Accelerating Digital Literacy

Independent learning

It is hard to imagine picking up a new skill without spending some time learning on one’s own. This is no different

for the women in our research. While most women relied on mobile service agents or someone in their social

circle for the initial set-up of mobile internet on their phones, a significant number said they would like to

learn on their own, if possible. Some women had taught themselves to use many features on their phones by

experimenting with various buttons and icons. For some women, independent learning was appealing because

they could learn on their own schedule—many were extremely busy with their jobs and housework. Other women

were embarrassed to ask questions. Young users in our sample demonstrated the most willingness to learn

independently. The exception was older, non-users of mobile internet in rural and urban India, who preferred

learning from their children and family members instead.

Beyond experimenting on their own, this learning channel could also include using educational tools on the phone,

such as a self-guided mobile internet tour. However, we were not able to identify users in our study countries who

had tried such a tool, and did not find such a training tool in wide use.

It is important to emphasise that even though women may prefer independent learning, this does not mean

it happens easily or on its own. In fact, our interviews revealed that women still faced a number of barriers to

experimenting with mobile internet and acquiring new digital skills on their own. It is also important to note that

our sample did not include illiterate women, who are likely to face formidable barriers to learning by themselves,

and may not share the preferences of women in this research. Below, we describe some of the barriers that

impede women’s ability to learn independently.

Lack of awareness

User tests in our sample countries validated the

findings of prior research: that women who are not

already using the internet are, in general, unaware of

the benefits. Many of the non-users we interviewed,

who were usually older and married, were either

completely unaware of the utility of the internet, or

were unconvinced of the value of learning how to use it.

Without these incentives, they were unlikely to invest in

learning about the internet on their own.

• In urban India, the group of non-users we sampled

consisted of busy working mothers with tight

budgets, who did not see the value of investing time

and effort to learn how to use mobile internet. Many

of the participants were semi-literate, and there was

a strong perception that the internet was meant

to be used by more educated people and school

children (see, for example, the profile of Kaushalya,

the “Internet Hopeful” in the Appendix: User


• In urban Kenya, as in urban India, our participants

were mainly working mothers. These women were

aware of social media services and applications,

but did not find them enticing. Instead, they were

interested in learning how they could become more

educated and grow their businesses.

• In both urban and rural Indonesia, the women we

interviewed saw the internet as a tool for looking

up information related to their children’s education,

but they were often not aware of other uses that

could motivate them to be independent users. Both

urban and rural groups were interested in improving

their ability to use the internet to help with their

children’s schoolwork (see, for example, Amah, the

“Comfortable Delegator”, in the Appendix: User


• In rural India, non-users had the lowest awareness

of the internet among all groups we interviewed.

Many admitted they were not completely sure what

the internet was, or what it could be used for. When

asked how they would learn, they exhorted, “First

someone needs to tell us what the internet is.” In

rural Kenya, women did not have a clear idea of what

the internet could do for them. Many participants

said we had considerably broadened their perception

of the internet in our focus group discussions.


| Barriers to mobile literacy and digital skills for women

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