The U.S. Department of Education released the highly anticipated update to the National Educational Technology Plan Monday. The 2024 NETP focuses on closing the digital use, access and design divides.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has made bold investments aimed at closing the digital divide and ensuring all students can equitably access the latest digital tools and technology,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release. “The 2024 National Educational Technology Plan is a forward-thinking approach to reframing and realizing the potential of educational technology to enhance the instructional core, reduce achievement gaps, and improve student learning in our schools.”

The NETP has been updated numerous times since its initial release in 2000. Before Monday’s announcement, the most recent update was in 2016. These past versions of the resource served as an examination of the state of K–12 education. The 2024 NETP, however, departs from this structure to instead highlight three barriers, or digital divides, that limit educational technology’s ability to transform teaching and learning.

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Ed Tech Opportunities Through the Lens of Three Digital Divides

The breadth of the digital divide in K–12 education was brought to light at the onset of the pandemic. Students’ ability to access and use digital resources varied greatly across the country, sparking conversations about equity and opportunity.

In this update to the NETP, the digital divide is categorized in three ways: the digital use divide, the digital access divide and the digital design divide. Each addresses opportunities pertaining to the use and availability of educational technology.

The digital use divide describes the opportunities students have to use technology to further their learning. According to the press release, this includes “dynamic applications of technology to explore, create, and engage in critical analysis of academic content and knowledge.”

The digital access divide describes students’ and educators’ equitable access to technology, which encompasses devices, digital content and connectivity. Accessibility and digital health, digital safety and digital citizenship are key elements of digital access.

The digital design divide pertains to educators’ ability to expand their professional development and their capabilities to design learning experiences enabled by technology.

Within the 2024 NETP, each of these divides is mapped to the ways schools, districts and states can design valuable learning experiences with ed tech. The plan also provides action-oriented recommendations for closing the three digital divides, with examples from across the country.

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