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Barbara Bush Foundation Joins PLA and AT&T in Promoting Digital Literacy for Adult Learners

by Andri Moloney-Kitts, Programs Coordinator, Barbara Bush Foundation on May 14, 2024

In today’s world, digital literacy is not just a skill; it’s a necessity. As technology continues to be at the forefront of our daily lives, the ability to navigate the digital landscape effectively and safely is becoming increasingly crucial. From communication and education to business and entertainment, skills are needed to leverage technology effectively and help close the digital divide.

AT&T is making significant strides addressing this issue through their AT&T Connected Learning  program. One component of this program provides targeted digital literacy learning modules through the DigitalLearn.org site. DigitalLearn.org is The Public Library Association’s (PLA) curated collection of free digital literacy courses and training materials. Recently, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy (BBF) joined AT&T as a collaborator in this effort by providing training to PLA sites on the use of BBF’s resource guide, Promoting Digital Literacy for Adult Learners as a supplemental resource to their digital literacy skill-building workshops. Through this work, BBF has deepened the impact of these shared materials by providing digital literacy resources, delivering customized training on the materials for facilitators to select sites, and providing technical support. Data was collected by all pilot sites to track participation and measure the efficacy of the program.

One PLA site that had significant success throughout the pilot was the Charleston County Public Library in South Carolina. Two instructors in particular, John Strasburg, Adult Services Librarian, and Lily Perez, Technology Librarian, discussed how using the shared materials was helpful in promoting digital literacy skill building for library patrons. With materials offered in English and Spanish, the libraries saw a large impact on learners and instructors throughout the duration of the pilot.

Using the Tools and Resources for Trainers section on DigitalLearn.org, instructors were able to select lessons that met the needs of their patrons and communities, and also offered opportunities to use the asynchronous learning modules. The digital literacy resource guide then provided an opportunity to explore how to best support learners using a whole learner approach with instructors implementing research-based strategies to deepen the impact of the digital literacy skill-building.

Learner Impact

Based on discussions with Charleston instructors, it is clear that this pilot had a positive impact on learners. One of the most important things mentioned by instructors throughout this pilot was the encouragement of a growth mindset. When teaching technology, especially to adults, it is easy for learners to become overwhelmed and discouraged.

Strasburg shared the following story as an authentic example of working with learners: “… I wanted to dispel the myth that I was ‘a world’s foremost expert.’ I shared with the learners that I owned an Android and had little experience with the iOS platform. The point I was trying to convey was, like everything else, learning takes work, or as the guide eloquently puts it, ‘…effort, mistakes, reflection, and refinement of strategies and skills’ (page 37). I told the learners that not only did I have to study the course material, but I researched online websites and magazines to better acquaint myself with iOS. I saw some heads nodding and suspect my modest sentiment was received.”

Additionally, instructors were encouraged to help learners set a goal for themselves at the beginning of the pilot. Perez noted, “going forward, I will make changes by giving [learners] learning objectives to help them set a goal. Without them knowing, they set a goal for themselves just by showing up. This pushes them more towards the goal and makes the program a better learning experience.”

Post-surveys were provided to learners after the completion of each module. After reviewing this data, it was clear that these modules were helpful and effective in digital literacy instruction. Everyday digital literacy skills that most take for granted, such as searching for information online or other computer basics, turned out to be essential skill development for learners, thus making strides in empowering individuals in their digital skills.

Instructor Impact

While this pilot was intended to have a large positive impact on learners and library patrons, feedback showed the benefits and lessons provided to instructors as well. The large variety of resources and teaching strategies provided by the Digital Literacy Resource Guide and DigitalLearn.org were a critical component of this pilot study. One of the key points in the resource guide is “knowing to develop requirements for technical solutions based on user needs” (page 28). Perez states: “I found the most impactful part of the pilot was that there is no correct way to instruct. There are so many different things you can add to your program.” Instructors having the ability to implement their own interactive and engaging activities promoted enhanced learner participation and retention.

Additionally, providing resources to instructors promotes effective instruction and engagement. Strasburg highlighted that the DigitalLearn.org materials were visually appealing, and he plans on using some of the graphics in his lesson planning and presentations. He also mentioned that “the Promoting Digital Literacy for Adult Learners Resource Guide is a thoroughly helpful resource and contains a lot of information for the effective delivery of instruction. One point made me pause and reflect as I prepared the lesson; it was about bias. I found it helpful to remember that learners attend a workshop with varying levels of experience and that, in most cases, at a level below the instructor. While this dynamic is mentioned in several areas of the guide, I liked one particular passage: ‘Yet what feels like second nature to you now was once totally new… [the instructor will] need to assume one’s beginner mindset by putting themselves in their shoes’ (page 15).”


In conclusion, these resources provided by AT&T, PLA, and BBF, used in combination with passionate instructors and library support, provided an opportunity for more enhanced digital literacy learning. Teaching digital literacy is a fairly new concept, and by providing resources, instructors can find different strategies and lessons to help assist learners and patrons, regardless of their own digital literacy skills. Strasburg points out that, “while librarians/adult educators have had some type of instructor training in library school or other means, the content in the guide is fresh and will help many people brush up on some old skills.”

Additionally, it is important to highlight the pivotal role libraries play in promoting digital literacy and bridging the digital divide. With access to resources, technology, and staff, libraries serve as an essential hub for digital learning and skill development. By offering digital literacy workshops, libraries are working to help individuals of all ages and backgrounds navigate the digital world with dignity.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the need for effective and interactive digital literacy instruction will only increase. This collaboration (AT&T, BBF, and PLA) highlights the importance of investing in digital literacy education and adopting innovative approaches to meet the diverse needs of learners. By embracing digital literacy instruction, we can empower individuals to thrive in an increasingly digital world, unlocking new opportunities for all.