Literature Review: Socio-Economic Impact of Digital Literacy

 Maulik R. Kamdar

Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur


Prof. Rajanish Dass

Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad


The following report was compiled towards fulfilling the formal requirement of the internship at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. It is a brief review of existing literature describing the use of Information and Communication Technology to bridge the Digital Divide and spread Digital Literacy by various e-learning initiatives.

Abstract – The following report presents a brief review on the literature which have studied the socio-economic impacts as well as factors of digital literacy and e-learning. The analysis carried out with the use of various models as well as frameworks have been explained in short and the results have been enumerated giving a brief insight into the positive points as well as the limitations of each plan. Digital divide, one of the most pressing civil rights issues of the new Millennium has also been described.

Keywords – digital literacy, social factors, digital divide, socio-economic impact, Information and communication technology (ICT), e-learning


I. Introduction

Since the beginning of the 1990s the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education has developed rapidly, a development that is reflected in the results of our literature search. The ability to use ICT and the Internet becomes a new form of literacy – “digital literacy”. Digital literacy is fast becoming a prerequisite for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and without it citizens can neither participate fully in society nor acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to live in the 21st century.

“Digital Literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process.” [3]

Education, like other social sectors, is rapidly adopting electronic means. But the evolution of electronic tools for education has run alongside, and been to some extent fuelled by, a paradigm shift in approaches to learning and teaching. In moving towards student-centred and constructivist learning models, electronic tools are seen as key factors in realising learning environments. Mastery of the tools thus becomes an entitlement for the student if she is to learn successfully. Internet Technology has provided the global access to information resources in a reasonably negligible cost. Despite the shortcomings like quality, integrity, authenticity, volatility and non-refereed nature of information, Internet is still a dominant medium for information transmission. Everything that is needed for teaching and learning, viz, textbooks, catalogues, encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, databases, photos, and all made available on Internet [42]. ICT in education is an area which is in turmoil and in which many participants play a role. Forces that operate on the micro- and meso-level of the education system (that is at schools and in classrooms) may be influential in bringing about changes that are beyond the direct control of ministries of education. Therefore, it is important for educational decision making to periodically assess the actual situation of ICT in educational practice [46]. The trend towards student-centred educational models, as well as the drive to involve more of the population in higher levels of education, has raised the importance of generic skills issues; and in the e-permeated world, the claim of digital literacy to be recognised as an essential generic skill must be addressed. But the general trends that are turning out for the public are that if any concerned individual is unable to enjoy the benefits of digital literacy, he would not be able to merge into the general crowd. He who has not relished the fruit of digital literacy will be cut-off from the entire world.


II. Digital Divide

Rapid expansion of the internet services and information technology has generated new social status and added layers of opportunities to human communication, information and user behaviour. Digital Divide means in laymen’s language the  divide between those with access to internet and those who are deprived of this ‘connectedness’.The term ’digital divide’ was probably coined by  Larry Irving, formerly Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information during the Clinton administration, and presently President of the Irving Information Group, Washington, DC. [33]

A range of factors are responsible for causing these divide and a large number of studies have been carried out in these regard and have been able to isolate gender, age, geographic location, race, education and income as some of the prime factors, though not a single one able to influence wholly [20]. Even if the gaps have disappeared in terms of access in some regions, there are still wide gaps observed in terms of the patterns of use and gratifications gained.

A typology of needs of media users [26] that can be expressed as:

  1. Cognitive Needs—For information, knowledge, and understanding of our environment.
  2. Affective Needs—For aesthetic, pleasurable, and emotional experiences.
  3. Personal Integrative Needs—For credibility, confidence, stability, and  personal status.
  4. Social Integrative Needs—For contact with family, friends, and the world.
  5. Escapist Needs—For escape, diversion, and tension release.

Three broad categories [10] have been identified for why people use the Internet: communication, interaction, and information. People employ the Internet to satisfy the same needs that they bring to their consumption of other media [13]. Internet usage may have high utility because of its “mutability,” or its [34] “chameleon-like character.” The diversity of content is much greater on the Internet than on traditional electronic media. It can well be counter-explained that the Internet and all other digital tools have been able to bridge a large number of the people across the world, creating a feeling of globalisation, and no matter what is the age, race, culture, or nationality of the concerned individual, he is not cut off from the rest of the world. Inter-caste relationships have been possible only due to the advent of the facilities of the Internet.

Moreover all the day to day chores like shopping, media relations and schedule management can be carried out through the digital mechanisms. But the Internet has widened the gap between those who have accepted this technology and those who are unable to. Moreover it has created layers or gratifications in the society, depending on the way the users utilise the internet. This form of division between the individuals has led to a matter of deep concern between the political corners of the world. The salience of information seeking, or what is referred to as learning gratification, has been well documented in explaining Internet use and its consequences [8]. This is also true of the connecting gratification, as suggested by scholars interested in computer-mediated communication and social connectedness [16]

III. Literature Review

A. Methodologies used to study the impacts of e-learning

E-learning and digital literacy have been critically examined by the utilization of various frameworks and modules. Some of them are described below:

  1. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) decided in 1997 to conduct comparisons by means of the Second Information Technology in Education Study (SITES). [46] Schools were sampled at three levels in the education system : primary(I), lower secondary(II), and upper secondary education(III).Information collected from the schools were curriculum, infrastructure, staff development, and management/organization. The student:computer ratio was conceived as indicators of the availability of computers, whereas the average percentage of multimedia machines provided an indication of the quality of the equipment.
  2. The accessibility and attractiveness of different types of ICT applications in education for girls and boys and for pupils from families with an ethnic minority background and from the majority population in the Netherlands by the use of the assessment of the knowledge of the subjects in handling the various ICT applications. [32]
  3. The development of students high-level computer skills and competence (student expertise) in information and communication technology (ICT) were examined [28]. Knowledge was tested based n questionnaires and t-tests on the word as well as the paint programs.
  4. A 3-year long research project partially funded by the 5th Framework Programme of the European Commission under its Information Society Technology priority was carried out [24]. In responding to the Commission’s call for the ‘‘Schools of Tomorrow’’, the ‘‘School+ More than a Platform to Build the School of Tomorrow’’ project brought together four universities, five secondary schools and one SME with the common aim of combining educational innovation with today’s technical realities.2 The initial core group formed by the Consortium members was extended during the third project year to include another 15 secondary schools – three per participant country – in order to establish the School+ Network. The main objective of School+ consisted of creating a culture of pedagogical and technological change within schools, which included the design, development and testing of a virtual Learning Management System (LMS), School+ Microcosmos.
  5. In 1999, as a response to the newly announced 5th Framework Program of European Union, the State Committee for Scientific Research with the cooperation of leading MANs formulated the program of development of information infrastructure for academic society – PIONIER “Polish Optical Internet – Advanced Applications, Services and Technologies for the Information Society” [4]
  6. A study [2] was carried out,  which employed a descriptive survey method which affords the researchers to describe the differences in the computer literacy of the undergraduate students based on gender, at the University of Botswana. Likert type of scale was utilised and the questionnaire consisted f questions based on the knowledge of user on handling word applications, Internet knowledge, online catalogs, etc. Descriptive statistics and t-test were employed in the analysis of data.
  7. A study based on the results of two international studies: IEA’s Second Information Technology in Education Study (SITES) Module 2, focusing on innovative pedagogical practices at the classroom level, and OECD/CERI Case Studies of ICT and Organizational Innovation, focusing on ICT related innovations at the school system level was carried out [12]. Ten schools that have incorporated ICT in unique ways and succeeded in devising innovative classroom pedagogies and school system changes were analysed.

B. Accessing the Digital Divide

Various methodologies have been applied specifically to understand the digital divides in different regions of the world. Some have been the frameworks derived from path-breaking plans of different governments and organizations.

  1. Various path-modelling techniques were employed among the sub-sample of Internet users to provide overall patterns of how different types of Internet users are associated with various gratifications gained. [20]
  2. Data was gathered and analysed using scientific sampling, and international standards for drafting questionnaires, conducting surveys, and calculating and minimizing error. Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) was utilised to analyse the quantitative data [6].
  3. As part of the Vision 2030 project, the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology asked the East Carolina University Survey Research Laboratory to develop a survey to measure public perceptions of the role and importance of science and technology in the North Carolina economy. Samples were surveyed on the basis of whether they had a computer at home, as well as access to the internet and their manner of use. The results were analysed, by the successful implementation of logistic regression models [27].
  4. A research was carried out [1] on a time span of a decade with their subjects in 1986, 1989, 1992 and 1995 being presented with a questionnaire as part of their enrolment program, administered in a group situation by a researcher who was not to be one of their tutors.
  5. A survey instrument was developed [19] to collect the quantitative data needed for model and hypothesis testing. For most constructs in the research model, Likert-type scale items were adapted from existing measures. Partial least squares (PLS) were utilised and a bootstrap analysis was performed with 500 samples. To further investigate the type of moderation effect of SES, to ensure that the detected moderation was not an artefact of unequal measurement error across subsamples, and to evaluate if the conclusion regarding the type of moderation is sensitive to nonlinear effects of the predictors on the criterion, the moderated regression analysis (MRA) procedure was applied.
  6. Research was carried out to find out the time scale impact of the Internet on the social relations of the users [37]. The research model used was based on the same that was used to understand the impact of television on human relations. A detailed literature review was carried out on the models which show how Internet affects the users personally.
  7. The utilisation of three different data sets [11] was made during the analysis of the Digital Divide in Canada: the Canadian portion of the Second International Technology in Education Study (SITES), an international survey which measures schools’ use of technological resources; the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), which was conducted in conjunction with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA); and the General Social Survey (GSS)−Cycle 14, which focuses specifically on issues related to ICT access and use.

C. Analysis of results

Factors Affecting Digital Literacy:

One of the factors which bore a deeper impact in the increase of the digital divide has been that of Gender. The research carried out [6] on the Omani population has clearly stated out that the innate character of the females, socio cultural norms, lack of career counselling and training specifically for women and the dependency of the females on the males is still proving to be a hindrance in the absolute extermination of the factor of gender. Research carried out in numerous countries bear the single fact that gender proves to be a major factor impeding the spread of digital equality. Girls generally tend to have access to ICT in an order lower than that of the boys [1], [32]. Barriers to ICT access are not only about the national availability of telecommunications infrastructure and PC equipment. The know-how is equally or more important than the access itself, as though it was sufficient to provide women with PCs and Internet connections to overcome their enabling problems. Rural youth as well as females and youth from poor families as well as those with low parental education have a general tendency to have lower access to computers. However the frequency and the way of the uses may differ. Youth generally are the major users of the facilities such as the Internet, and in this aspect even the youth of families with lower parental education may not vary. [11] Youth from rural areas usually tend to utilize computer education in schools far more than urban youth. This proves the role of schools in the spread of ICT.

More than 6500 languages are in the world. It is known that Internet is dominant by English language. Many countries are not very comfortable with English language, therefore, it become a hurdle to use Internet by the people who don’t know English [42]. The results [5] show that the more the people have an access to a computer the more they are likely to have an access to the Internet. Also the availability of telecommunication lines plays an important role in this. The countries of Europe and America where these are not major problems, have their dependence of Internet access on the type and number of the Internet Service Providers, and their schemes. Economy, Computer Access, and availability of telecommunication lines do not play an important role. Whereas in Africa, the layman does not have a basic access to the computers, the ISP factor does not play an important role. The research has also provided an explanation of the large number of cyber-cafes in the countries with mid-purchasing power parity. The people of such countries do not have the capacity to purchase an entire computer, but the cyber cafes ensure them an access to the Internet. Black, rural, and female respondents were significantly less likely to have home computers than White, urban, male respondents, on a whole. Respondents with higher incomes and more education were more likely to have home computers. Age did not significantly affect home computer ownership. Respondents who were employed full-time, married, and had children living at home were more likely to purchase home computers. [27]

Moreover over production of documents hinders the growth of digital literacy. Millions of documents are publishing day by day; web pages on the Internet are doubling within every six months. It is quite impossible to access all the information that is being published on the Internet. [42]

Socio-Economic Impact of Digital Literacy

Three different student groups were identified [28] to be operating on the basis of the ICT training that was given during a span of three years. The students were initially based on the same knowledge levels but after three years, they were divided into three major groups, experts, advanced users and non interested users. The experts further divided themselves based on whether they utilised this knowledge on countering technology related issues or social problems. It was pointed out [4] that the development of an e-society depends mainly on two factors: 1) the common and cheap Internet access (possibly broadband), and 2) the availability of digital content. The first problem can be solved by the deployment of broadband technologies – such as optical, wireless, Ethernet networks. Main beneficiaries of the innovations that have been carried out are students. New didactic solutions, roles, patterns of interaction with the teachers, learning spaces, and forms to be assessed in their learning and performance, were offered to them as a result of the innovative practices [12].

The subgroup including those who are young and high in socioeconomic status [20] are most likely to use the Internet to strategically satisfy their motivations and to gain the desired gratifications. First, this group is most likely to engage in specific Internet behaviours i.e., computer-mediated interaction, surveillance, and consumption uses—to achieve corresponding gratifications—i.e., connection, learning, and acquisition, respectively. These individuals may be particularly efficient in using the Internet to satisfy the needs that they were seeking to fulfil. They are the most parsimonious in gaining gratifications from the Internet based on specific, highly correspondent uses.

The Political sub-society has been affected too deeply by the advent of Internet and its facilities. Most of the political groups carry out their day to day activities and the management of schedules using the internet, and they generally tend to remain out of the political race, if they are unable to take the full benefit of the facilities provided by the internet. Moreover, many political parties have made it a point to include the motive of the spread of digital literacy in their propaganda of the elections.

Much of the initial debate about Internet and its impact was that whether Internet attenuates human relationships or tends to reinforce them. An analysis of the initial communication technologies, [37] tells us that the internet will substitute a large number of social relations, just like the television had substituted movie theatres and operas. It has been researched that people now like to handle their day to day relationships using chat and email, instead of the phone, or meeting personally. Heavy users reflected declines in shopping, media relations, and other use. The other way around is also true. People have become more socially and culturally bound due to the Internet. Race, Culture and Religion as well the barriers provided by geographical locations have disappeared to a large extent. People have started to make a large number of friends online, just being positioned at a single place.


D. Plans sketched out for the spread of digital literacy and bridging the digital divide

Following is a small list of the plans that have been carried out for bridging the digital gap and spreading the concepts of digital literacy and e-learning.

  1. The United Nations has established a Task Force on ICT to find new and creative ways of spreading the benefits of ICTS and bridging the digital divide. [47]
  2. The World Summit on Information Society developed from the initiative of the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and endorsed by the UN General Assembly as an effective means of assisting the UN to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, promises to increase the partnership of e-learning.[47]
  3. The Global Knowledge Partnership is a network of networks with diverse members base from all sectors in both developed and developing countries. Members share information resources, and knowledge as tools of equitable sustainable development. [47]
  4. International e-Development Resources Network (IeDRN) that has as one of its aims the identification of the need to assist developing countries and emerging economies to formulate e-strategies as part of their goals towards developing the information society.[47]
  5. The DigEuLit project was proposed as a response to a call for actions on “digital literacy” in the context of the eLearning Programme of the European Commission. The goal of DigEuLit is to develop a European Framework for Digital Literacy (EFDL): a definition, generic structure, and set of tools which will enable educators, trainers and learners to share an understanding of what constitutes digital literacy and how it can be mapped into European educational practice.[3]
  6. The e-ASEAN Task Force was created in 1999 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop a broad and comprehensive action plan for an ASEAN e-space with an aim to give directives to the ASEAN governments for establishing an ASEAN Information Infrastructure (AII).
  7. New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) has also set up an ICT Task Force, in addition to the Africa e-Commission, and the African Information Society Initiative (AISI), which has developed the National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI)[47]
  8. The West African Telecommunications Regulators Association (WATRA) serves as a consultative and collaborative body and structure for the regulation of telecommunications delivery.[47]
  9. The Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) has given serious consideration to ICT as a force in their regional integration program. In Southern Africa, members of the Common Market for Eastern and South Africa (COMESA) have formed an Association of Regulation of Information and Communications of Eastern and Southern Africa (ARICEA) to coordinate, deliver, improve and harmonize the ICT sectors [47].

IV. Summary And Conclusions

A failure to calculate the real cost for these families to enjoy a fair and empowering access to digital information will inevitably perpetuate and deepen the growing digital divide. It is essential to establish a close linkage between the local community efforts and the wider policy context at regional and country levels Grass-roots initiatives cannot often count on wide and generous support from official sources. For changes to last it therefore becomes even more important to network and bring together a critical mass of participants.  These data suggest that even as the gap in Internet access closes, inequalities in Internet use and individual s’ gains from these interactions may persist. These inequalities may not only be observed in levels of uses and gratifications, but also in the ability of individuals to use the Internet in ways that allow them to meet basic needs.

New advanced applications will create new trends, fashions and demands, driving the IT market, but the effect of synergy between networking, services and tools must be maintained.  As more and more resources become available via the Internet, these discrepancies, if not countered, will have serious implications for the divisions among youth in terms of their access to the presumed benefits of the information society. The access-divide, which has received the most attention to date, may eventually be replaced by a learning-divide, a content-divide, and by other types of divides through which the internet will continue to advantage certain individuals, and disadvantage others.

Building digital libraries of local and indigenous materials is an important step in bridging the digital divide. Many such digital libraries are now being built in the developing countries [17]. Information professionals in the developing countries should spend time on outsourcing of free digital information sources and services. One effective strategy for overcoming the access-divide is to provide computers, internet access, and training for novice users at public access points, which may be for-profit cyber cafes or publicly-provided telecentres. Internet content can better fit the needs of audience individuals by graphics, developing content on different topics, and at providing more an appropriate level of readability.

New means of overcoming the access-divide may be provided by such technologies as wireless devices, which overcome the need for new telephone land lines. Palm Pilots and cellular telephones offer alternatives to computers as means of accessing the internet. [14] In addition, future studies should investigate whether and the way in which socio- economic background, via its relation to computer experiential, psychological and usage factors, influences the careers of individuals. This is an issue of substantive importance, taking into account the current and projected future penetration of computers into the work place.


The author acknowledges the help obtained from the jSTOR and Elsevier resources.



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