The College Innovation Network’s (CIN) published report The New Digital Divide: How EdTech Self-Efficacy is Shaping the Online Student Learning Experience in Higher Ed (2021) has contributed to a change in how we think about the digital divide in higher education.

The digital divide phrase is commonly used to communicate inequity of access to technology students need to thrive in today’s education environment. But after the surge of online learning in the wake of the global pandemic in 2020, educators learned that the digital divide is deeper than only access – experience matters, too.

Nicole Barbaro of WGU Labs spoke about the new digital divide of EdTech self-efficacy at the 2022 Learning and the Brain conference hosted in San Francisco on February 18th, sharing key data from CIN’s 2021 EdTech Student Survey report in addition to a sneak peek of results from the forthcoming 2022 EdTech Faculty Survey.

Barbaro’s talk, The New Digital Divide: EdTech Self-Efficacy and Implications for Online Learning Environments, shared three key insights about what has been learned about the new digital divide in the last year along with actionable strategies for both faculty and administrators to close the gap.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Equal access to EdTech does not result in equal learning experiences with EdTech and online learning. Our research shows that 20% of students struggle to learn how to use EdTech in their courses. This experience, a component of EdTech self-efficacy, or a student’s confidence in their ability to use and adapt to EdTech, is important to consider. Students with relatively lower EdTech self-efficacy have more negative learning experiences online.
  • Online-based institutions appeared to provide more positive online learning experiences than traditional institutions in 2020-21. Amid the shift to nearly universal online learning, online institutions already had a robust online learning infrastructure, students with the skills to navigate online learning, and faculty who were prepared to teach in an online format. In fact, faculty at online institutions are 18% more likely to feel confident in their ability to teach online, compared with faculty at traditional four-year institutions.
  • Faculty need better support to use EdTech in ways that enhance their teaching and students’ learning experiences. Only 1 in 5 faculty report being rewarded for trying new EdTech innovations in the classroom. Colleges must develop structures that allow faculty to lead and innovate in online learning, and provide the resources and support faculty need to excel.

Actionable Strategies:


  • Understand your students’ prior experiences with EdTech. Survey students at the beginning of the term to identify access to and familiarity with the technology being used in the course. Identifying problems and developing solutions early is necessary for student success.
  • Address the dual learning of EdTech and course content. By integrating technology instruction into your course, students will be more prepared to excel. Faculty can start with low-stakes EdTech-driven assignments for students to get comfortable using the technology first.


  • Create supportive structures for faculty to innovate, share, and promote best practices in EdTech and online learning. Most importantly, make time for faculty to get the proper training they need with technology throughout the year so that they can best use technology to enhance student learning
  • Give faculty a voice in EdTech decisions. Most EdTech is sold directly to administrators of the college rather than the faculty using the technology with their students. Create a system to gather information from faculty about what EdTech they need that will help solve real problems in their classrooms.

Download the Slide Deck from Barbaro’s talk at the 2022 Learning and the Brain Conference