Making IT Personal - Joining the DOTs (MITP:JtD)

Published on: 31/08/2010

Making IT Personal - Joining the DOTs explores new ways of training and accrediting community-based digital outreach mentors in the South Yorkshire region of the UK. Digital Outreach Trainers (DOTs) are volunteers who want to pass on their digital skills and knowledge to family, friends, neighbours and workmates. The project provides a training and accreditation path for volunteer DOTs who become part of an online peer learning community. DOTs help people learn and signpost them to both formal and informal learning opportunities. People that receive DOTs help in order to gain digital skills are encouraged to become DOTs in their turn, so that the community grows its own digital champions. The project also offers innovative learning opportunities including resources that integrate digital with broader employability skills, locally contexualised learning materials, new informal learning resources, and new accreditation for digital mentors from level two up to foundation degree level. The project is funded by the European Social Fund and led by a partnership of four local authorities, colleges, community learning organisations and the private sector.

Policy Context

MITP:JtD is part of the Innovation, Transnational and Mainstreaming fund of ESF. It supports digital inclusion objectives of EU and UK government policy. Within the UK it supports the national Race Online 2012 and Pass IT On campaigns. 

Description of target users and groups

Deprivation is widespread in South Yorkshire, a fact widely recognised. Therefore digital exclusion is a problem for most communities, as manifested in the levels of access to the technology and also the lack of the 'literacies' and 'e-confidence' to take advantage of it in everyday living.

This project is focused on the part that can be played by digital literacy towards the end goal of bringing people into employment or nearer to employability. That part may range from formal skills in ICT to its broader contribution to pre-labour market readiness and self-esteem. 

The primary target groups are those that find themselves excluded from economic activity or distanced from employment and lifestyle opportunities for a multiplicity of reasons. These may include learning difficulties and problems in accessing traditional employment and education settings, which may arise from issues such as gender (the issues of women in certain age groups are a particular concern), physical disabilities, debilitating illness (e.g. ME, Asbergers Syndrome), ethnic barriers, drug dependencies, phobias, criminal proceedings, care responsibilities (lone parents or family careers).

The project will focus on members of these groups with poor ICT literacy, which is often combined with low levels of the literacy, innumeracy and communication skills essential in modern workplaces. This requires an integrated learning ladder from Entry Level 2 and upwards.

In the emerging climate of unemployment, there will also be a focus on clients whose level of ICT literacy is not adequate in the 21st century workplace for the level of other skills they have to offer. This may be the case with many currently becoming redundant. This may require a ladder of ICT skills progressions up to Level 3.

The informal learning introduced through DOTs will be geared to developing self-esteem, confidence, capability and a resulting sense of opportunity. At the right time, this is expected to initiate a journey, engaging with more formal mixed mode learning opportunities (at home or at a learning venue) that might enable individuals to achieve a qualification for the first time - typically involving a mix ICT and other life and workplace skills.

It is envisaged that the focus for such learning will often be families (more than one member, often cross-generational), engaging with their aspirations to engage with the learning of their children, with hobbies and lifestyle opportunities (e.g. Digital TV, mobile phones) and consumer benefits (discounted services, goods, holidays).

Whilst not the primary target group, aspects of this approach will also help young people facing difficulties in making a successful transition to  work, in particular those who are at risk of becoming NEET. This has been evidenced by use of the GCSE English online curriculum with housebound learners in Sheffield and with excluded learners at the Springwell inclusion centre (Barnsley), by the NCFE interactive media award with similar clients at Rawmarsh CLC (Rotherham) and by the laptop based family learning scheme in Doncaster.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The project is managed by a steering group comprising representatives of the four local authorities of South Yorkshire, the participating colleges, the private sector partner (Sero Consulting Ltd), the lead community learning organisation, and other strategic partners. Executive management is led by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council supported by Sero Consulting and Sheffield College. Development of the learning offer is led by Sheffield College in partnership with the other colleges. Sheffield College also leads development and support of the DOT community in partnership with Sero and Access Space (community learning organisation). The lead evaluators for the project are NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) supported by Sero. 

Technology solution

This is not a technology project. It is applicable to any type of digital media. 

Main results, benefits and impacts

As an innovation project testing out a new model, the central target is to recruit 300 DOTs. 

Track record of sharing

We are working with transnational partners in Germany and Malta. Our Maltese colleagues are actively planning to adopt aspects of our approach. 

Lessons learnt

We have already shown that the concept of volunteer digital mentors is attractive and that the approval and accreditation process we have developed works. We have also shown that attractive learning materials that are strongly locally contexualised and that integrate digital skills with broader employability skills can be developed. The main challenge to face over the remainder of the project is whether the model can be sustained and mainstreamed. 

Scope: Regional (sub-national)