The measures needed to tackle the pandemic have put the digitally excluded in a precarious situation. The COVID-19 response has severely reduced libraries and other community organizations’ ability to offer their traditional digital inclusion programs. With face-to-face training classes, public access computer labs, and walk-in support services unavailable for several months, many individuals and communities lack access to connectivity, digital devices, or the required digital skills to access essential services, which have rapidly moved online. Even before the pandemic, a more accessible, scalable model was needed to provide just-in-time supports.
The Digital Navigator model is a solution to address both digital access as well as learning and upskilling, and at scale. This comprehensive approach addresses multiple layers of becoming digitally included. Its goal is to ensure residents receive on-demand tech support and relevant information to secure connectivity and devices, as well as access to foundational digital skills, learning and job training. This is done through much needed just-in-time, one-to-one and small group dedicated support via phone service, email, text, video chat, in-person (if possible), and other communication methods that work for the learner-worker.
“Digital inclusion efforts require coordinated and intentional efforts to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional, and structural barriers,” says Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
The Digital Navigator model is appealing as it offers flexibility not only in terms of where, how, and when services are offered but also in regards to who provides the service. Digital Navigators can be trained and dedicated staff, or people for whom it is just a component of their job as a part of their work in health and education, or volunteers that help learner-workers (whether through phone, hotlines, or at drop-in locations) secure affordable internet access, devices, and foundational training so learner-workers can meet their personal and career goals. Foundational digital skills can be offered directly or through referrals to learning programs that can help learner-workers upskill, access critical services, search for, or apply for a job.
Digital navigators are all the more needed now as recovery efforts must include supporting millions of Americans access information and services online, and now that the Digital Navigator model has been adopted, it will likely become an integral part to the success of diverse services being offered going forward.
With funding from Walmart, the EdTech Center @ World Education is working with some of its Digital US Coalition partners like the National Association for Workforce Boards and National Digital Inclusion Alliance, to develop new models for offering “digital navigator” services; coordinate pilots that started in July to demonstrate impact and replicability; and develop training materials, an online resource hub, and a community of practice to facilitate national scaling. The project leadership continues to contribute to and learn from the Digital Navigator working group, coordinated by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and partially underwritten by Digital US.
“To ensure a more equitable digital future as online learning and services are the new normal, we must work together to make sure that developing digital resilience is radically accessible to all of US,” says Priyanka Sharma, Project Director with the EdTech Center @ World Education and Co-Director of Digital US.
For more information about the Digital Navigators project, contact Priyanka Sharma at firstname.lastname@example.org.