3.1.1. Understanding our adult learners

Understanding adult learners might just be the key to a successful learning environment. If we, as trainers, can understand why and what these learnings are experiencing and where their need to have these basic digital skills comes from, the subsequent training and adaptation to different contexts will be easier. In order to get to know who these learners are, we have identified some categories and  aspects of the profiles of who these adult learners might be, detailing why they might want to acquire digital competences, what specifically might motivate learners and some constructive suggestions(on how to approach them) from experts and leaders in the field of adult education in order to approach them in a more sensitive and empathetic way.

The older population

Why: Older people are often the most likely to be digitally unskilled and segregated socially . They may struggle with basic tasks such as using new digital devices or interacting with official forms, online banking or even communicating  with their loved ones which can result in them becoming isolated.

What: Training in basic aspects of digital competences and those associated with communication.

How: Older adults often benefit from practising with younger members of their family who they can learn from. This also more generally promotes intergenerational links and learning.

Some examples: Pane e Internet(link is external), an Italian project aimed at supporting digital empowerment. Here we saw the story of Nonna Paola (Granny Paola), who at the age of 75 learned to use her smartphone more effectively, thanks to the support of Federico, a young learner of a technical institute from Rimini (Emilia Romagna). Another project is Gameplay for Inspiring Digital Adoption (GIRDA), addressing “the problem of reluctance amongst many older people to engage with digital products”.


Why: This particular group of adult learners is an important category,  since migrants, more often than not, come from different cultura backgrounds, speak other languages and are especially at risk of social exclusion. They come to a  new country and may need to acculturate  to different social norms and constructs, institutions and  job markets which can be extremely challenging. Migrants particularly need to be digitally competent in order to gain access to work, to establish their status and to participate in society in general  

What: Understanding why migrants need digital skills will go a long way to establishing what they need / should be learning. Being owners of basic digital skills related to information and communication will automatically allow them a more seamless integration into society.

How: As mentioned before, language can often be a barrier when dealing with this particular group, so the OER indicates the need for digital learning and language learning to be integrated as well as using specialised language practitioners.

Some examples: The OER also includes a lot of good examples of good practice such as the BeuthBonus project (2015-18) funded by the German Government as part of “Integration through Qualification”. This project helped migrant academics improve their employment situation through different systems and reconizing informal skills such as digital competences.

Adults with disabilities

Why: ICT will increase the opportunities of adult learners to access training and learning, participate in communities of interest and find jobs. Disabilities, wether physical or pshycological, can widen the gap between these adults with disabilities and the ones who don’t.

What they need: Like the previous adult groups, they need to be able to progress from basic digital to more advanced skills that will enable and empower them to participate in society, obtaining jobs and communicating as they desire.

How: It is important that digital skills are helping these adults anf not creating more obstacles in their participation in society.Again, modelling, tutoring and coaching are recommended by experts in the field of adult education to encourage these learners to acquire and enhgage with digital competences.

Some examples: In Egypt, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) promoted a lifelong learning programme to support people  with disabilities to find work while also providing training on both basic digital skills for citizenship and advanced digital skills as requested from IT companies. In the UK, the Discover IT programme ensures access to computers and assistive technologies through 19 accessible IT centres, managed either by Leonard Cheshire Disability (a UK based charity) or in partnership with other organizations.

Adults at risk of social exclusion

Why: If your learners don’t fall into any of the previous categories, this group covers all of the adults who have not yet acquired digital skills. With all processes becoming digitalized, any adult who does not know how to navigate ICT will become automatically at risk of exclusion. If adults cannot find jobs, manage their financial statements or even sign up for online classes, they will fall behind with matters that are crucial for their participation in society.

What: As mentioned above, adults require digital competences associated with information, communication and even digital creativity (such as social media). This will allow them to participate in society as an equal, without the disadvantage which a lack of digital skills brings.

How: Exploring informal digital approaches with adults as a starting point might be a good way to bridge the formal and the informal learning experiences and an effective strategy to promote digital competences associated with that these learners require.

Some examples: Many projects have developed ways for adults to acquire ICT skills and therefore become more agile in key things such as applying for a job.