Alexander J.A.M. van Deursen


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Personal profile

As a professor of communication science at the technical University of Twente, Alexander van Deursen is interested in the role of technology in the processes of human communication and in ensuring that technology development is at the service of people. He is especially known for evaluating the contribution of technological developments within debates on inclusive societies. In a scientific manner, Alexander maps barriers of technology engagement – for example using his widely acknowledged framework of digital skills – and explains differences in the positive and negative outcomes that people receive from engagement with (emerging) Internet technology. He is interested in how different people appropriate technology into daily life, and under what conditions technology actually can be used to improve wellbeing.

Alexander has published widely in communication science journals that critically discuss key issues arising from the scale and speed of technology development. His publications on digital skills and digital inequality have won awards as best dissertation worldwide on technology and communication from the International Communication Association, best dissertation in communication science in the Benelux from the Netherlands School of Communication Research, best paper award from the International Communication Association, and the UT in the Media award from the University of Twente.

Alexander has advised the Dutch government, European Commission, International Telecommunications Union, UNESCO and other national and international organizations on the social implications of the Internet, specifically on how to account for the contribution of technology to increasing social inequalities. He has been visiting professor at the Londen School of Economics and Political Science (LsE) and Arizona State University (ASU). He is on the scientific Board of Netwerk Mediawijzer and initiated the rapidly expanding DISTO project (from digital skills to tangible outcomes project) with professor Ellen Helsper (LsE). In addition to his academic work, he has been featured in numerous popular media outlets including all major national newspapers, international newspapers such as the New York Times, and many other outlets.

Currently, Alexander is leading three research projects '21st century digital skills, key to contemporary workforce' (consortium with NWO/NRO, ECP and CA-ICT), 'Any Thing for Anyone' (funded by the NWO VIDI scheme), and 'Digital Inequality in the Netherlands' (with Netwerk Mediawijzer). He wrote a book with professor Jan van DIjk called 'Digital skills, unlocking the information society'. Alexander chaired the Resilience Commission (of the BMS faculty) in 2017-2018, is working with Network Mediawijzer on digital inequality and digital skills in the Netherlands.

His personal website with an overview of all publications and projects is

Research interests

Research line 1: Digital inequality

In the first line of research, Alexander focuses on the use and effects of (emerging)  Internet technology in relation to a person’s position in society. He showed that some sections of the population more frequently use applications that have the greatest advantages for accruing capital and resources (such as work, study and societal participation), while other sections relatively often choose to use entertainment applications that have little advantage. Besides increasing relative differences, there is the disturbing trend of absolute exclusion; when offline alternatives become unavailable. By building on traditional classifications of potential areas of exclusion in his theorization, Alexander tries to understand who benefits in what way from technology. To further enrich quantitative work, he focuses on specific types of technology usage that affect offline outcomes across several areas of society.

During his stay at London School of Economics and Political Science (LsE), Alexander worked on the 'From digital skills to tangible outcomes’ (DISTO) project. With scholars from LsE and Oxford University he created a theory driven index for digital exclusion. The index follows the process of technology appropriation by accounting for motivation and attitudes, physical and material access, skills, uses and outcomes. Besides the ongoing DISTO project, Alexander is working on a granted projects that studies the interrelationship between social and digital inequality by following technology use in the household context for the course of a year. Furthermore, he received a grant from NWO to study inequality in the Internet of Things. The focus is on performance tests of IoT skills and IoT use in the social context of the home. 


Research Line 2: Digital skills to participate in the information and network society.

Digital skills play an important role in the translation of a type of use (e.g., search for a job) in the corresponding outcome (employment). Performance tests based on Alexander's framework of six types of skills (operational, formal, information, communication, content creation and strategic) revealed that assumptions about the level of digital skills among citizens are unjustified. Alexander has for example shown that older users outperform young users in content-related digital skills, and that we should not underestimate the importance of traditional skills for performing on digital skills. With phd's and graduate students Alexander is conducting performance tests of Internet and IoT skills that are required for new – supposedly more intuitive – devices. From a practical perspective, much of the interest in this research line comes from the public domain, for example in relation to the objectives regarding the digital government. Digital skills are considered an important requisite to achieve this objective.


Research Line 3: Digital skills for 21st century labor

The third line of research is an extension of the previous one and concerns the skills needed in the context of employment. In political and economic discussions about what knowledge and skills are important in our current and future society, these skills are referred to as ‘21st century skills.’ Examples are information management, communication, collaboration, problem solving, or critical thinking, skills that are also needed in the digital environment. In this line of research, Alexander responds to challenges such as the increasing demand for high skilled jobs, or the mismatch between what students learn at school and what the labor market requires. In 2012 and 2013, Alexander conducted vignette studies and interviews that revealed that much time is lost in the workplace because of digital skill shortages, that organizations take few initiatives to support the worker, and that the effects of training are underestimated. He is now leading a research project which aims to identify digital skills for workers in the creative sector and to determine the level of these skills and the interplaying factors influencing this level. The results help to establish policy that will be applied in the last phase of the project.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • digital inequality
  • digital divide
  • digital skills


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