Support the development of digital skills and competences of users

Digital solutions must be designed around users’ capabilities, primarily their literacy, numeracy and digital skill levels. Since skills are developed through digital usage, it is desirable to design learning opportunities into the solution – its UI and content – so as to maximize the learning impact. In this sense, it is ideal to think about not users, but learners. Recommended actions include to:

  • Where relevant, design flexible learning pathways for users. Different learning paths offer an entry level into usage but then gradually lead to more complex levels in the content and interactions. Provide feedback to show users their progression and increasing technical mastery.

  • Where possible, create pedagogically sound content. Terms and language should educate users, in a scaffolded way, moving from simpler concepts to more complex details. In this way the content progressively builds upon itself. Explicit or implicit assessments can be designed into the solution to gauge user comprehension.

  • Set goals for digital skills and literacy development. Many development initiatives set impact objectives, for example, more sustainable farming practices in an area or that an education drive to support refugee children will result in an increase in their school enrolment. In the same way, objectives can be set for digital skills and literacy improvement. Setting such goals, which could align to key points along the learning pathway or assessment scores, will focus efforts to develop user’s competences.

  • UNESCO is in the process of developing a Digital Literacy Global Framework for the monitoring, assessment and further development of digital literacy that is sensitive to different developmental contexts. It offers a pathway-mapping methodology that is useful for setting and managing digital literacy skills goals. More broadly, the ITU’s Digital Skills Toolkit provides practical information and examples to enhance digital skills development policies and programmes.

  • Offer content in the local language of the users. The dominance of a few major languages, such as English, and dearth of those spoken by millions of people remains a major reason for digital exclusion. Using a digital service becomes that much more attractive and feasible when it is in a user’s own language, providing a foothold into digital usage and skills development.

Benchmark and track the digital skills and competences of users

UNESCO recommends gauging and benchmarking the digital skills and competences of target users. This not only enables apps and services to adequately meet user capabilities, it sets a baseline from which skills improvement can be measured. With continued usage of technologies, digital skills improve, which can motivate users to use the technology still more. In an iterative development approach, changing user capabilities have implications for the ongoing redesign and features to be added to a digital solution. A broad framework covers the multidimensional skills needed by users of digital solutions, whereby all users can be located somewhere on these spectrums:

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There are a few ways to gauge users’ skill levels:

  • Use an established national or regional framework for mapping the digital skills and competences of the target user group. This should ideally be in the local language and relevant to the local context. For example, in the UNESCO Landscape Review the DigComp2.1: The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens (European Commission, 2017) was used. Developed by the European Commission, it provides a common reference on how to describe key areas of digital competence and proficiency levels among European citizens. UNESCO’s draft Digital Literacy Global Framework offers a worldwide tool, while another example is the Basic Digital Skills Framework developed in the United Kingdom.

  • Collect and analyse relevant usage data to track skills development. For example, if a user gradually uses more sophisticated features successfully over time, or accesses text after initially only choosing audio content, this can indicate an increase in digital skills and/ or literacy. Tracking skills development in this way need not be an onerous task, as long as it is designed in from the start. It may be necessary to personalize the user experience by requiring users to register. While this adds a one-off layer of complexity to the user experience, it also provides an opportunity to offer a tailored view of the digital solution to the user.

  • Conduct pre- and post-usage tests to track skills, as with the Medic Mobile case study. These results can complement the usage data to paint a more complete picture of each user.

Benchmarking informs training and team support

In its research, UNESCO has not found many instances of skills and competences benchmarking. One project that does so is Medic Mobile, an integrated mobile system for improving maternal and neonatal health. In rural Nepal, the CHWs who use the system on the ground have needed initial and ongoing training.
Medic Mobile routinely runs pre- and post-training skills tests. Post-test results from a training conducted with 500 CHWs revealed the strongest overall gains in the more complex mobile phone operations that CHWs initially struggled with most. There were 40–45 per cent gains in the ability to use SMS functions including retrieving specific SMSs and accessing the phone’s inbox.
By benchmarking the users pre- and post-training, Medic Mobile is able to track development. This also informs its practice of pairing low-literate with higher-literate CHWs, to provide peer support.