Australia is facing a digital boom as the National Broadband Network rolls out, more government services move online and Internet shopping continues to grow said Sally Thompson, CEO of Adult Learning Australia.
"Technology has revolutionised the working and everyday lives of Australians but as technology advances continue to grow, people who do not embrace the digital revolution may be more at risk of isolation and an inability to manage their own lives," Ms Thompson said.
"We are living in a world where we bank, buy groceries, check medical records, communicate with friends and family and make bookings online. For those who are digitally literate this shift towards cyberspace is creating a convenient and faster way of doing things but for some the change is enormous and confusing," she said.
"The speed with which technology is moving means the divide between the digitally literate and illiterate is growing."
Digital literacy is the theme of Adult Learners' Week 2012. Adult Learners' Week takes place in more than 55 countries from 1 to 8 September and is coordinated nationally by Adult Learning Australia.
"Research shows that 98 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 use the internet, compared with only 40 per cent of people aged 64 and over. As Australia's population ages, it is expected that the number of Australians aged 65 to 84 years will double and the number of people aged 85 and over will quadruple by 2050 creating an enormous number of people who have not grown up with digital technology," Ms Thompson said.
The roll out of the National Broadband Network, which has been designed to boost growth, performance and inclusiveness of Australia's digital economy is also set to fuel the speed with which Australians integrate digital technology into their lives. By mid-2015 it is estimated that the National Broadband Network will be connected to more than 3.5 million premises.
Most major Australian retailers are already online. Last year, Woolworths, Big W and Kmart were in the Top 10 most visited retail sites in Australia according to Nielson NetView. And recent statistics show that online retail sales will almost double from $16.9 billion in 2009 to $33.3 billion by 2015.
Online banking is also increasingly the norm and is encouraged by lower cost per transaction, while Australia Post has seen a decline in letter volumes by 17 per cent since 2008, having accepted that the transition online is inevitable.
"The changes in adoption are already staggering," Ms Thompson said.
According to recent Nielsen statistics, four years ago, few Australians had heard of a smartphone, and now more than six in 10 Australians aged over 16 have one, and readily use it to access online content. By the end of 2012, iPads and tablets are expected to be in more than one third of households. Some 37 per cent of Australians now stream video via the Internet on a regular basis, compared with 10 per cent in 2008. And a huge 65 per cent of Australians participate in online social networking.
But Ms Thompson said bridging the gap for older Australians would mean developing a range of strategies to tackle the fears that this age group held about the Internet.
A lack of skills, concerns about security and viruses, lack of support, high costs, and not wanting to burden their friends or family by asking for help or advice were among the various reasons older Australians have shared in relation to not accessing the internet. Other seniors said they were also confused about technology and expressed a lack of knowledge about fees, and the types of computers they should buy.
"The digital divide is a prime example of why Australia desperately needs a Lifelong Learning Policy, similar to those in the UK and Europe, that looks at learning across the lifespan including into the senior years and prepares people for changes not just in the workplace, but to how we live our daily lives," said Ms Thompson.
Adult Learners' Week is the ideal time for all Australians to explore the numerous educational alternatives on offer with events, information seminars and practical demonstrations taking place around the country during the first week of September.
Visit www.adultlearnersweek.org, call 1300 I LEARN (1300 453 276) or check out Adult Learners' Week on Facebook to find out more about adult education options in your local area.