Research line 1: Digital inequality
In the first line of research I focus on the use and effects of Internet (technology) in relation to a person’s position in society. I recently showed that some sections of the population more frequently use applications that have the greatest advantages for accruing capital and resources (such as work, study and societal participation), while other sections relatively often choose to use entertainment applications that have little advantage. Besides increasing relative differences, there is the disturbing trend of absolute exclusion; when offline alternatives become unavailable. By building on traditional classifications of potential areas of exclusion in my theorization, I try to understand who benefits in what way from the Internet. To further enrich quantitative work, I focus on specific types of internet usage that affect offline outcomes across several areas of society.
During my stay at London School of Economics and Political Science (LsE), I worked on the project 'From digital skills to tangible outcomes’ (DISTO). With scholars from LsE and Oxford University we created a theory driven index for digital exclusion. The index follows the process of technology appropriation by accounting for motivation, access, skills, uses and offline outcomes. Last year, I was awarded a grant to study the interrelationship between social and digital inequality by following technology use in the household context for several months.
Research Line 2: Digital skills to participate in the information and network society.
Digital skills play an important role in the translation of a type of use (e.g., search for a job) in the corresponding outcome (employment). Performance tests based on my framework of six types of skills (operational, formal, information, communication, content creation and strategic) revealed that assumptions about the level of digital skills among citizens are unjustified. I have for example shown that older users outperform young users in content-related digital skills, and that we should not underestimate the importance of traditional skills for performing on digital skills. With graduate students, I am currently conducting performance tests of skills that are required for new – supposedly more intuitive – devices. From a practical perspective, much of the interest in this research line comes from the public domain, for example in relation to the objectives regarding the digital government. Digital skills are considered an important requisite to achieve this objective.
Research Line 3: Digital skills for 21st century labor
The third line of research is an extension of the previous one and concerns the skills needed in the context of employment. In political and economic discussions about what knowledge and skills are important in our current and future society, these skills are referred to as ‘21st century skills.’ Examples are information management, communication, collaboration, problem solving, or critical thinking, skills that are also needed in the digital environment. In this line of research I respond to challenges such as the increasing demand for high skilled jobs, or the mismatch between what students learn at school and what the labor market requires. In 2012 and 2013, I conducted vignette studies and interviews that revealed that much time is lost in the workplace because of digital skill shortages, that organizations take few initiatives to support the worker, and that the effects of training are underestimated. Last year, I was awarded an NWO project (eskills in the Dutch creative sector) which aims to identify digital skills for workers in the creative sector and to determine the level of these skills and the interplaying factors influencing this level. The results help to establish policy that will be applied in the last phase of the project.