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Poorer Families Less Likely to Use Online Learning Tools

A plethora of free educational programs, games, and services have launched online in recent years, designed to help children succeed academically, as well as close the achievement gap between the rich and poor.

Instead, the gap seems to be getting larger because of these online tools, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that low-income parents are less likely to use these online resources or, when they do, they do so less effectively because of differences in motivation and parenting practices.

“A key goal for low-income parents is making sure their children stay in school, so often they are more focused on monitoring whether their kids are doing homework and going to class,” said Dr. Betsy DiSalvo, an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing, who led the study. “Their attention is directed towards school and not what could happen outside the classroom.”

Higher-income parents are more likely to act as learning brokers or resource providers by searching for opportunities outside of school, whether it be a book, online game, or extracurricular activity, she noted.

For the study, the researchers interviewed 63 parents across socio-economic groups. They also conducted an online survey of 997 parents in partnership with ACT, a national education testing services organization.

The study’s findings show that even when low-income parents turn to online resources they face greater challenges.

“They had lower perceived technical skills when it came to using computers and portable devices and conducting searches online,” DiSalvo said. “Even when they could do it, they downplayed their abilities.”

“If we can capture these parents and give them access to these educational resources, we can help them help their children,” she said. “These tools are supposed to improve learning for all children, but if they are not being used by lower-income students, they are coming to school at an even greater disadvantage.”

Lower-income parents also seem to experience greater face-saving concerns, she noted.

“Most parents are worried about saving face when asking for help with parenting,” she said. “But this study shows it might be worse for low income parents.”

There also were differences between how high-income and lower-income parents use social networks for education. Lower-income parents talk very little online about finding educational tools and instead go personally to the school resources center.

“Higher-income parents form Google groups, or search parenting blogs and message boards to learn about new tools,” she said. “They will seek out that one mother who seems connected to everything and always knows what’s going on.”

The study’s finding, presented recently at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, are being used to develop an online parent portal that will address the needs of lower-income parents, according to the researcher.

“Across the board, parents we talked to are passionate about their kids’ education, but even those who are heavily invested are still struggling to help their children,” DiSalvo said.

“If we think these online resources are the answer to helping children, we need to design them so that low-income parents will find them and use them.”

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Poorer Families Less Likely to Use Online Learning Tools

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Poorer Families Less Likely to Use Online Learning Tools. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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