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Digital Divide Project

The Digital Divide Project by Calgary Learns is a research-in-practice study of the impact of the digital divide on the adult foundational learning community in the CALP system across Alberta. The project engaged extensively with practitioners in the field, collecting and collating their feedback and suggestions into a report to the province and a practitioner resource.

The shift to emergency online learning during a pandemic

In March 2020, the Covid-19 global pandemic abruptly forced major changes in North American society. All kinds of programs and services, across all sectors of society, shifted to online delivery. Virtually overnight, digital access and digital skills became essential for all Albertans, including adult learners and practitioners in CALPs. The global pandemic highlighted and exacerbated pre-existing, systemic inequalities in digital access and digital skill development, particularly among marginalized Albertans.

Adult foundational learning programs had to respond quickly. With health restrictions prohibiting in-person learning opportunities, CALPs had to shift how they engaged with learners and delivered programming. This shift was unplanned, had no precedent in Alberta’s adult foundational learning community, and brought about monumental changes to CALP programs and services.

A Community of Practice emerges

In response to the shift to emergency online learning, Calgary Learns brought together a small group of adult foundational learning practitioners in the Pivot to Remote Learning Community of Practice.

Over the course of a year, this Community of Practice uncovered many insights about delivering adult foundational learning programs through online, remote, and blended learning.

It was clear the shift away from in-person learning involved far more than simply “moving online.” In fact, there was nothing simple about it. Practitioners and CALP-funded programs needed to rethink their practices and reimagine how to connect with learners and meet their changing needs in this new reality.

The Digital Divide Project is born

Based on the work of the Community of Practice, the province approached Calgary Learns to conduct the Digital Divide Project. Its goals are:

  • To research and understand the barriers adult foundational learners face in accessing online, remote, and blended learning in Alberta; to identify the gaps and challenges learners experience; and to offer recommendations of the supports needed to address the barriers.
  • To capture and share in a user-friendly resource the wise practices and strategies, collected from CALP practitioners, that support the successful delivery of online, remote, and blended learning programs.

Hearing from practitioners and learners

The Digital Divide Project engaged with adult foundational learning practitioners in the field across Alberta’s CALP system. We gathered their experiences, reflections, and suggestions through surveys, an advisory committee, and other ongoing conversations and activities.

While we did not engage directly with learners, the learner voice is represented here because many of the practitioners’ responses came from their own consultations with learners.

There were 71 respondents to the surveys: these included practitioners, volunteer tutors, coordinators, as well as managers such as program administrators, and executive directors. Of significance, the surveys garnered strong participation from both rural and urban respondents in an almost even split.

The Digital Divide Practitioner Tool is grounded in the experience and voice of practitioners in the field, and indirectly, the adult learners they work with. It gathers the wise practices that emerged from the real experience of dozens of adult foundational learning practitioners, and it shares those practices back to the wider CALP practitioner community. As such, it recognizes and celebrates the expertise of practitioners in Alberta’s adult foundational learning community.