Understanding the lived experience of digital poverty as a distance learner: student and tutor perspectives

Turner, Wendy; Gracia, Rosaria and Rainford, Jon (2024). Understanding the lived experience of digital poverty as a distance learner: student and tutor perspectives. The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.se.25681902


This document presents the final report of a research project which aims to explore the issues that concern students and tutors on the theme of digital poverty over the period from October 2022 to November 2023.
The project is part of a wider University initiative aimed at defining and building an understanding of what digital poverty is in the context of students from Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS), specifically as a distance learning student.
Thus, the research was motivated by the increasing awareness of the impact digital poverty has had on some of our students. There are multiple aspects and impacts of digital poverty, and so the overarching question was, ‘what is the lived experience of digital poverty for our OU students?’
In addition, the role of tutors/Associate Lecturers (ALs) is essential in the student experience and so we are also looking to understand this from their perspectives.
The key questions that led the research were:
• What does digital poverty mean for a WELS and Open University (OU) student?
• What are the tangible outcomes (and impact) of digital poverty (for the student)?
• How can the OU mitigate against digital poverty related to inequitable outcomes?
• What barriers exist?
• What enablers are lacking?

Plain Language Summary

This project explored the lived experiences of distance learning higher education students (at the Open University) and the impact of digital poverty on their studies. Using mixed methods and direct participant research sought to both understand and suggest mitigation of digital poverty for our students.

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