Top tips for working with learners from different disadvantaged groups

Person-centred approach

It is tempting to group similar learners together but always remember…

  • We are all individual
  • Support for each learner will need to be tailored to meet their needs
  • Avoid stereotypes
  • Challenge assumptions about the needs of learners
  • Try to work out or understand what really is the learning barrier for a particular individual. For example this may not be age or disability; it may be a change in life circumstances such as bereavement. 

Support provision (general)

Working with disadvantaged groups highlights the need to provide tailored, flexible support in both group and one to one sessions for learners.  When setting up a project it is good practice to consider whether anything is being put in place that might act as a barrier for a particular group of learners.

Supporting peer to peer learning (for instance for those where English is not first language) is particularly effective for those who need learning to be regularly reinforced or who may find the learning harder to access and retain. 

Having Champions with ‘lived experience’ of a particular disadvantage will support an appropriate learning process.

Embedding digital into services for vulnerable groups was seen by all contributing organisations as providing good levels of integrated learning support.  Staff and volunteers working with the most vulnerable are best placed to support them.

Providing appropriate tech solutions (for the particular group of learners) that meet their assessed needs and make it easier for them to be able to access a device, or online content is crucial. Solutions in use include learning materials specific to the needs of people with learning disabilities for instance, or tablet loan schemes with MiFi for older people.

Reaching out to those who are isolated (in a rural area, or because they have limited ability to leave home) is a challenge for many projects who lack capacity to do outreach work.  Partnership working to support this becomes critical.

Priorities for learners

It is important to understand that people often have multiple disadvantages and needs that are impacting on their ability to get online.

Learners should be involved with the co-design of learning materials so they are suited to their needs.  Stereotypes about the needs of learners should be challenged during this process.

Being safe online should be integrated into all learning sessions (so if learning about Facebook, for instance, this should include how to use the privacy settings).  Developing confidence in online safety and security is critical for all groups of disadvantaged learners who are often at much higher risk and who also often have much greater fears.

Pace of learning and repeat learning is critical to ensuring that people remain online and don’t lapse back into being non-users.  Informal learning environments are important for all groups.

Digital Champions’ training & development

Digital Champion understanding of role boundaries when working with learners is vital so that the Champion is able to avoid ‘role creep’ in which they begin to provide support other than digital learning.  Boundaries are especially important when working with vulnerable learners.

Digital Champion training needs to be varied and specific to reflect the needs of the specific project/learners.  Training should include an opportunity for the Champions to think actively about the barriers and challenges for the particular group of learners they will work with, considering their individual needs and how their disabilities may affect the support that is needed.

Digital Champions providing very practical demonstrations of tech and how to use it can motivate people to learn more. For instance how to use a camera phone and load up a photo.

Digital Champions need to be clear about how to support learners with online safety and security.  Some of the priority areas would be: use of password vaults; service user privacy and how to maintain it; how to avoid online scams and privacy risks.

Our Knowledge Hub has more information on recruitment, training and support for Digital Champions

Working with specific types of learner

We have tested the best ways to support different learners. Some groups of learners are more likely to be digitally excluded and can have different barriers and challenges to digital inclusion. These can include confidence, motivation and practical barriers. Always remember that learners may not be typical of their group and may have multiple additional needs.
Look at the all the guides for tips and resources