Digital literacy: push or pull strategies?

This is an e-mail I sent to my students of the Digital literacy and exclusion course I’m giving virtually at the UOC. I found it interesting to share with my future myself.

First of all, a digression. Afterwards, an example. Last, a conclusion. (In between, patience: yours ;)


In marketing, a push strategy is the one a brand designs to push the costumer to buy something by affecting the distribution/distributor. i.e. “this week, 10% discount on lettuces” (discount on lettuces so that they are cheaper than a beef steak and thus people prefers lettuce)

A pull strategy is the one that pursues that the customer himself pulls the demand. i.e. “eating vegetables is good for your health” (thus the customer will buy lettuces instead of beef, because he feels the “need” of it)


In digital literacy issues, we tend to foster “push” type actions, say, “let’s give digital tools to the people of the world so they get free” “let’s make anyone empower him with text processor skills” “let’s make anyone have a computer”. Two problems arise here:

  • we can find someone hammering in a nail with the mouse of his computer… didn’t he need a hammer rather than a computer? The example is – of course – exaggerated but we’re maybe teaching someone Java or PHP programming when, actually, teaching him how to make a very simple web page with a very simple (WYSIWYG) web editor will be enough. And tempting the student to give up because Java was far too difficult for his purposes.
  • The other problem is, simply, that we can give away something that will let the user half way from the start, half way from the goal. Typical example is content: we teach someone to browse the Internet but he does not find content in his mother language (the only one he can speak) that are of his interest. Or he cannot find them. He knows they are out there, but he cannot reach them. What, then, digital literacy for?


Dealing with senior digital literacy programs, whether “grandpa’s page” is interesting at all, whether it is good for an aged person – in risk of social exclusion – to get in touch with friends through e-mail, or if he or she will help grandson with his homework… they are all of them are ways of thinking totally “push”, say, we’re making it easy for senior people to use the tools, we put them at their reach, we make “discounts” on the personal “cost” of using them… and afterwards they will use it on whatever they want. Or not.

The proposal could – for senior communities, but also other communities in risk of digital exclusion – a point of view from the “pull” side, not in competence with the previous one, but complementing it, both good, but normally forgotten.

We’ll soon be able to ask for an appointment with the doctor only through his website. We’ll soon get our X-ray images only by e-mail. We’ll soon have information concerning public administration or elections only through digital media. Or we’ll only be able to follow a course by e-learning means. Etc.

It surely won’t be “only” most of them, but a good bunch of them will.

My question is… do we have to think in training grandpa to make is own website… or train him so he can keep on being a first class citizen, avoiding having his son to read the e-mail he gets in his grandson electronic address?


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2005) “Digital literacy: push or pull strategies?” In ICTlogy, #19, April 2005. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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