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A mother assists her daughter with applying for her learner's permit using the online eGovernment modules. Source: Unsplash

Author: Julie Slivka, Communications Manager

May 2, 2024

A collaboration between the College of Information Studies (INFO) and the University of Maryland Extension (UME) Marylanders Online initiative is setting a new standard for learner-centric digital literacy programming. Building upon a user-informed approach, the Marylanders Online eGovernment resources were designed to address the findings of a Maryland statewide needs assessment in 2022, which resulted in a clear picture of the challenges Maryland residents face when applying for government services. This in-depth study, coupled with a year of dedicated resource development, has yielded a collection of free, user-friendly digital eGovernment tools that have set a new benchmark for learner-centric resources. The pedagogical approach of this project demonstrates a dedication to addressing the demands of users and the model holds potential for replicability in states seeking to close gaps in digital literacy resources. 

Assessing Needs and Filling Gaps

The Marylanders Online project tackles a critical challenge faced by thousands of Marylanders each year. Applying for benefits like food stamps (SNAP), Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), or driver's licenses can be a complex process, especially for those lacking digital literacy skills. Recognizing the need for accessible and user-friendly resources, the  Marylanders Online curriculum team conducted a statewide needs assessment in 2022. The ensuing data-driven gaps analysis revealed specific voids in Marylanders’ access to - and knowledge of - government benefits. By prioritizing user needs, the resulting eGovernment curriculum sets a new standard for the accessibility and usability of these services, making it an innovative approach that stands in notable contrast to other states.

The needs assessment was led by INFO Associate Dean of Faculty Dr. Mega Subramaniam, along with Jane Behre and Alison Harding who are both Ph.D. candidates at INFO. The process involved surveying nearly 200 stakeholders and reviewing existing digital literacy programs across the state. The goal: to map out available digital literacy programming in Maryland, determine Marylanders’ digital literacy needs, and identify the perceived barriers that contribute to many residents not being adequately served. The findings of their research were released in the 2022 Stakeholder Needs Assessment Survey, which identified critical gaps in digital literacy skills and access to essential services.

Drawing on insights from this foundational research, the project team developed a repository of self-guided training modules that focus on improving accessibility to eGovernment services. Residents can now find user-friendly resources to navigate Maryland Health Connection enrollment or energy assistance, among other social services. The project made a deliberate effort to add resources that support workforce development, including modules that guide users on how to easily register for the Maryland Workforce Exchange. A full list of these eGovernment courses are provided below or visit the complete resource library.

Clearing a Path for Innovation Using Instructional Design

Part of the project's success can be attributed to the collaborative nature of its instructional design. INFO’s research revealed a scarcity of resources related to government services, a gap that became most evident during the recent challenges posed by COVID-19. As people shifted towards online interactions, there was a pressing need to navigate digital services effectively. The incorporation of the Maryland gaps analysis and needs assessment survey makes Marylanders Online eGovernment resource novel, as it was through the learner-centered, public-informed research that the eGovernment resources were developed to address real-life needs.

The eGovernment project leveraged the power of instructional design - a pedagogy that looks into learning theory and the strategic creation of learning experiences that lead to knowledge and skill acquisition - essentially, how humans learn. Effective instructional design is known to use learner-centered, justice-oriented principles grounded in learning sciences. This design philosophy prioritizes understanding how humans learn and ensures that the educational methods are appropriate and optimized for the users' learning experience. "Our curriculum is like a blueprint, guiding users through each step of the learning journey," explains the curriculum’s instructional designer Uhjin Sim, the main lead in the instructional design process and a key catalyst for bringing this project to fruition, along with Nitzan Koren, a Ph.D. candidate at INFO. Sim continues, "We're essentially the 'stage managers' behind the scenes, orchestrating the entire learning program.” To uphold standards of quality and accuracy, members of the UME Marylanders Online team contributed their specialized expertise, while subject matter experts were consulted to address any gaps in knowledge. The eGovernment tools are meticulously designed to offer both an online learning version and a guide to teaching others - making the curricula complementary to existing programming offered by service partners.

Founded in Maryland but Available for Expansion

While these eGovernment resources were founded in Maryland, the pioneering project team hopes that it will inspire other states to adopt these methods and adapt to the changing needs of their residents. The initiative has garnered the attention of practitioners and stakeholders nationwide. This national recognition speaks to the scalability and adaptability of the project's core principles. As technology and eGovernment resources continue to evolve, Maryland's approach serves as a blueprint for other states looking to bridge the digital divide and empower their residents. "We're immensely proud of what we've achieved, building everything from scratch to meet the needs of our community," shares Dr. Subramaniam, reflecting on the team's journey. As technology and eGovernment resources continue to evolve, Maryland's approach underscores the importance of constant innovation and adaptation to ensure sustainability.

Accessing the eGovernment Resources

The UME Marylanders Online in partnership with the College of Information Studies has released a collection of free eGovernment resources. These courses provide easy step-by-step, module-based instructions for

View a full list of these resources.

About The University of Maryland Extension

Marylanders Online is an initiative through the University of Maryland Extension (UME) and the

College of Information Studies (INFO) with state funding that aims to bridge the digital divide

throughout the state by promoting digital equity. Marylanders Online aims to advance digital equity in Maryland by helping people get connected with devices, affordable internet, self-directed and guided training curricula, and ongoing technical support. To connect with Digital Navigator for live, one-on-one support, Marylanders can dial 1-866-206-8467, Monday through Friday, 10 AM- 8 PM and Saturday from 10 AM to 5:00 PM, or email to schedule an appointment. 

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