Digital learning can make education available to everybody

My father’s an academic, so I could never get away with suggesting the internet could ever replace the spark you get from a teacher or professor. But he’d be the first to agree that education is key to unlocking opportunity.

Computers let you study in a friendly environment at your own pace, which is vital for people who have had bad experiences with mainstream education.

The Open University (OU) is leading the world in digital learning. With its popular OpenLearn and iTunes U platforms, it is harnessing technology to provide the high-quality tools by which we can open up education to everybody.

So it’s fantastic the OU has signed up as one of our 1,100 partners backing the big push to build a 100 per cent networked nation in the UK by the time of the Olympics. At Race Online 2012, we’re determined for everybody in the UK, and particularly those in our most vulnerable groups, to have access to everything that’s offered online: from government services and entertainment, to social contact and crucial online educational tools.

We’re working with tech companies to make sure that cost doesn’t prevent anyone getting online, which we know is an issue for 23 per cent of people. Our first initiative was the launch of a national scheme to bring out high quality but low-cost refurbished computers, meaning that low-income groups can now get their hands on PCs and laptops for as little as £92.

The OU’s pledge goes toward addressing a bigger hurdle – motivation and inspiration – as 64 per cent of people say the reason they don’t go online is because it’s “not for them”.

The best people to inspire them to do so are friends and family, which is why we’ve recruited a national army of digital champions who have pledged to inspire, encourage and support people in their families and local communities to go online.

If just a fraction of the OU’s 2 million students, alumni and staff share their IT savvy with an offliner, we’ll be making real strides towards tackling this problem. See

Martha Lane Fox is the digital champion for the UK.