Panelists from left to right: Shauna Edson, Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, Stacy Vincent, and Jamie Littlefield

Overcoming barriers to digital literacy programs

What are your barriers to implementing digital literacy programs at your organization? We addressed this question in the panel we presented at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference: “Same Issues, Different Contexts: Digital Literacy in Schools, Libraries and Housing.”

All four of us have worked across sectors in housing, schools, and libraries and found the same barriers to digital literacy throughout. We facilitated a discussion among attendees, who also came from varying backgrounds, and found some common themes.


Lack of knowledge of what digital inclusion is

There is an assumption that everyone has access to technology. This was brought up by attendees who referenced attending local government meetings where officials made comments implying that everyone should be able to access the internet. Other attendees focused on the need to educate community members; one person even created a tutorial on digital literacy education. Another suggested tying issues of digital inclusion to community priorities around workforce development.

Barriers in libraries

One panelist, Stacy Vincent, spoke about barriers from her personal experience as a librarian. Much of her job as a public librarian is spent putting out fires and doing behavior management, so setting aside time for training and addressing digital literacy falls to the bottom of the list. Other librarians from the audience mentioned that many librarians aren’t trained to help patrons with these issues.

Practical issues: child care and transportation

Another panelist, Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, teaches refugees how to use the computer. She told a story of how one student had to bring her child to class due to lack of childcare. The child sat under a desk while the student gave her toys to occupy her during the lesson. Childcare was an issue brought up by other panel-goers. Other practical and logistical issues such as transportation and lack of English skills to particulate fully in digital literacy trainings were cited as barriers to digital literacy programs and effectiveness.


A factor affecting all organizations was lack of funding. This large elephant in the room was pointed out by both panelists and attendees. Funding can be limited, very restricted, and not secure. One attendee who works in a nonprofit brought up that foundations do not understand what digital inclusion issues are. Others brought up barriers such as metrics to show success and how to share stories of digital inclusion.


Digital literacy is part of all our fights, and although there are barriers, there are also solutions. One solution that goes beyond context is communicating the importance of the work being done. The panelists asked attendees to draft a Tweetable elevator pitch talking about what they do.

Panelists suggested additional solutions, such as building relationships or creating mentoring programs like the Ready, Set, Connect! youth program in Oakland Public Library. Other solutions brought up by attendees were getting help for childcare from existing after-school programs, using volunteers for one-on-one tech assistance, and addressing digital skills training as part of staff professional development.

During the panel, it was reiterated that issues of digital literacy are issues across different organizations. One of the panelists, NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellow Jamie Littlefield spoke on the importance of digital literacy work: “If you fight for literacy, digital inclusion is part of your fight. If you fight against poverty, digital inclusion is a part of your fight.”



During the panel, Shauna Edson shared some of her favorite digital inclusion resources to help address barriers:

For more information about this panel and discussion, see the collaborative notes.


Jamie Littlefield
Jamie Littlefield is a teacher, instructional designer, and community activist. She earned a Master of Arts in Education from Claremont Graduate University, a program dedicated to reaching students in underserved communities. She later taught English in tech-enriched courses at Utah Valley University. As an instructional designer, she developed the school’s online English 1010 curriculum. Jamie curates a Little Free Library in the front yard of her Provo home and loves to explore the city from the seat of her blue bicycle.