A new Pew Research Center study found 74% of American adults consider themselves “personal learners.” While that may sound good, the report also noted that only 14% were “very familiar” with the concept of distance learning and just 5% had heard of massive open online courses (MOOCs).
The survey of nearly 3,000 adults also found that 49% of the respondents said they were “not familiar at all” with distance learning in general and 67% said the same of MOOCs.
Access to technology also played a role. More than 80% of the respondents with smartphones or a high-speed Internet connection participated in a personal learning program, compared to 54% who said they didn’t have a home broadband connection or a smartphone.
“It becomes a bit of a double-whammy for less-educated Americans,” John Horrigan, author of the study, said in a report for Quartz. “They are less attuned to seeking out educational opportunities than other segments [of the population], and less skilled at using new technologies that might help them overcome those gaps.”
Help might be on the horizon from the Federal Communications Commission, which recently voted on a plan to modernize a Reagan-era program, known as Lifeline, that provides phone service to low-income individuals. The plan would allow users to apply the monthly support they receive for Lifeline to a broadband service starting at 500 MB.
“It’s taken a lot of work for the agency to get even this fairly modest modernization of Lifeline from a phone-only program in 1985 to one that is broadband-inclusive,” Josh Stager, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said in a report for Diverse Education. “But many Americans clearly still need help affording the tablets and laptops that would get them online.”