The new digital learning economy in three tribes, seven charts and three recommendations - RSA

Blog: The new digital learning age in three tribes, seven charts and three recommendations

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  • Economics and Finance
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Further education
  • Higher education
  • Schools
  • Skills
  • Teaching
  • Vocational education
  • Creative Institutions and Systems
  • Cities
  • Communities
  • Institutional reform
  • Public services

Technological change is a pervasive force in society. However, the benefits of new technology are not evenly spread. At the moment, people still see technology as a positive force but that could change quickly. To ensure we capture the benefits to the max there needs to be a series of smart public policy interventions. Below we map out the ‘creative tribes’ of technological change, the attitudes and behaviours that condition our relationship to new technologies and recommended policy responses necessary to ensure all can benefit from an emerging spontaneous shared learning economy.

The three tribes

  • The ‘confident creators’ who are adept at using new technology to develop their knowledge, creativity and social capital. They are confident in a rapidly changing technology environment. They are 11 per cent of the population.
  • The ‘held back’ not only see the benefits of new technology but they are using it to learn. They are ambitious and seek the chance to turn their ideas and hopes into reality and they are trying to work out how. However, they feel that they need more support, a greater level of learning and more confidence to make their hopes a reality. With some support they might just get there but as it stands they feel a sense of frustrated ambition. They are 20 per cent of the population.
  • Finally, there are the ‘safety firsters’. This group is least engaged with new technology and the internet. It’s not that they aren’t connected; it’s just that they see it less a part of their lives than the other two groups. They are not particularly satisfied with things but they do not see the world as particularly stacked against them in the way the ‘held back’ do. Without realising it, they may be missing out on opportunities to learn, progress and connect and, consequently, this may pose greater risks as the economy changes – risks they may not have acknowledged. They are 30 per cent of the population.

(There are two further groups - the 'comfortable' and 'connected' retired (or near-retired also in reality). These groups make up the remaining 39 per cent of the population. We will discuss these groups in future reports.)


Seven charts

There is a positive attitude to the internet in general but there is some concern about divisions that are opening up between the ‘capability-endowed’ and not.


Attitudes to technology

In general, significant proportions of the respondents to the survey believe power is becoming more concentrated.

 Power becoming concentrated

 There is some difference in creativity/creative confidence between the three ‘tribes’:


Creativity/creative aspirations 

But it is the ‘held back’ who are seeking the most support to make their creative ideas a reality. However, note that the ‘confident creators’ also need a significant degree of support.



The ‘held back’ are the least satisfied with life followed closely by the ‘safety firsters’. The ‘held back’ and the ‘confident creators’ are both far more likely to spot educational and social divisions – from different ends of the telescope?

 satisfaction and divides


The level of online skills and sophistication is very similar between the ‘held back’ and the ‘confident creators’. The major difference is that the ‘held back’ seem more isolated professionally in the main. This may indicate that they need greater levels of social capital to succeed.

Use of internet


‘Held back’ and ‘confident creators’ are more likely to agree that the internet offers benefits for creativity, collaboration, formal and peer-to-peer learning.  

Positive aspects of the internet


Overall, there is a waste of enthusiasm and creativity across all three ‘tribes’ but mostly within the ‘held back’. The question is how to help them fulfil their creative potential while opening up new opportunities to the ‘safety firsters’. We have three recommendations.


Three recommendations

1. A new approach to learning through and with new technology in schools. We advocate new ways for teachers to work together in applying knowledge of what is effective in the use of digital technology in schools and being supported in that endeavor.

2. Greater frequency, quality and range of contact with employers for students. This will be supported throughout the education system through improving careers networks developed in schools and beyond.

3. A new ‘city of learning’ initiative to expand formal skills and learning. This approach is led by local leaders, employers, informal learning networks and institutions and increases skills-acquisition through peer-to-peer as well as institutional accreditation. It is based on ‘open badges’ technology where an individual is able to demonstrate new learning and skills as they progress. Cities of Learning are already spreading across the US.

The new digital learning age: how we can enable social mobility through technology by Anthony Painter and Louise Bamfield is now available. It is our first ‘Power to Create’ paper and was kindly sponsored by Google UK Ltd.

I am very grateful to Marc Smith of NodeXL (click on the link for a clearer map image) for generating the following social media map of the launch event yesterday.

Social media map



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  • I was a 'held back' on the quiz and I think I agreed with the description, at least, in part I did. One of the features between the 'confident creators' and the 'held back' is the sense that either category only exists in an individual sense.  What of the possibility that dissatisfaction is part of a wider social concern and not necessarily frustration at the limitations of the individual in question?  The article and report discuss the ability to spot educational and social divisions and indicates different ends of a telescope, but is it also possible spotting division might be from different ends of that divide?  Not necessarily a perspective issue but one of lived experience? I guess the key variable in the quiz between confident and held back is the question related to satisfaction with life. I suppose both dissatisfaction and confidence in your own creation is also a possibility?    A 'held back creator with social justice issues and a tendency to mistrust the illusion of safety'!

    The first two recommendations seems pretty standard to the educational models and suggest increasing that maybe; the city of learning is less clear - the merging of the formal learning with informal learning communities is interesting and I wonder how both could exist at the same time - would the informal communities become formal?  or the formal learning become informal?  It is something I am considering now in the ways that my work as lecturer is advancing in social spaces and causing some blurring around where the formal/ informal exist.  In Coocs the informal comes first but is certainly altered by starting to think of any interest in a different way, even labelling it as a course (no matter how loosely defined) might change the dynamic.  

    I'll keep reading and see how others are looking at the categories.  I think I would value not being held back any more.