they currently use and so they will run a pilot to see if and how it’s useful. At the start of this week we made available for use in the Philippines. Facebook is massive in the Philippines.

Key stats Philippines:

  • Population: 100m+
  • 44m use the internet
  • 30m use Facebook

Key stats UK:

  • Population: 60m+
  • 53m use the internet
  • 33m use Facebook

So we’ve introduced a Facebook login to Learn My Way, so that people don’t have to register again if they don’t want to. It’s a trial, and we’ll see how it goes.

Next steps – hard work to making this happen and then learning the lessons. But this is a real partnership with talented, focussed and ambitious people. I look forward to working with them.

Clicking with the Philippines

This week I visited the Philippines to attend the Digital Strategies for Development Summit (DSDS 2015). I chatted about our online learning platform, Learn My Way, and learned so much about the great work going on in the Philippines to support people to gain basic digital skills. We talked about partnership and how Learn My Way can be useful for them.

Learn My Way logo

It was great to gain some insight from another country about how we can be useful and help people working on digital inclusion in countries around the world. I learned a lot, and it was all very ‘dipping our toes in the water’ but I feel like we’re already on our way to making some progress.

I can’t wait to share everything that I have seen, heard and thought, so keep an eye out for another blog very soon. In the meantime, you can listen to me talking on Radio 4’s BBC Click earlier this week, prior to setting off from the UK. Scroll ahead to 13:30 to hear me discuss the Philippines (before I went), Learn My Way, and the importance of digital inclusion.

Smartphones and Digital Inclusion: It’s Complicated

One of the main findings from Ofcom’s latest Communications Market report is that the UK is now a “smartphone society”. It was an interesting read but I’m completely fed up of people going on about how the digital inclusion issue is going to be “sorted” by smartphones.

I’m fed up, because the data doesn’t tell that story. Ofcom’s other recent report – Adults’ media use and attitudes – states that 6% of people ONLY use smartphones and tablets as their only internet device. 6%! And this isn’t increasing very fast. It started at 2% in 2009, increasing to 4% and now it’s 6%.

In the world I live in lots of people are on their smartphones, checking social media or looking at the news. It might seem like everyone’s doing it, but in reality only 69% of the population go online outside their homes. That means that 3 in 10 people don’t access the internet on the move which is a big number.

When you dig below the surface, this smartphone malarky is even more complicated


If you take a deeper look into this report the figures show that young people and the people in the lowest socio-economic groups are more likely to use an alternative device to go online.

People use the internet for different things and figures show that the device they use depends on the task they wish to complete. People like to use Gov services, for example, on a computer, but tend to use social media on a smartphone.

So the smartphone is loved for certain things, with a third of all internet users saying it’s their most frequently used device.

Tablet vs Desktop

Tablet use isn’t huge with only 13% of internet users accessing the internet through them. This figure is much lower than desktop computers, and although I’ve not seen a desktop computer for years (except in the UK online centres I’ve visited of course!) there’s about 25% of the population who like to use desktop computers for many activities.

The smartphone is PART of the solution, not THE solution

I think smartphones are an important tool in our box and offer the potential to give many more people access to the internet, especially when it comes to affordability (32% of people who don’t use the internet say that cost is keeping them offline).

And we know that although the vast majority of internet users are using multiple devices touchscreens work particularly well for people who are unfamiliar with the internet, especially for activities like watching TV online and using social media.

Learn My Way is, of course, mobile optimised, but I do sometimes wonder if people (myself included) choose to do some things on a smartphone and other things on a laptop, will the internet ever be so well designed that people can do everything easily on a phone?

But please, please, please don’t get giddy all the time and say there’s evidence that the smartphone is the silver bullet for digital inclusion that so many people seem to think is out there. Look at the evidence. There’s no substitute for old fashioned hard work, local support and making the internet relevant and personal (and affordable too!).

Is Facebook the gateway to the internet?


I’m always talking to my team about finding new ways to reach people, whether that’s people that aren’t online and don’t have digital skills, or the people that do have some sort of access but still don’t know how to use it, or simply aren’t motivated to use it.

One thing we know is that to reach new people we have to go where they are and not expect them to come to us. Here’s a fact for you: 70% of our community partners do outreach work, physically going out and finding the people that need their help the most. At Tinder Foundation, it’s just as important for us to be looking for these people in the online world too, which is where Learn My Way’s new Facebook course comes in.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook

Designed to help people that have already signed up for a Facebook account but either don’t know how to use it or lack the confidence to use it (the digitally excluded come in all shapes and sizes), Doing More With Facebook shows people how to make the most of social media, do more with Facebook, and gives them a taste of Learn My Way in the hope that they’ll want to continue learning. It will even post to your wall so you can encourage friends to use the course app too.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook









The team behind Learn My Way work closely with stakeholders to develop new learning content and they started to think about creating something for social media after a lot of community partners found the young people they were working with in particular had access to Facebook on their phones, but weren’t using the internet for other things like applying for jobs, looking for housing, or even emailing their granddad.

This also ties in with Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015, which found 40% of internet users only visit between 5-10 websites a week, with 50% of newer internet users visiting between 1-4 websites on average a week. I think we can assume Facebook features somewhere in that list.

So, the idea is we’re breaking down barriers by reaching people in a place where they’re comfortable and introducing them to Learn My Way and tonnes of free learning in the process. 

Roger: a long journey to hope

One cold, dark, rainy Friday morning in January, I got onto the 7.27am train from Sheffield to London and sat at a table opposite a woman. I had those “winter blues”; too many months without proper sunshine, catching early morning trains, and Friday is usually the day when I get to see the team in the office.

After a while the woman opposite and I got talking. She worked for NHS England and was also feeling tired having stayed up until 2am working on an important document. The first nice thing was that she had heard positive things about Tinder Foundation and our NHS England Widening Participation programme. The second nice thing was that I found myself talking about the work I do – with the team, and with the thousands of community partners that we have – and about the impact of that work. One person I talked about in particular was Roger Hamilton, and his remarkable story.

Roger Hamilton

Roger Hamilton

The first time I met Roger was at an event at the House of Commons that we hosted back in 2012, where he was working at St Mungo’s homeless charity (now St Mungo’s Broadway). He had returned to the UK after spending some time in Jamaica, and found himself without work, without friends and family, and without anywhere to live.

He spent ten years homeless, sofa surfing, living in hostels, and some time rough sleeping, and this chaotic lifestyle led to poor health and to despair. In 2010 he found his way to St Mungo’s, where he found shelter and support, and he then visited a local UK online centre (Holborn Library) where he learned how to use the internet and he found hope.

Roger told me that when he was living in Jamaica, computers and the internet were luxuries. When he came back to London he didn’t have the skills to participate in society, and he didn’t have the skills he needed to find work. Roger got the basics of how to use the internet at the UK online centre in Holborn Library, using Learn My Way; he was then supported by St Mungo’s to get more skills.

He felt empowered, he felt in touch with the world, and he found himself supporting other people at St Mungo’s to keep motivated to get the skills they need for an increasingly digital world. He began by volunteering and then moved into paid work as a tutor, but then he left St Mungo’s to move onto another job and we lost touch. I was so moved by Roger and how he spoke so eloquently and powerfully, and was so committed to helping other people to make the same transformative journey he had made, that I never forgot him.

Last year I was delighted to get an invitation to visit to St Mungo’s Broadway, because I have always been impressed with the work they do. I met with the CEO and his team, and then had a walk around their venue and met some people who were just beginning to use the internet and were feeling more positive about their futures. I asked one of the staff if they remembered Roger, she looked at me a bit confused, and said “he works here”. So, Roger had left and come back again. I was so happy to see him again and to hear about how well he was doing. He is now a Job Coach at St Mungo’s Broadway and he’s helping people there to gain skills, and dignity, and hope.

Roger working at St Mungo’s Broadway

Roger working at St Mungo’s Broadway

The woman on the train remarked on the huge cost to the NHS of homeless people, who often suffer poor health and piecemeal support from the health service. A 2012 report says that just one homeless person costs Government between £24,000 – £30,000 a year, and it’s likely that figure is now even higher. So policy makers can look at the fiscal benefits, as well as the human benefits, of helping just one person who (like Roger a few years ago) is homeless.

Roger’s story is so powerful, and I thought you too would like to feel this ray of sunshine whenever the sky near you is looking a bit grey and miserable, or you’re needing to hear how one man’s new found hope led him to help hundreds of others to take the same journey.

You can hear Roger tell his story in his own words.