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Self-Assessing Digital Skills Proves a Challenge in Itself

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We’ve written quite a lot of blog posts here, saying that too many people lack vital digital skills. This argument has been further strengthened with a new study released by ECDL Switzerland, which finds a lack of adequate computer skills in Switzerland, and a lack of awareness of the problem. On average, participants in the study scored less than 50% in a practical test, and more than two-thirds of participants overestimated their computer skills. It is more evidence of a problem that exists around the world. Studies in Mexico, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and the UK, have found similar results. The simple fact is that people lack ICT skills and don’t know it!

More than Two-thirds Overestimated their Skills

More than 2000 people took part in the study, which was conducted in spring this year, and almost 500 of those participants put their skills to the test in a practical test using questions from the four ECDL Base modules. The Base modules cover the range of basic tasks that computer users need to be able to perform, including working with files, using word processors and spreadsheets, and using the web and email. The questions used were drawn from the diagnostic tests for these modules, which are designed specifically to give a good overview of a person’s existing knowledge. On average, participants only achieved a score of 46%, well below the level needed to pass a module and demonstrate digital competences.

As well as the practical testing, participants were also asked to complete an online survey to rate their own skills on a scale of 1 to 10. On the survey, which covered a range of basic and everyday computer tasks, 78% of participants overestimated their skills. Notably, people who had gained an ECDL certificate were better at judging their abilities.


Looking deeper into the results of the study, it is clear participants’ accuracy in estimating their skills varies by computer application, and by demographic groups. Indeed, some groups overestimate their computer skills more than others, potentially leading to a greater risk of suffering from the effects of a digital divide. The chart above shows a marked gap between self-assessment and tested abilities, while the chart below shows clearly that older people; people who have only completed the compulsory stages of education; and people who gained their knowledge of using a computer in an unstructured way, have strongly overestimated their abilities.

Chart: Swiss Study: Top 5 most over-estimated self-assessments

Studies around the World Confirm Findings

While this study is the first to map the current digital skills landscape in Switzerland, it is far from the first study to show the divide between the skills people think they have and the skills they really have. Studies in Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, the UK and Mexico have all revealed similar situations.

The most recent study, conducted in Mexico and soon to be released, shows that the divide there is just as strong as in Switzerland. For example, the study in Mexico this year, found that almost 75% of students responding felt that they had a high or intermediate skill level in using spreadsheets, but 96% of them answered a practical question on the topic incorrectly. The study of almost 300 students, teachers, and workers compared self-perceived skills against practice questions on a range of essential ICT areas, including web browsing and email, managing folders and files, word processing, and using anti-virus and firewall software. Like the Swiss study, it found that there is a bigger gap between real skills and assumed skills in certain areas, namely word processing, spreadsheets and using the operating system.

These studies, conducted in a range of different environments show a common pattern: not only do people lack vital computer skills that are essential for the modern workplace, they don’t know the extent of the gaps in their skills.

The results show that certifying digital skills, for example, using ECDL, not only proves that someone possesses a set of competences, but can help that person to more accurately judge their abilities, making it easier to identify where more work is needed.

You can learn more about the study on the website of ECDL Switzerland.