The development and scaling of digital navigator services meet the immediate needs of learner-workers and their families, helping them find and apply for safety net services and to reskill or upskill3to stay employed or find new work opportunities during the recession.
There is a great inequality that exists in our modern world — digital exclusion. Digital exclusion locks many people, particularly black and brown communities, out of opportunities, with considerable costs to them and our wider society. Digital exclusion refers to those who lack access to technology and foundational digital skills training.
When some of US are not able to:
It impacts all of US4
Before the pandemic and since the early- to mid-1990s, digital inclusion programs have focused on improving digital skills through classroom training and public computer lab access through community technology centers/labs. Despite these efforts, the gap in digital skills remains5.
In addition, the pandemic response has severely reduced libraries and other community organizations’ ability to offer their traditional digital inclusion programs. Face-to-face training classes, public access computer labs, and walk-in support services have been unavailable for several months or longer. As programs at libraries and community-serving organizations adapt to the new environment, the Digital Navigator model is being adopted and can become part of the services being offered going forward remotely or face-to-face.
The social distancing measures needed to tackle the pandemic have put the digitally excluded in a precarious situation. Unable to attend community technology centers or education and training labs, many lack access to connectivity, digital devices, or the required digital skills to access essential services, which have rapidly moved online. At a time when technology innovation requires all of us to develop digital resilience, a lynchpin in developing a more equitable ecosystem for reskilling and upskilling to ensure economic recovery will be offering more accessible, just-in-time digital navigator services at scale6.
The Digital Navigator model is a comprehensive model that addresses multiple layers of becoming digitally included, which traditional classes and other services in the past might not have addressed completely. In addition, the Digital Navigator model is appealing as it offers flexibility not only in terms of where, how, and when services are offered but also who provides the service. Digital Navigators can be trained staff or volunteers that help learner-workers (whether through phone, virtual hotlines, or at drop-in locations) secure affordable internet access, devices, and foundational training so they can meet their goals. Foundational digital skills can be offered directly or through referrals to learning programs that can help learner-workers upskill, access critical services, and search for or apply for a job.
A business or organization could embed digital navigator services into its HR and L&D departments to ensure that all its employees have personalized support to secure affordable access to the internet and devices and develop foundational skills to navigate online programs for learning and managing operations.
Examples of how the Digital Navigator model7 can be implemented include the work that NDIA is piloting with Rural LISC sites in Appalachia and Salt Lake City Public Library sites. In Philadelphia, three local organizations CLC, SEAMAAC, and DREXEL, received government grants to provide digital navigator services, and the model is now expanding citywide. Connect Arizona is another good implementation example. Similarly, EdTech Center and Digital US are working with partners in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and South Dakota to pilot the model.
3National Skills Coalition “The New Landscape of Digital Literacy”
4 Digital US: “Building On-Ramps to Digital Resilience” pg. 9
6Ed Tech Center @ World Education: “Digital Navigators: Lynchpin in Equitable Reskilling & Recovery Efforts”.