Addressing Digital Divides in Education: The 2024 NETP Breakdown

The US Office of Educational Technology has released the latest version of the National Education Technology Plan (NETP), which highlights the latest research, classroom realities, national trends, and innovative solutions schools are using to tackle complex challenges. While we think it’s worth the full read, we’ve summarized key takeaways in this blog post for those who may be short on time.

Previous NETP reports extensively detail the digital access and use divides. The 2024 plan has identified a third digital divide – the digital design divide – that builds upon the existing divides, creating greater inequities in this country.

“In systems where the average teacher can access more than 2,000 digital tools in a given moment, training on a tool’s basic functionality is insufficient. Closing the design divide moves teachers beyond the formulaic use of digital tools and allows them to actively design learning experiences for all students within a complex ecosystem of resources.” -NETP pg. 34

Digital Access Divide is the inequitable access to the internet, devices, and digital materials. With years of programs and funding (i.e., e-rate) attempting to address this divide, the pandemic emphasized just how far we still had to come as a nation to close this access divide adequately. Many schools used ESSER and other COVID-relief monies to increase bandwidth inside the school walls, address access outside of the school day, and get devices into kids’ hands. While well-intentioned, these efforts likely widened the gap for the other two divides. 

Digital Use Divide highlights the inequitable experience kids have from classroom to classroom – in the same school system with the same available resources – based on how the teacher uses (or does not use) technology for teaching and learning. Students who only have opportunities to use technology for passive learning, or content consumption and basic word processing skills, will be far behind their peers who are regularly given active use opportunities to create with technology. Teachers who are overwhelmed with access to new digital hardware and tools, yet do not receive job-embedded and ongoing training, further perpetuate this divide. This brings us to the third and newly named divide. 

Digital Design Divide focuses on the inequitable access to high-quality professional learning and support provided to educators to help them design high-quality learning experiences for their students that utilize edtech appropriately. No matter how great the access to the internet, devices, and curriculum resources, the digital use divide doesn’t stand a chance of closing until school leaders address the digital design divide to ensure teachers are equipped to use the resources around them. If you think this doesn’t apply to your district, I encourage you to think again. While most schools can point to pockets of innovation, few school systems have a similar look and feel across the board when translating active edtech learning experiences into teaching and learning.

The 2024 NETP challenges education leaders to think differently about funding related to tackling these three divides. In short, funding for infrastructure, hardware, and software cannot stop at the hard costs alone; they must consider and include funding beyond break-fix expenses that are allocated to ongoing training and support with said purchases in an instructional setting.

Furthermore, education leaders can streamline teachers’ initiative fatigue by aligning edtech support with existing instructional goals. Focusing on instruction and student outcomes causes teachers to invest their time and attention differently than when they are being presented with seemingly disconnected tools and features. An instructional technology coach can help district and building leaders strategically align goals and training.

Join Forward Edge Chief Learning Officer Katie Ritter for a brief webinar digging deeper into understanding these digital divides and some of the creative solutions presented in the 2024 NETP, and beyond, to address these inequities. The webinar will be on March 6th, 2024 at 3 PM EST.  Register below!  

Register Here!

About the Author: Dr. Katie Ritter is the Chief Learning Officer at Forward Edge. Katie was named one of the Top 100 Influencers in Edtech in 2023, and a finalist in the Visionary category for The EdTech Leadership Awards in 2023. She completed her Doctor of Education from Vanderbilt University where her research focused on instructional coaching and K12 educator professional development. She has served on several leadership teams including President of ISTE’s Edtech Coaching PLN and as a Future Ready Schools Instructional Coaches Thought Leader. She is a former instructional coach and high school educator. Katie is driven to empower others to realize their full potential, so they can make a positive difference on those around them! 

Forward Edge empowers schools to reach tomorrow’s learners by providing a variety of solutions and services that remove barriers to learning. Focusing 100% on Education, we understand that learning time is sacred, and we take a holistic approach to designing and implementing technologies for students, teachers, and staff. We work to improve learning by being right there with you, on the ground, and in schools every day.


2024 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP): A Call to Action for Closing the Digital Access, Design and Use Divides. Office of Educational Technology. (2024).