Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Digital Divide

Overcoming the Digital Divide (e.g., One Laptop Per Child, The Global Text Project)Edit

Projects to Promote Technology Use in the U.S. and Other CountriesEdit


There has been an exponential growth in technologies worldwide in recent years, particularly the rise of Internet use and its related applications. Over the years, policy makers and social researchers on every continent and in every country have grown increasingly concerned over a societal split between those who have access to the computers and Internet and those who do not; or the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. However, although the digital divide is often discussed in terms of technology, with increased internet accessibility and availability of technology, the digital divide is becoming more an issue of knowledge. It seems that for each sign the gap is shrinking (e.g., reduced storage and telecommunications costs, inexpensive MP3 players for literacy training, free online podcasts of language lessons, etc.), there are signs it is widening (e.g., teachers in rural schools and in third-world countries lack training to effectively integrate technology in instruction that other teachers have access to, dozens of new and emerging learning tools available only to those with Internet access, third world government hesitations to acquire inexpensive technologies for school children, etc.). The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, popularized a term the “Digital Divide” to describe the disparity in access to technology between the rich and the poor(Warschauer, 2003). The phrase has also been used in an international context to describe the status of information technology at a global level.

The digital divide has become a metaphor to describe the perceived disadvantage of those who either are unable to or do not choose to make use of technology in their daily life. This inequality in access to technology deserves our attention because it is assumed that the benefits of information and learning resources that are contained within these technologies is a huge benefit for learners and educators. No citizen in the twenty-first century should be without Internet access, especially those in the developed or fast developing parts of the world (Cullen, 2001). With the rapid market growth and technological disruption opportunities created by the ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies), people without ICT access and knowledge will be unable to compete in the new global ‘knowledge-based economy.' In this new economy, the sources of competitive advantage are high knowledge-intensity and fast adoption of new technology (Wong, 2002).

Definitions of the Digital DivideEdit

The definition of the digital divide mostly focuses on the differential access to computers and the Internet among people in a society. Factors that are usually associated with access to the new information society include socioeconomic status, gender, age, educational backgrounds, and geographic location. People who are usually considered disadvantaged in their access to or knowledge of technology include people with low incomes, people who have few educational qualifications or have low literacy levels, the unemployed, elderly people, people in rural areas, people with disabilities, single parents, women, and young girls (Cullen, 2001).

In 2001, White households were still more likely to own a computer and have Internet access at home than Black or Hispanic Americans. But the proportion of Black and Hispanic computer and Internet users is growing at a faster rate than the proportion of White users (NTIA, 2002). In terms of geographic location, urban residents are far more likely to have access to computer services than their counterparts (Wilson, Wallin, & Reiser, 2003). Studies also found that although there has been a gap between male and female use of technology between 1998 and 2001, women increased their Internet use and closed the gap during that time period. In 2001, 53.9% of men and 53.8% of women were using the Internet (NTIA, 2002).

In 2007, according to the survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2007) between February 15 – March 7, 2007, the size of the digital divide seems to have been shrinking for many groups. Seventy-one percent of men go online, as do 70% of women. Elderly people are among the least likely group to use the Internet; only 32% of elderly people use the Internet, as compared to 87% of people aged 18 – 29. Seventy-eight percent of English-speaking Hispanics use the Internet, compared with 73% of non-Hispanic White and 62% of non-Hispanic Blacks. Internet use of people in the urban and suburban areas is reported slightly higher than people from rural areas. People with an annual household income less than $30,000 are among the group least likely to have access to and use the Internet. Seven out of ten people with an annual household incomes between $30,000 and $49,999 go online.

Use the InternetPercentage
Total Adults71%
White, Non-Hispanic73%
Black, Non-Hispanic62%
English-speaking Hispanic78%
Household income
Less than $30,000/yr55%

Table adapted and modified from a survey report conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2007) between February 15 – March 7, 2007,

The Digital Divide RedefinedEdit

Evidently, the definition of the digital divide seems to emphasize the binary description of availability of computers and the Internet in households. Warschauer (2003) suggests that this binary definition fails to do justice to the complex reality of various people’s differing access to technology. Warschauer uses the example of an American who surfs the Internet on a computer at a local library once a month as a “have not” whereas someone in the developing country with the same profile might be considered as a “have.” This example is a good illustration of the lack of consideration of the context in which technology is used when discussing the definition of the digital divide. Warschauer (2003) further explains that this type of understanding led to the assumption that the problem of the digital divide could be easily tackled by providing more computers and Internet access. Christopher Dede has also labeled this idea as the “fire” model, as it implies that the mere presence of a computer will generate learning or development, just as fire gives warmth (as cited in Warschauer, 2003).

Warschauer (2002, 2003) furthers elaborates on the problematic notion of the provision of equipments as the ultimate solution to a complex social problem. He investigated several community technology projects around the world and found that many well-intended projects often faced unexpected problems which hindered the effective integration of technology into people’s lives. A consideration of how people can use computers and the Internet is therefore important in any effort to install new technology into an environment that lacks it.

Warschauer (2002) argues that there are several misconceptions about the digital divide. For example, in the US, African-American people are often portrayed as being technological disadvantaged, when in fact Internet access among Blacks and other minorities varies tremendously by income group – with divisions between Blacks and Whites decreasing as income increases. Also, the digital divide framework fails to promote social development since it overemphasizes the importance of the physical presence of computers. He suggests that the goal of using ICT with marginalized groups is not to overcome a digital divide, but to further a process of social inclusion. He therefore offers a redefinition of the digital divide to take into account a variety of factors related to physical, digital, human, and social resources so that social development can be enhanced through the effective integration of ICT into communities.

Summary of the digital divide redefined:

The traditional definition of the digital divide is a metaphor to describe the perceived disadvantage of those who either are unable to or do not choose to make use of technology in their daily life. People who are usually considered disadvantaged in their access to or knowledge of technology include people with low incomes, people who have few educational qualifications or have low literacy levels, the unemployed, elderly people, people in rural areas, people with disabilities, single parents, women, and young girls (Cullen, 2001).
A redefined definition of the digital divide offered by Warschauer (2002) suggests that the digital divide should take into account a variety of factors related to physical, digital, human, and social resources so that social development can be enhanced through the effective integration of ICT into communities.

Probably you can explain more about the impacts of the digital divide in some different areas e.g., education, enterprise, etc.

The Digital Divide in the Global ContextsEdit

There is also a dramatic difference in access to ICTs in the developed and less developed nations. The rich Western countries, including North America, Europe, and Australia, are at one end of the continuum and the poor Asian, South American, and African countries on the other end. Sources from the Japanese-based Center for the Research and Support of Educational Practice (CRSEP) indicate that only 6% of the world’s entire population has access to the Internet (Cabanatan, 2002).

RegionsPopulationMain Telephone LinesCellular SubscribersInternet Users
Asia Pacific59%32%36%23%

Table adapted and modified from a report on access to the Internet (Cabanatan, 2002).

The digital divide in the global context extends well beyond questions related to access to the Internet for ordinary people. It includes access to the more necessary information resources, such as full-text databases and online journals, leaving researchers in developing nations, that lack such access, excluded from knowledge that may be vital to national development. Free and open source resources and free access to online books and journals is currently being employed in several projects and initiatives (e.g., The Global Text Project) to directly address this issue.

The digital divide seems to be more complex than it initially appeared. In each global region, there is also a divide between the well-developed countries and countries that are less developed. For example, in Asia, there is a gap between more advanced countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and those that are not as developed such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, and India. In terms of gender, only 22% of Asia’s 48 million Internet users are women, even if they constitute half of the region’s population (Wong, 2002). As a result, the digital divide is only partly about access; it perhaps more accurately reflects issues that have segmented societies in the world: gender, urban/rural, and income. Asia is a good example of this segmentation because it has countries, and regions within different countries, at every point along the development continuum. The number of 22% of Asia’s 48 million Internet users perhaps changed in the past five years.

Overcoming the Digital DivideEdit

Several attempts from various organizations have been made to overcome the digital divide. Projects such as the Global Text Project and One Laptop per Child Program illustrate efforts from countries with advanced technologies, such as the US, to reach out to other countries in the lower end of the digital divide. There are concerns, however, with Western views and knowledge resources being exported to Eastern cultures.

International organizations have also provided attempts to overcome the digital divide in many regions of the world. A case in point is in Asia, where international and regional organizations, such as the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established regional programs to minimize the digital gap within the region and the nation. Not only the international organizations but also many governments in their countries devoted to overcoming the digital divide. Is there any case to illustrate the federal or state government help overcome this disadvantage?

The Global Text Project http://www.globaltext.org/team.htmlEdit

With increasingly expensive textbooks, many students in the U.S. are struggling with the cost of education. Textbooks in some disciplines, including business and the sciences, are significantly more expensive than other areas such as English. This project aims at supplying textbooks to developing countries, giving them a chance to benefit from textbooks in various fields such as business and education. These textbooks will be delivered in the form of open content electronic textbooks that will be freely available from a web site. Not only does the Global Text Project attempt to provide textbooks to developing countries, the organization attempts to engage students and teachers worldwide in developing and improving the quality of the book. For example, creating cases and exercises that draw on local contexts, as opposed to focusing solely on cases in North American situations, as the key examples in current textbooks. Such localization of content should boost adoption and satisfaction with the content of these books. The Global Text organization plans to develop two new books, a business fundamentals text and an introductory information system text. These books will be written in English and translated into Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish.

This project is distinct in the way it attempts to foster collaboration between users and creators of the textbooks. Users are invited to provide feedbacks and offer some advice or exercises for the future classes to use. As a result, the users will not only use the text but also need to think about how to improve it. In addition, students have access to the whole textbook, not partial, as provided in many open course materials. Students can, therefore, take time to read and digest information at their own pace.

One Laptop per Child program http://laptop.org/en/index.shtmlEdit

One Laptop per Child program has been created to distribute the XO laptop to children in developing countries. This nonprofit organization was founded by Nicholas Negroponte, Co-founder and Director of MIT Media Laboratory. The XO laptop embodies theories of constructionism, which emphasizes “situated learning” as the fundamental educational experience. A computer uniquely fosters learning by allowing children to “think about thinking,” in ways that are otherwise impossible. The XO will allow children to explore the world, exposing them to unlimited knowledge and to their own creative and problem solving potential.

The organization plans to distribute the XO laptop, a flexible, ultra-low-cost, power-efficient, responsive, and durable machine, to children in developing countries. To achieve its highly marketed low cost, the XO is built from free and open-source software. The Foundation is currently not yet accepting applications for the funding of Special Laptop Programs. They hope to activate the program before the end of 2007. However, for two weeks in November 2007, a project called “Give 1 Get 1” was initiated to promote XO laptop donations in North America. Anyone could purchase two XO laptops for $399 and donate one of them to children in developing nations while keeping one for him/herself. In early 2007, the B2 iteration of XO was ready for its debut. B3 followed in May 2007, and pallets of B4 machines arrived in OLPC offices on July 6, 2007.

David Pogue (2007), a popular reporter and K-12 keynote speaker from the New York Times, reviewed the latest version of the XO laptop, now in final testing, and found that the XO laptop has many distinctive features. Even though not comparable to regular standard Mac or Windows laptops, the XO laptop exhibits many technological breakthroughs, some of which may not be available on any other laptop. For instance, it runs on lithium ferro-phosphate, which costs $10 to replace, and is good for 2,000 charges – versus 500 on a regular laptop battery. In addition, it consumes 2 watts, compared with 60 watts or more on a typical laptop. Importantly, the screen of the XO is bright and razor sharp (1,200 x 900 pixels) and switches to black and white when in direct sunlight thereby enabling the user to read the screen. The XO offers regular wireless Internet connections and mesh networking. Mesh networking allows all the laptops to see each other instantly, without any setup and without an Internet connection. With the mesh networking, one laptop can get online if someone on the mesh network has an Internet connection. Users can also show documents, pictures, music, or books with people on the mesh network.

In his review, Pogue (2007) suggested that the biggest obstacle to the XO’s success is not technology, but fear. These concerns include the fear of overseas ministers of education that if they change the status quo in schools, they might risk their jobs. Additional fears include those of big-name manufacturers who worry that the XO will steal their market share of the 2-billion-person laptop market. Finally, some critics argue that the poorest nations need food and medicine more than computers.

(The conception of OLPC is ideal, and it can also average the digital divide. The low-price computer will be the trend to let almost everybody can afford the computer and use it to learn and get information. But some criticisms like described above such as there are not sufficient food, water, and electricity in some developing country and or the Third World country which in the flames of war, why child there need a laptop?)

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization)Edit

At the international level, organizations, such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), have also played a vital role in providing ICT training to bridge the digital divide in the Asia-Pacific region. They have established a program called The Next Generation of Teachers Project, aiming to provide ICT training and supports for post-primary teachers in the Asia-Pacific regions. Microsoft and Cisco Systems also serve as key partners in this project.

In China, UNESCO initiated a project called Bridging the Within-Country Digital Divide in Education, which aims at bridging the within-country digital divide in education between the under-developed western and the developed eastern regions of China. The western region accounts for over 50% of the country’s land area but only 3% of its population. Out of the 45 million Internet users in China, only an extremely small percentage are in the western region. For example, there are only 0.5% of Internet users in the Gansu province, one of the three main provinces in the western region. This program, therefore, attempts to promote the use of ICTs in the western region by providing in-service teacher training, curriculum development, and development of innovative and modern textbooks. A lot of attention will be paid to search for innovative, practical, and affordable policies and models that could eventually close the digital gap within this massive and fast-growing country.

SEAMEO (The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization)Edit

Likewise, there have been efforts put forward by sub-regional organizations in Asia, such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and SEAMEO (The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization) to formulate plans to promote ICT education. For example, there was an implementation of SEAMO IT plan that will establish SEAMO INNOTECH, which specializes in educational innovation and technology, to train teachers and principals in technology. There was e-ASEAN Task Force that developed activities geared towards creating a common IT market, enhancing physical infrastructure, human development, promoting e-commerce, and supporting e-governance (Cabanatan, 2002). These examples illustrate efforts from sub-region organizations to enhance their citizens’ ability to compete in the regional and global level and bridge the digital divide in the Asia-Pacific region.


Clearly, there are many organizations, initiatives, and projects that are addressing the digital divide today. While questions and concerns seem to pervade each attempt to reduce the gap, each of these projects offers something unique that assists people around the world having access to online resources necessary for learning in the 21st century. The coming decades will hopefully witness the resulting benefits from this increased access as the learners of today become social, economic, political, and educational leaders of tomorrow. Each of us must ask ourselves, "what can I do to help?"

Web ResourcesEdit

  • One Laptop per Child Program


  • The Global Text Project


  • The Next Generation of Teachers Project


  • Bridging the Within-Country Digital Divide in Education in Western China Project


  • The Digital Divide Network


  • Digital Divide.org


  • Youth for Technology Foundation


  • National Telecommunications and Information Administration


  • The digital divide: The resource list (UCLA)


  • Wikipedia chapter on the digital divide


  • Wikipedia chapter on global digital divide


Interesting articles on global digital divide

  • Global digital divide narrowing


  • On the global digital divide


  • Global digital divide WebQuest



Cabanatan, P. G. (2002). The digital divide and ICT education: A Southeast Asian Perspective. SEAMEO INNOTECH. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/APCITY/UNPAN011290.pdf

Cullen, R. (2001). Addressing the digital divide. Online Information Review, 25, p. 311-320.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2002). A nation online: How Americans are expanding their use of the Internet. Retrieved November 15, 2007 from http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/dn/index.html

One Laptop per Child. Retrieved October 9, 2007 from http://laptop.org/en/index.shtml

Pogue, D. (2007, October 4). $100 Laptop a Bargain at $200. The New York Times.

The Global Text Project. Retrieved October 9, 2007 from http://www.globaltext.org/team.html

The Pew Internet and American life project. (2007). Demographics of Internet users. Retrieved November 21, 2007 from http://www.pewinternet.org/trends/User_Demo_6.15.07.htm

UNESCO Bangkok. Bridging the within-country digital divide in education: improving education in western China through innovative use of ICTs. Retrieved October 31, 2007 from http://www.unescobkk.org/index.php?id=1231

Warschauer, M. (2002). Reconceptualizing the digital divide. First Monday, 7(7). Retrieved October 8, 2007 from http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_7/warschauer/index.html

Warschauer, M. (2003). Demystifying the digital divide. Scientific American, 289, p. 42-47.

Wilson, K. R., Wallin, J. S., & Reiser, C. (2003). Social stratification and the digital divide. Social Science Computer Review, 21, p. 133-143.

Wong, P. (2002). ICT production and diffusion in Asia: Digital dividends or digital divide? Information Economics and Policy, 14, p. 167-187.