Help Your Members Across the Digital Readiness Gap

The digital divide is shrinking in some parts of the world: 87% of Americans now use the internet. But even when people have access to the web, another type of digital divide may present a challenge to associations with online learning programs—a digital readiness gap. If the target market for your educational programs is on the wrong side of this gap, you need to know and you need a plan for bridging the gap.

A new report from the Pew Research Center, Digital Readiness Gaps, examines the attitudes and behaviors that make people unwilling and unprepared to pursue online learning. Pew found that 52% of U.S. adults are “relatively hesitant” to use digital tools for learning. Let’s look at the reasons for this hesitancy and how you can help members become more digitally ready to pursue online learning.

5 Factors Affecting Digital Readiness

Pew identified five factors that determine a person’s digital readiness, i.e., their ability and willingness to participate in online learning programs.

  • Confidence in using computers: How confident people are using computers and mobile devices to accomplish tasks online.
  • Facility with getting new technology to work: How likely people are to get someone else to set up new devices for them or show them how to use new devices.
  • Ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information: How confident people are in their ability to know whether the information they find online is trustworthy.
  • Familiarity with education technology: How familiar people are with online learning, MOOCs, digital badges, Khan Academy, and other online educational resources.

Digital Readiness Spectrum

Pew divided study participants into two groups: the Relatively Hesitant (52%) and the Relatively More Prepared (48%). The Relatively More Prepared group is made up of two types of people who are more likely to use online tools for learning.

Digitally Ready (17%): This highly educated group tends to be in their 30s and 40s with higher incomes. They’re confident in their online skills and their ability to find trustworthy information online. 67% have done some learning online and 40% said most or all of their learning is done online.

Cautious Clickers (31%): This group tends to be in their 30s and 40s with higher incomes and some college experience. They’re confident in their digital skills and have a high level of technology ownership, yet 59% of them are concerned about trusting online information. They’re relatively aware of educational technology—60% have used the internet for some type of personal learning but only 23% have taken an online course.

You don’t have to worry too much about these two groups, except perhaps for gaining the trust of the Cautious Clickers in the credibility and security of your online programs. The challenge lies with the three Relatively Hesitant groups who are less likely to use digital tools for learning.

The Reluctant (33%): This group tends to be men, age 50 and older with lower incomes and lower levels of formal education. Only 43% of them are confident with technology, although they’re not necessarily worried about trusting online information. Their interest in learning is low, especially online learning— only 1% of them are aware of online educational resources and only 6% have taken an online course.

Traditional Learners (5%): This group tends to be women and minorities, age 50 and older with lower incomes. They may have technology but they usually need help getting it set up and working. 90% worry about whether they can trust online information. They’re active learners but not interested in using technology for learning.

The Unprepared (14%): This group tends to be women, age 50 and older with lower levels of income and formal education. They have a low level of technology adoption and confidence, and need help setting up new devices. 87% worry about trusting online information. Beyond reading, they don’t use the internet for learning.

mind the digital readiness gap

Identifying the Digital Readiness of Members

You could simply ask your members where they lie on the digital readiness spectrum but you’ll run up against two challenges: they may not respond truthfully to your survey or they may not respond at all.

You could identify members of the Relatively Hesitant group by examining behavioral data from your website, emails, and other member activities, and eliminating those who behave like active online learners, for example:

  • Who’s participated in learning programs—online or face-to-face (F2F)?
  • Who’s participated in F2F programs but not in online programs?
  • Who regularly visited your website to read content or download resources?
  • Who’s opened your email newsletter and clicked on links to content?

You may need the assistance of marketing automation or email marketing software to identify these members.

Moving Members Along the Digital Readiness Spectrum

Pew identified three elements of digital readiness:

  • Digital skills: the ability to get online, surf the web, and share content.
  • Trust: the ability to assess the trustworthiness of online information and protect personal information.
  • Use: the ability to use technology to accomplish online tasks like learning.

To move your members along the digital readiness spectrum from Relatively Hesitant to Relatively More Prepared, find ways to help them improve and have confidence in their digital skills, trust, and use of online technology.

Digital skills

Recruit technology tutors to provide one-on-one tutorials to fellow members at association events.

Assign each new member to an “ambassador” or “buddy” who walks them through your association’s online resources, including your website, online community, and learning management system (LMS). Ask the buddy to report back on the new member’s level of experience and confidence in using online resources.

Help members become familiar with your website, online community, and LMS by highlighting their resources and benefits in your print and digital publications.

Even the most intuitive learning platforms might be intimidating to someone who’s never ventured online before. Provide virtual tours, tutorials, and phone support to new learners.


With all the cyberattacks and data breaches in the news, it’s no wonder some people are reluctant to expose themselves, their credit card information, and other personal information online. If you think a good portion of your members are not as security-aware as they should be, educate them. Either create cybersecurity 101 videos and tip sheets yourself or find resources online.

Address trust concerns up front. Describe how you keep personal information secure.


Even if members have digital skills and trust your technology, you still have to convince them to give online learning a try. Talk up the benefits of your online learning programs—how they will positively impact and make a difference in your members’ lives. Share testimonials—social proof that members like them have successfully completed the course and benefited from that accomplishment.

Address any possible objections they may have to online learning, for example:

  • Relevance to their needs and interests
  • Lack of time
  • Cost vs. value
  • Fear of falling behind
  • Fear of needing help

Help members get used to your online resources and technology with an online learning challenge. Over ten days, slowly introduce them to simple online tasks, such as:

  • Search for and download a document.
  • Complete a form to sign up for a microvolunteering task.
  • Create a profile.
  • Participate in an online community discussion.
  • Participate in a website scavenger hunt.

Keep track of their progress and provide support to those who fall behind. Provide a discount to an online program for those who complete the challenge.

Follow up F2F events with bonus content that’s only found online in your LMS.

bridge the digital readiness gap

Using an LMS to Bridge the Digital Readiness Gap

Remove any obstacles between the member and their online learning destination. For example, make sure your LMS is integrated with your website and association management system (AMS) with Single Sign-On (SSO) so your members only need one set of credentials to access you website, their member profile, and online learning programs.

Your LMS user dashboard should be intuitive and easy to navigate. If members get stumped and frustrated, they will never return.

Make sure your LMS is responsive and mobile-friendly. Members should be able to access their online learning programs whenever they find time. They shouldn’t have to be tied to a desktop or laptop—a phone should suffice.

Don’t overwhelm members by forcing them to wade through irrelevant offerings. By integrating your LMS with your AMS, you can give your members a personalized view of your education catalog. An LMS like TopClass also makes it possible to use partitions to divide membership if, for example, some states have different certification requirements. Each partition sees the course catalog relevant to them.

You could restrict access to (and visibility of) specific courses by membership groups, for example, CEOs vs. other positions. You could also use catalog filters to help members find the courses most relevant to them.

Some associations use their LMS to facilitate mentoring programs. You could also ask instructors to help students form study groups. Encourage instructors to provide regular feedback so new students feel a sense of progress and know what to do to improve.

Association membership can transform someone’s life. By helping your members cross the digital readiness gap, you empower them to improve their skills, increase their knowledge, and become a better version of themselves.

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Continuing Professional Development
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