n South African Journal of Higher Education - If we build it will they come? Investigating the relationship between students' access to and use of ICTs for learning

Volume 21, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



Research from a survey of students in higher education institutions in the Western Cape has demonstrated that despite the difficulties being experienced in terms of access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in higher education, students report that they do indeed use computers for their learning.

In this paper we explore the relationship between access and use examining particularly the influence of context on use. We focus on those specific aspects of access where previous studies have highlighted a link between access and use, namely; home computer access, individuals' interest in and aptitude with using computers, and support within social networks.
Although the research findings do reveal quite obviously that students with poor access do make less use of ICTs for learning, this forms only part of the picture. High access does not guarantee high use: differentiation in use is noted amongst students from different socio-economic groups for example. There are also students with low access who exercise their agency in constraining conditions, and make frequent use of ICTs for learning, particularly in the business and engineering disciplines.
The findings reported in this paper suggest that the notion of the digital divide is simplistic and less useful than previously thought; rather indications are that amongst higher education students there is a usage divide, and digital differentiation is a more useful framing concept.

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