Learning zone

learning zone

Welcome to the Digital Youth Work  Learning Zone.  If you’re a youth worker looking to incorporate digital tools and activities in your youth work practice we hope you find this useful. You might be supporting young people to navigate their online lives, develop their digital skills, play games together or meet online.

First off, here you can take a few minutes to think about what digital youth work actually is,  why it’s important, what you want to do and the knowledge you need to get started.

What is digital youth work?

As the world becomes increasingly influenced by technology, and digital connectivity, youth work is adapting to incorporate digital into many different areas of practice. Digital youth work:

  • Focuses on the digitalisation and digital transformation of the youth work sector and youth work practice
  • Means proactively using and/or addressing digital media and technology in youth work practice as a tool, an activity and/or as content
  • Includes a broad range of methods and approaches that can be employed in any youth work setting
  • Has the same aims and is underpinned by the same ethics, values and principles as youth work in general
  • Can happen in face-to-face situations as well as in online settings

(from European Guidelines for Digital Youth Work)

Why is digital youth work important?

In Scotland, our thinking about digital youth work has  been developing since around 2010. For many young people, digital is an integral part of their lives, a key aspect of education, socialising and having fun. It therefore makes complete sense for youth work to embrace digital, developing the knowledge and flexibility to use digital within youth work practice.

Digital transformation is affecting our society in so many ways. Young people’s entire lives will be shaped by these changes. Youth work’s purpose is to support the personal and social development of young people. The sector’s unconstrained non-formal educational approach makes it uniquely placed to respond to young people’s needs in a digitalising society and play a significant role in bridging the digital divide and promoting inclusion.

Read more in the European Guidelines for Digital Youth Work.

Go to training materials

What on earth is digital youth work?

Introductory course enabling youth workers to understand and explore what involved in delivering digital youth work.

The course is ideal for youth workers to explore what’s involved in delivering Digital Youth Work and look at tools, platforms and resources.

Go to training materials

Further reading:

Digital Youth Work - a Finnish perspective cover of book

Digital Youth Work – a Finnish perspective
Read this collection of articles about the development of Digital Youth Work, based on experience in Finland.

Finding the right activities for your youth group will depend on all the usual things – who the young people are, what brings them together as a group and what they actually want to do. All of that stays the same when it comes to digital.

A few key principles that can help with choosing activities:

  • Start with the youth work outcomes clearly in mind
  • Listen to what the young people are interested in and what platforms they choose
  • Take time to get to know a game, app or platform, before including it in activity
  • Think about what success will look like, right from the start
  • Remember to consider accessibility issues – digital is for everyone.  Are you excluding anyone by planning a digital activity? How can you ensure it’s inclusive?
Go to Resource

Innobox by Verke

Innobox is a toolkit that helps youth workers create something new, working with young people.

Innobox was developed in Finland and can be used to explore new services and activities.  It has already been used successfully in Scotland by youth groups setting up a digital makerspace.

Go to Resource

Looking for activity ideas?

You’ll find activity ideas through-out this guide – check out the sections about digital gaming and digital makerspaces. Here are a few useful ideas to get you started.

Online and digital gaming

Some youth groups connect online or in person to game together. Tony Dellaquaglia, YMCA Tayside, talks about Minecraft, Roblox, Jackbox and how to begin to think about gaming in a youth work setting.

Good practice videos

This series of digital youth work videos was developed to showcase best practice across Europe and focusses mainly on digital activities that take place in-person.

Zoom Youth Group Games

A series of easy-to-play ice breakers and activities,  ideal to get your youth group warmed up.

Building Cyber Resilience

Activities exploring cyber resilience including YouthLink’s Safe, Secure and Empowered resources.

DigiKnow Champions Award

Cyber resilience activities for young people that lead to a award.


Explore new ideas for digital activities with the young people. Listen to their ideas about apps and platforms and allow time to get to know the tech before using it in a session.

In the last 30 years the internet has changed the world in many ways, filtering into all aspects of our lives to date. Non-formal education and youth work are being affected by this rapid change. Increasingly we will be connecting with young people online, as well as connecting in digital spaces as part of our physical youth work. Today there is a need to be multi-faceted in how we connect with young people, creating safe ways to connect in both physical and virtual spaces.

In order to achieve this, you can:

  1. Apply your existing safeguarding policy to the online setting.
  2. Think of a digital platform, app or game as an extension of your physical youth space.
  3. Develop an online safeguarding policy to support your digital activities.
  4. Think through personal and professional boundaries.
  5. Talk to young people about online safety.

What is safeguarding?

Every organisation and its individual staff members have a duty of care to ensure the protection of the young people they are working with, from unnecessary risk and/or harm. The protection of young people is based on the principles outlined within the Children’s Act 2004 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and Working Together 2018 Guidance.  (NYA)

1. Apply your existing safeguarding policy to the online setting

Whether you are creating a new policy, or applying child protection guidelines to new work, a useful starting place for any new digital safety policies will be your organisation’s existing policies and thinking around safeguarding.

Here are some questions that may help you explore the digital setting and develop new guidance.

  • Which of our general safeguarding principles are relevant and how do we apply these in a digital setting?
  • Are there new risks to assess online?
  • For group work how can we create a safe, positive, inclusive online space?
  • Is 1-2-1 work possible within existing guidelines?
  • What kind of record-keeping will be appropriate and GDPR compliant?
  • What is the setting for the youth work (for example if the youth work takes place in the context of a school, then the school’s digital policy and decisions will be relevant).

2. Think of a digital platform, app or game as an extension of your physical youth space

It can be helpful to think about planning your digital activity in the same way as you would approach planning for an event in a physical space.  If you are preparing to use a digital platform, app or game, you will need to place all of the existing safeguarding policy and procedures into these digital spaces as you do in the physical. How will you make it a safe and secure place to carry out your youth work?

Gaming meetups and Discord groups are emerging as popular options to widen the reach of a youth service in addition to adding a digital layer to their traditional youth work programmes. A great example of this type of pioneering digital  youth work was delivered by LGBT Youth Scotland in the Pride and Pixels Discord server. The presentation covers their approach to ensuring that they were creating a safe online space.

Find out more in the Apps and Platforms section.

The internet is an amazing resource which provides a wide range of ways to work, create and connect. At times it can also be an unpredictable and inappropriate place, with content and experiences available that would be unsuitable for any youth work. Staff training and ongoing development of skills to enable youth workers to be aware of risks such as cyber bullying, phishing and grooming of young people is hugely important for online youth working and safeguarding policy is needed to develop a range of online approaches to youth work.

3. Develop your online safeguarding policy

Consider developing an online or digital safeguarding policy, using high quality resources, that are available to get you started.


Make a safeguarding checklist for your new or existing digital youthwork activity.

DigiSafe is a step-by-step digital safeguarding guide, designed especially for charities designing new services or taking existing ones online.

Girlguiding’s digital safeguarding policy provides a comprehensive example of a youth work digital safeguarding policy.

Youth Scotland Online Safety Resources , include hints, tips, template policy and template code of practice.

Note:  remember that thinking about online safety goes hand in hand with Cyber Resilience. See later sections of this guide for more on developing strong cyber resilient practices.

Example Checklist: Staying safe online

For example, The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) have the following guidelines for good practice for online youth work.

  • Nothing is private on the internet
  • Don’t share personal or revealing information
  • Update your passwords regularly and use a password that is hard for others to guess (see the Cyber Resilience page for more information)
  • Don’t believe everyone is who they say they are online, even if they send a photo (see unrealperson.com)
  • Remember whatever goes online can be viewed forever = click once online forever
  • Know your rights when using the internet (5rightsfoundation.com)
  • You are responsible for what you do online
  • Use caution if you open emails from people you don’t know, do not open their attachments until you are sure it is safe
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date, if you suspect hacking or virus: Update system and antivirus, Disconnect from the internet (physically unplug or turn off wifi), Full scan, Alert users of the same network
  • Be cautious of file downloads from unknown websites.  Even typically non-executable files (documents, PDFs, etc.) can have embedded code called macros which can be harmful.
  • Know what sort of things can get you in trouble or are illegal online and avoid them
  • Ignore requests for meeting someone on your own
  • Don’t send someone a photo of yourself particularly if they ask for a revealing or undressed photo of you
  • Tell a trusted adult, professional or friend if you are concerned about anything
  • If you feel something is not right then it probably isn’t, “If the service is free then YOU are the product”
  • Find out what the youth organisation’s Acceptable Usage Policy is so that you know how to behave online while at the youth service

4. Think through personal and professional boundaries

The rapid changes that are taking place in how we interact have an impact on the relationship between life and work. You might want to think about:

  • Do you and your team have access to the professional resources (for example a work phone or work laptop) you need to keep work and personal life separate?
  • Are there clear procedures for creating and using work accounts, rather than personal accounts?
  • If you are working with volunteers, do you have policies and a code of conduct that helps volunteers to think through appropriate boundaries?
  • Are you applying your organisation’s policy in relation to digital and safeguarding (see more below)?
  • If you or your team are involved in counselling young people, are there adequate support networks?

The following might be useful:

Ethics and Digital Youth Work

Digitally agile national principles

CLD Code of Ethics

5. Talk to young people about online safety

Timely reminders will help young people think about the impact of your planned activity for them personally. We may think about young people as digital natives, more familiar with the territory than we are, but in reality, knowledge, experience and risk-awareness will vary hugely from young person to young person.

From cyberbullying and sexting to grooming and pornography, the safety risks connected with being online are always there. The increased time that young people are spending online because of lockdown only increases the opportunities for unhealthy and predatory behaviour from criminals.

The informal education that happens in a youth work setting can help young people to apply safety knowledge to their own lives. They may well know that hacking happens, but will they recognise it if it happens to them? Do they know how to protect their passwords and where to find anti-virus software? One of the key strategies of keeping young people safe online is talking regularly with them about their online experiences in a non-judgemental way. Right now could be a great opportunity to open some new conversations.

  • Do young people understand what personal information they are sharing and who with?
  • Have they thought about the long term consequences of their online behaviours?
  • What role can you have in helping young people stay aware?

The following are useful sources of information if you are developing your own safeguarding policy or want to develop your knowledge of this important topic in order to help young people stay safe online.

Internet Matters offers a wide range of advice about individual apps and platforms, age ratings and potential online harms. The advice is tailored for parents, but is relevant to developing online safety guidance in a youth work setting.

Supporting young people online, Childnet

Helping young people understand their digital rights, Young Scot

Thinkuknow from CEOP

Online safety activities you can do from home,Childnet 

Online bullying resource, respectme

Whether you are setting up a new digital activity or reviewing an existing one, take time to think about how to set-up the activities in a safe and responsible way, following your own organisation’s policies and procedures.

Download and adapt this risk register to help identify and respond to risks, particularly for online youth work. This resource was created by a working group from the Digital Youth Network, a joint network of YouthLink Scotland and YoungScot and the main focus was on online youth work. The tool can be adapted to suit your situation.

InternetMatters.org is a great source of information, with detailed information by age an setting controls for popular apps and platforms.

Checklist:  Safe and secure set up

  • Get to know the platform you intend to use before any work with young people
  • The platform must have robust privacy and security settings
  • All participants must be registered beforehand, added to the private game or event (suggest parental consent for under 16 year olds – this will vary based on your organisation’s safeguarding policy).
  • Be transparent about who are the lead staff members, when they’re online
  • Staff to establish work accounts rather than using personal
  • Communicate with all participants before each online event to confirm times
  • Communicate with caregivers detailing when online with the digital platform AND when it finishes
  • Consider creating a Google registration form for participants and caregivers
  • Encourage participants to join event from a space that’s comfortable and without too much background noise
  • Ensure outside equipment is adequate for youth work
  • Ensure all online meetups are private-view the online platform like a youth space-use a virtual lobby to screen and register participants
  • Risk management, identify potential issues for each app you intend using
  • Updated policy and procedures in place for each platform
  • Passwords. Update and keep safe, don’t share
  • Have a plan for event breach ie uninvited guest
  • Keep equipment securely stored
  • Keep software regularly updated


Use the Risk Assessment tool as a starting place to risk assess your digital youth work.

The range of apps and platforms that people use in youth work is extremely wide, but we know there are some favourites.


Zoom is a video conferencing site that became popular at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and continues t be widely used.


Discord is a voice, video and text chat app that’s widely used by people ages 13+ to talk and hang out with their communities and friends. Initially created for video gamers to interact with each other while playing games, Discord has grown in popularity with over 100 million users currently. The app hosts servers/chatrooms on different topics, however games, music, anime and memes tend to be the most popular.

People use Discord daily to talk about many things, ranging from art projects and family trips to homework and mental health support. It’s a home for communities of any size, but it’s most widely used by small and active groups of people who talk regularly.

The vast majority of servers are private, invite-only spaces for groups of friends and communities to stay in touch and spend time together. There are also larger, more open communities, generally centred around specific topics such as popular games like Minecraft and Fortnite. Users have control over whom they interact with and what their experience on Discord is.

People love Discord because it’s a home for all their communities and groups of friends. It’s a place where they can be themselves and spend time with other people who share their interests and hobbies. Conversations on Discord are driven by the people you choose and the topics you choose to talk about.

What is Discord | A Guide for Parents and Educators

Setting up a private Discord server for a youth group is a great way to stay connected and keep the whole group updated. Discord is relatively straightforward to use, however it is recommended that new users spend some time getting familiar with the platform and hosting servers.

How do I set up a private server?

How to make TikTok part of your youth work offer

What are you using?

Get in touch and tell us what apps and platforms you are using. We’d love to include more details here.

More apps and platforms

Check out lots of currently popular apps and platofrms and find info about how safe, useful and appropriate an app is at

Internet Matters App Guide

Take the Cyber Resilience e-learning course

Want to update your knowledge and skills on how to stay safe and secure in an online environment?  This quick fire series of e-learning modules is for you.  Created with youth workers in mind, each short section introduces a key area of cyber resilience.  Work through the whole series in under 20 mins and be ready to support the young people you work with.

It’s easy and you don’t need any prior knowledge to take part. Click on each of the videos in turn to complete the course:

Introduction to Cyber Resilience

Get started and find out what you’ll cover on the course,  what cyber resilience is and what it’s not.

Intro to cyber reslience

Strong Password

Learn secure and reliable ways to create strong passwords for all your online actions.

1 strong password

2 Factor Authentication

Understand why and how to use 2 factor authentication whenever you can to be safe and secure online.

2 factor authentication

Backup Data

Your data is valuable, so make sure you have taken all the right steps to keep it safe.

Backup data

Software Updates

Do you always keep your software up to date? Discover why it’s so important.

Software updates

Phishing and Scams

Understand more about phishing, scams and how to protect yourself and young people from cyber criminals.

Phishing and scams

Cyber Resilience as part of Digital Youth Work

If you deliver digital youth work then there are opportunities to embed cyber resilience in your work.

Part of digital youthwork

Cyber Resilience in our Youth Work Organisations

Everyone has a role to play in protecting their organisations from cyber crime. Find out what you can do.

In our youth work organisations

Before creating and hosting any online youth meetups or activities it is important to have a good understanding of the app, game or platform you’re aiming to use with the group. Ideally, lead staff members would spend some time getting to know the chosen platform in order to guarantee a successful and safe program. Youth workers are not expected to be experts of the game in question, however, they are expected to know the platform well enough to create safe and secure events with young people. Online meetups can come as one of two forms:

  • Direct invite, whereby the participant is added to the event by the organiser.
  • Invite link or details: usually a QR code, web link, or perhaps a “room code” or password.  In the latter case, details should be shared directly to participants in some secure and private fashion (email, text message, poster only they can see), not over social media or posters in public spaces.

Below is a general checklist to consider when planning an online program. This is not an exhaustive list, with specific platforms and games requiring their own research and development for a youth platform before going live with a group.

  • Platform is suitable for youth work, PEGI rating checked
  • The chosen platform is multi user
  • The chosen platform has a private event/game/meetup feature
  • Lead staff members have created and shared the online event safely
  • The platform has an appropriate narrative
  • Lead staff members are familiar with the chosen platform
  • Lead staff members have a procedure for each event
  • Accounts have been created for all members of the group
  • All participants are onboarded and set up to join
  • Timeframe of dates and times have been agreed and shared
  • Consider registering young people for this activity
  • Create a Whatsapp or Discord group to update
  • Do not bring live online groups to social or open games
  • Broadcast to group when group offline
  • Regularly check for updates on chosen platform

Building Relationships Online 

Of course, delivering youth work online isn’t just about the practicalities, it’s also about creating an environment where young people feel comfortable and where it’s possible for them to engage well. Ally Hunter explores how in this session, recorded in 2020.

Using active listening in an online setting

This presentation from CHAS Scotland’s Jill Harris on activities and exercises to help you work with children and young people, in one-to-one settings and in groups. Workshop recorded in 2020.

Digital literacy and media literacy are closely connected.  Both are about ensuring that people have the skills they need to achieve their goals in a world where so much connectivity is driven by the internet.

Media literacy allows people to have the skills, knowledge and understanding to make full use of the opportunities presented by both traditional and new communications services. Being media literate online is fundamental to how people act as consumers, users and digital citizens.

Being digitally literate is about having the knowledge needed to use digital technology to achieve goals, whether personal or work related.  Youth workers can enable young people to develop positive practices that support them to navigate their online lives.

Key sources of information:

OfCom Making Sense of Media

SALTO Media and Information Literacy

Setting up an Instagram Takeover

This is an example of a youth work activity that can help young people build digital literacy., by getting involved in running a sicial media account for an organisation or event.

Combatting Misinformation

Identifying and responding to misinformation is a key media literacy skill.

Digital youth work – to go!

In this section we will look at digital youth work activities which take place outside of where the youth group typically meets. Digital Youth Work on the go  offers a wide range of options that could allow young people to gather more experience and learning.

Youth work by definition requires youth workers to be flexible in their approaches to activities and where they take place, connecting with young people where they are and where they are comfortable to engage. Additionally, activities delivered outside of the usual youth space can open up a wider range of learning and social experiences that could enrich the overall engagement. With an increasing amount of young people connecting in digital platforms to game, create and socialise it is important that youth work providers consider adding digital programmes to future proof and evolve with current trends. Digital youth work offers traditional youth working procedures and services the opportunity to connect with the growing number of young people who are online. Additionally, digital youth activities can offer those who are unable to get to the youth space because of an extra challenge they may be presented with.

Be it physical or online, all youth work should be underpinned by strong safeguarding policy and cyber resilience good practice. It is essential for all of us who are engaging with young people to understand our responsibilities in child safeguarding, child protection.  Regularly updated and clear safeguarding is key to safe and supportive relationships being achieved and fundamental in planning and the delivery of activities. Thinking about how to keep devices safe and secure is critical too, having equipment which is updated and secure will underpin all good online youth work. This document is designed to inform youth workers on the process of safely establishing tech/STEM activities in a location that’s not their own, e.g. a library, community centre or Makerspace.

This information aims to look at remote youth work and digital activities from a wide perspective. All activities, groups and locations present their own unique range of requirements and considerations, therefore a one size fits all approach will not work. Each programme will need a plan specific to that group and activity. This document should be used as a reference and guide to support each youth worker/service’s own plan for an online or remote activity i.e. to a library Makerspace.

What space to use?

Libraries, schools, community centres, corporate and industrial locations are examples of spaces which could offer rich youth work experiences and activities. These locations can offer and support groups to explore more opportunities, develop an interest or a new skill. Additionally, there is potential to incorporate volunteers from specific sectors, who could offer the group some insight and expertise.

A clear outcome-focused plan is ideal to begin with, in addition to posing questions such as:

  • What are the overarching learning outcomes?
  • Who are the main stakeholders and their roles?
  • Who are the hosts?
  • What unique element does the host site offer beyond the youth space?

Prior to planning an activity away from your base  it is important to establish a link between key contact/s from the host site. This relationship is essential to underpin the safety and success of the activity and could lead to further collaborations.  To confirm the aims of this activity and to identify the key details, youth workers should consider these points:

  • Source a suitable location and activity
  • Make contact with site lead person/s
  • Complete a site visit, rehearse activity and risk assessment
  • Agree and confirm times and date/s
  • Agree and confirm additional site contacts
  • Inform and update all stakeholders, including caregivers
  • Consider ratios, increase staff to young people for outbound
  • Have a contingency plan in place

Below are some example locations where digital learning can take place.

Makerspaces are spaces where people with shared interests can collaborate, share knowledge and learn together. Activities include 3d printing, immersive technology (AR/VR), robotics, creative coding, electronics/circuits, junk sculptures/art, audio/visual and woodwork. Equipment you are likely to find in a Makerspace are, 3D printers, computers, circuit kits, robot kits/robots, glue guns.


Libraries often have areas that are available for groups to utilise for a range of activities, similar to a Makerspace. These areas are usually set up and taken down following each session. Additionally, libraries provide other resources (in addition to books!) which can complement an activity or project.

Microsoft Dreamspace DublinCorporate sites with an allocated area for educational and youth activities are becoming increasingly available, especially in the technology sector. These sites can offer a range of experiences based on their sector, such as Microsoft’s Dreamspace, where visitors can try out a range of activities in a trendy location.

Out-and-about digital youth work activities open up a whole new variety of exciting experiences to try beyond the traditional youth space. Having the opportunity to visit locations which are used for digital and technology learning, such as a college or university, can be a huge source of learning and inspiration for the young people who are participating.

With all youth work, safeguarding should underpin any activity whether it’s within the youth centre, online or out and about, as youth workers we have a duty of care to make all activities safe for all who take part.

Safety, ability/disability of young people and the nature and/or location of the activities being undertaken may require that the 8:1 ratio be lowered considerably. Additional factors also need to be considered such as what type of technology will the group be presented with and does it measure up to the standards within the youth centre. Consideration also needs to be given to what wi-fi networks the group may be accessing and who to put in place procedures which will protect individuals (and their data) as best possible.

The location for the out  and about destination needs to be given a number of fundamental checks before bringing the group there. In addition to general health and safety procedures, staff members also need to run through exactly what each event will present, where they will be situated and what types of equipment and technology they will have access to.

Using public Wi-Fi networks can open up a lot of risks to users as they present hackers with the opportunity to steal your data.

Some simple steps to keep in mind with public networks:

  • Verify the network, make sure you have the correct network for the site you’re visiting
  • Turn off sharing
  • Turn off auto connection
  • Do not use public wi-fi for financial transactions
  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
  • Keep the Firewall enabled
  • Use antivirus
  • Always check forget network after using public Wi-Fi
  • Always use 2 factor authentication

All of these aspects of the program need to be configured with existing policy and procedure for the youth service. Having a solid understanding of the finer details and the location generally will go a long way to proving a safe and successful out and about experience.

Below is a general checklist to use as a guide, each out and about youth activity will present its own range of specific things to consider, please bear this in mind.

  • Pre activity visit to location-has a staff member completed an in person visit and walked through the space
  • Location contact person/s-Have contact details for staff members been confirmed
  • Are all volunteers vetted
  • Has there been a pre activity equipment check
  • Location health and safety check, including fire drill procedure
  • Location public liability confirmation- in date copy received
  • Allocated youth worker roles
  • Group size-Consider lower numbers and increased staff to young person ratio
  • Ages of young people participating
  • Do all participants understand the arrangements
  • Duration of activity (times and dates)
  • Aims and objectives confirmed
  • Additional needs of participants
  • Transportation needed, if so what?
  • Other activities in the immediate area
  • Registration form signed and completed
  • Lead staff confirmed
  • I.C.E protocol
  • First aider/s identified
  • Materials/equipment-has site storage

Public Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi is available in shopping malls, airports, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, public transport, hotel rooms – you name it. These networks are used by millions of people on a daily basis. According to a survey by ITRC, three out of four respondents said they use free public Wi-Fi.

However, what most people don’t realize is that free public Wi-Fi isn’t secure. Even if it requires a password to login, that doesn’t necessarily mean your online activities are safe. You might love public Wi-Fi, but so do hackers! So, if you use public Wi-Fi without adequate protection, you’re essentially risking your online identity and money.


Go to Case Study

Robotics and electronics club in a rural community hall

Using a local community hall, this rural robotics and electronics group has an ongoing weekly 2 hour meetup led by youth workers and volunteers.
Go to Case Study

CREDITS:  We are grateful to Barry Haughey, Hologen for supporting the development of this and other sections of the Learning Zone.

For youth workers, it is important to look at where young people are and meet them there. For some young people, online and digital platforms are where they feel most comfortable and likely to engage better. 

Video gaming is a hobby enjoyed by young and old across the globe. In 2021, there were almost 1.48 billion gamers across Asia, making it the largest market for video gaming worldwide, with Europe coming in second place with a gaming audience of 715 million. In total, there were an estimated 3.24 billion gamers across the globe. statista.com

Young people are moving to digital spaces in increasing numbers, with an estimated 3.3bn global gamers under 30 years of age by 2024* It is essential that youth workers begin to incorporate digital approaches to their youth work practice. Digital youth work is a wide and evolving term, which is likely to continue to change with new devices and software in the coming years. Young people may be choosing to connect with youth work via online and digital platforms as the places where  they feel most comfortable and likely to engage better. Additionally, digital and online youth work offers a new way to connect with young people who are presented with an additional challenge, such as living in a remote region or a disability. 

 There are a growing range of multi user games which allow young people to socialise, problem solve, create and learn across many physical regions.

Youth workers who are considering online, digital and virtual youth work programmes are encouraged to build up a level of understanding of the platform in which they are considering to use. For example, a new game or app must be tested before engaging with young people/a young person on that platform to enable the digital space to be safe. A good suggestion would be to ‘road test’ the app within a youth work team, with key questions in mind, such as;

  • Is the content suitable for youth work, has the PEGI been checked and confirmed?

It is essential that each platform is checked and approved for use within the youth service. A good tool to support this is PEGI, PEGI stands for Pan European Game Information. It is a system used throughout the European Union (including the UK) to classify a range of entertainment content including video and computer games and mobile devices. – There are two parts to each classification; the age category and the descriptors for the content.

  • Is there a multi user feature?

A multiplayer video game is a video game in which more than one person can play in the same game environment at the same time, either locally on the same computing system

  • Is there a private event feature?

Due to their unpredictability and at times inappropriate content, open social experiences are not advised for youth work. User generated content (UGC) within existing platforms is also not ideal. By definition, user-generated content is any form of content—text, posts, images, videos, reviews, etc. —created by individual people (not brands) and published to an online or social network.

Being online is an integral part of children and young people’s lives. Social media, online games, websites and apps can be accessed through mobile phones, computers, laptops and tablets – all of which form a part of children and young people’s online world.

The internet and online technology provides new opportunities for young people’s learning and growth, but it can also expose them to new types of risks.

E-safety should form a fundamental part of schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding and child protection measures. 


Further reading:

Youth workers create a better gaming culture through gaming education

Luci Holland from Tinderbox Collective talks about how young people can get involved in making digital games for themselves.

What is a digital makerspace?

A makerspace is a physical location where people gather to co-create, share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build. They help intermediate and advanced users develop their skills and creativity, particularly inspiring younger generations to engage with the STEM agenda – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (or STEAM when it includes the Arts).

Makerspace activity promotes development of high-end technology skills needed for prosperity and social mobility.

Makerspaces in libraries featured strongly in the UK Digital Strategy in recognition of their value and impact. 

Makerspaces and digital youth work

“One of the central aims of the maker movement is the democratisation of technology… citizens shouldn’t be content in being merely passive consumers and users of technology bus should instead be free to use technology as they please. This has a familiar ring for anyone versed in media education, where one of the central aims is to empower young people to be creators instead of consumers.”  Juha Kiviniemi, Verke

Verke: Maker activities in Youth Work

The series of short videos below explores some of the key principles involved in setting up a digital makerspace.

How to set up a Digital Makerspace Part 1:  The Four Corners

Darran Gillan, SCVO and YMCA, talks about the starting place for setting up a digital makerspace, including the four corners that make up the whole house:

  1. Educational Theory – constructivism, design thinking,
  2. Skills and capacities of your staff and volunteers – the combination of youth work skills and technical skills need to deliver.
  3. Practical Aspects – the physical space, the equipment and tools that you need, the funding sources
  4. Programmes – what will you deliver to young people in the makerspace – equipment training, workshops on problem solving etc

How to set up a Digital Makerspace Part 2: Pedagogy

The learning theories that relate most closely to youth work in a digital makerspace:

Constructivism – experiential learning that builds on lived experience, taking the young person’s interest as a starting point for issues based youth work.

Design thinking – user-centred approaches that emphasise problem solving through an iterative process of ideas generation, creating a minimum viable product and then testing it.

Project based learning – exploring solutions for real world problems, often over a longer period of time (eg 6 months)

Connected learning – a learning style that emphasises the relevance of the learning to the student, starting with their interests and experiences and connecting these to broader opportunities, especially involving digital resources.

Universal design for learning – ensuring that our work is inclusive and accessible for all.

How to set up a Digital Makerspace Part 3: Skills and Capacities

Six areas for upskilling staff, volunteers and others involved in delivering and supporting digital makerspaces

  1. Technical skills – understanding of hardware, software, how to use equipment and also how to maintain it.
  2. Ability to teach and facilitate in practical and creative topics from an educational perspective.
  3. Collaboration skillset, including communication and leadership skills to foster a positive and inclusive learning environment.
  4. Creative and innovative skills – willingness to experiment with new tools.
  5. Problem solving skills – able to help young people overcome challenges and think critically, enabling everyone to work together
  6. Inclusion and diversity – specific projects will have outcomes that relate to particular characteristics (eg gender) – think about how your youth worker profiles relate to the particular characteristics that are relevant to the project.

How to set up a Digital Makerspace PART 4:  Spaces and Kit

The practical considerations that will make up your makerspace. Youth consultation will be important in designing your programmes and resources, as well as the skills and capacities of your people.

Physical space – a classroom, library or communal area or perhaps you are building a mobile makerspace delivered in the back of a van.

Connectivity – apporpriate wifi accessibility to enable the activities you plan.

Equipment and tools – Hardware and software, tools and resources including insurance cover.

How to set up a Digital Makerspace PART 5: Activities

Focus on the activities and programmes that you might run in your makerspace and how these connect with the equipment and skills you have.

Looking for more ideas for makerspace activities?

Makerspace activities

circular diagram showing the national youth work outcomes and 11 associated skills.

The Youth Work Outcomes and Skills Framework has been developed by the youth work sector in Scotland and articulates the key differences that youth work makes with, and for, young people.

The framework is designed for enabling evaluation against national youthwork outcomes, puts skills development for young people at the centre of the process and enables specific identifiers to be established  (“I can” statements, that define the young person’s skills development).

The framework provides the ideal basis for evaluating digital youth work, in the same was as other youth work practice in Scotland. Here’s how it might be used for planning and evaluating a digital youth work project. 

STEP 1:  Start with the end in mind

What difference do you want your work to make? What is the over all purpose?  What need is it addressing?

Choose the National Youth Work Outcomes that most closely align with your work.

Choose the Skills from the Framework that are most relevant for the young people participating in the project.

Where co-designing a programme with young people, they will be actively involved in establishing the purpose, outcomes and skills connected with the project. Innobox provides a useful approach to involving young people in design of a programme.

STEP 2: Choose the indicators you will use to measure progress

Once you have established the outcomes and skills that are relevant to your project you can define the indicators that you will use to measure progress. These are usually expressed as “I can” statements.

You’ll find a general list of indicators associated the different outcomes and skills here. There are also examples of Digital Indicators here that may help you develop the relevant “I can” statements for your project. You can choose from these lists, or develop indicators to match the nature of your project.

STEP 3: Decide how you will measure progress

This will be influenced by the nature of your project, who is involved and what digital activities you are involved in.

Consider the tools and methods you will use to measure young people’s progress.  Where possible try to gather a number of different perspectives on progress – young people’s self evaluation is key, but it may also be helpful to hear from their parents, their peers, teachers – and youth worker observations are also really valuable.

Creative outputs such as podcasts, digital stories, film, digital games and even theatre may be relevant ways to capture the impact of a digital youth work project.

Read about an example of a digital makerspace project and the impact evaluation methods that were used.

STEP 4: Integrate measurement into regular activities

Some examples of how you may choose to measure activity are:

Questionnaires:  you may want to measure progress by having a benchmark questionnaire at the start of a programme, a mid-point and an exit questionnaire.

Reflective conversations:  reflective conversations are likely to be an ongoing aspect of relationship building with the young people that are participating in the project. You may already have a standard way of recording this type of activity in your organisation.

Creative outputs:  in a digital skills programme the creative outputs that you identify as part of the evaluation process are likely to be an integral part of the project.

STEP 5:  Reporting on impact

You may be using your impact evaluation data to help you improve your project and/or to provide feedback to a funder. Being able to report accurately on the impact of your projects will enable to to measure success more accurately, attract new funding and ultimately demonstrate the value of youth work.

Future technology such as blockchain, immersive technology, drones and artificial intelligence will become increasingly intertwined with our lives. By 2030, it is predicted that global societies are likely to witness a significant increase in future technology which will improve our lives in many ways. Driverless transport, immersive technology and green energies are just a few examples of how we will experience future tech in our daily lives. Unquestionably, youth work and non formal education will be affected by technologies which will permit digital twinning of physical events, for example.

By 2030, most VR screens will have 8k resolution, which has 4 times the number of pixels on 4k screens. When you view character models and objects up close with these devices, there will be zero visible pixilation resulting in breathtaking detail and realism. (Future Business Tech)

What does this mean for youth work?  Of course there are both challenges and opportunities at the pace of change continues to accelerate. By participating in young people’s online and digital lives, youth work can help to influence and inspire.

Digital games for social change

Paul Keating talks about how gaming has always been an integral aspect of youth work, and how digital gaming can contribute to positive social change.

Further study: Using data in youth work

Banner for Youth Work Data Course from Fife College

In the rapidly changing world we live in, how we use data is becoming increasingly important.  The Youth Work Data Course was developed by Fife College in partnership with YouthLink Scotland and the DataLab. This short online course is aimed at youth workers, but open to anyone with an interest in understanding data in youth work. The course is a response to the need for the youth work sector to recognise the ever-increasing importance of data in making decisions in the modern world, and will foster innovation in this sector.

Find out more and sign up

Digitalisation and Youth Work

The book highlights the concepts of digital and smart youth work, and how they can help in meeting the opportunities and overcoming the current and future challenges faced by youth work.

Find out more and download the Verke publication: Digitalisation and YouthWork

Building relationships for the future

YouthLink Scotland worked closely with other European countries to develop as set of good practice guidance. Read the story of what we did and how it can influence the future.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a set of EU-wide data protection rules that have been brought into UK law as the Data Protection Act 2018.

The Data Protection Act 2018 remains in place to protect your personal data. Following Brexit, all the rules still apply, but once the transition period comes to an end the UK government will be free to change those rules.

We live in a world that is increasingly data driven, from retail to social media we give our personal information to a growing number of global companies and organisations, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was established to protect us from our personal data being misused, passed on or sold to third parties. When it went into effect on May 25, 2018, GDPR set new standards for data protection and created a range of global privacy laws. Like all organisations, youth work services are expected to comply with GDPR for the safety of their young people, volunteers and staff members. As digital youth work continues to become a popular option to connect with young people, it is of huge importance that staff members are fully informed and compliant with GDPR as part of their youth work and digital youth working practice. 

The Children’s code (or Age appropriate design code to give its formal title) is a data protection code of practice for online services, such as apps, online games, and web and social media sites, likely to be accessed by children.

Children’s code: additional resources | ICO

The checklist below offers some points to consider for GDPR and digital youth work. You can find out more from the Information Commissioner’s Office website.

Checklist:  Youth work and  GDPR

  • Collect information legally and use it fairly
  • Keep parents and carers informed of online meetup times and dates
  • When possible use pseudonyms for accounts and player handles
  • Don’t share user names or account details
  • Keep online groups private, use a pre game lobby to register and screen participants
  • Do not live stream or record online meetup sessions
  • Allocate lead staff members to manage online groups
  • Don’t mislead users about what you’ll do with their private details
  • Collect as little data as possible
  • Protect data with strong security systems
  • Don’t assume data will take care of itself
  • Only store data for as long as necessary
  • Do not keep old data you don’t need anymore
  • Keep an updated GDPR and Children’s Code policy and attend training on a regular basis

Below is a list of some common digital and technology terms

Artificial intelligence (AI): computer programs mimic the human brain. AI applications include identifying specific objects in images and video, spell check and translation features, and even beating humans at arcade and board games.

Augmented Reality (AR):  is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which creates a totally artificial environment, AR users experience a real-world environment with generated perceptual information overlaid on top of it.

Big Data: Vast amount of data collected about small, seemingly unrelated actions or transactions which forms patterns that can be used to infer preferences and behaviours of categories of people.

Blockchain:A way of transmitting money without the need for traditional banking networks, as well as a means to store data in a transparent and unalterable way.

Bug: A programming error, mistake or problem that means a programme does not behave as expected

Chatbots: are software programs that interact with humans via chat interfaces. 

The Cloud: is the Internet —more specifically, it’s all of the things you can access remotely over the Internet. When something is in the cloud, it means it’s stored on Internet servers instead of your computer’s hard drive.

Cloud transformation: is the process of migrating work to the cloud, including data, apps, and software programs.

Code/Program: These two terms can be used interchangeably and mean essentially the same thing: to code/program means using coding languages like Java, Python, or C++ to communicate instructions to a computer.

Cookies: Electronic tags that are deposited on a user’s computer when they visit a website. The cookie allows the tracking and recording of data about the user when they visit the website that has issued the cookie

Cybersecurity: mesh is an all-encompassing cyber security defence strategy that merges and fortifies insular security services across hardware from a safe and centralised control node.

Cyberspace: A term describing the world of computers and the society that uses them.

Developer: A developer is a computer software professional concerned with researching, designing, implementing and testing software and websites

Digital Certificate/Public Key Certificate: A form of verification provided by websites to verify they are who they say they are.  These are especially important when communicating with secure services (e.g. banks).

Digital divide: refers to inequality of access to the internet and other tech-related skills. It might surprise many to learn that, even in this day and age, more than 9 million children lack internet access at home.

Digital Footprint: the amount of personal data that is exposed to other parties on the internet (often marketing, government, “big data” compilers, etc.”)

Digital innovation: refers to the application of digital technology to existing organisation problems

Digital literacy: the ability to successfully navigate the technology of the day, is as key to success these days as reading literacy. Encompassing everything from typing to building computer science to understanding how the latest app works, digital literacy is a critical – but sometimes overlooked – skill for young people.

Digital resilience is an organsation’s capacity to operate while impaired. It enables organizations to stay in business, minimize customer harm, reputational damage, and financial loss in the face of adversity. 

Digital transformation refers to the process of incorporating digital technologies like software, hardware, and data analytics into a company’s operations to improve efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Digital twin A digital twin is a digital representation of an intended or actual real-world physical product, system, or process that serves as the effectively indistinguishable digital counterpart of it for practical purposes, such as simulation, integration, testing, monitoring, and maintenance

Encryption: The encoding and decoding of data like contact and payment details to prevent authorised access

eLearning: Electronic learning applies to a wide scope of processes including Web-based learning, computer-based instruction, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration.

Esports: which stands for electronic sports, are taking the world by storm! It is a competitive field in which individuals and teams compete with video games, sometimes for serious cash.

Firewall: A firewall is a device or a piece of software that helps screen out hackers, viruses and worms that try to reach your computer or network through the internet.

Game Design. This is the art and science of building something kids and teens love: video games! From coding the game mechanics to designing cool environments and building levels that are just the right amount of challenging, there’s a lot that goes into game design.

Hacker: A person who uses various tools and techniques to gain unauthorised access to secure computer systems.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): An organisation usually a commercial company that provides access to the internet for others

Makerspace, a place in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge

Malware: A generic term for any software that is secretly installed on a user’s computer to cause damage or steal data. Malware might be installed by the user.  Often it is a hidden part of “free” pr “cracked (removing or bypassing the licence from licensed software)” software that compromises security, privacy, or a computer’s ability to function.  Also “spyware”, like malware but usually doesn’t do much more than report your computing habits or data to a collector.

NFT (non-fungible token): are unique, non-interchangeable units of data that contain a piece of identifying information. They are digital assets that can be art, music, videos, or other items. They prove the ownership of real or digital items that are difficult to authenticate or copy. They can be bought and sold like any other property, but have no tangible form of their own.

Phishing: A type of scam that uses bogus emails designed to deceive customers into revealing personal financial data

Router: A special purpose computer or software package that is dedicated to managing connections between computer networks like a business network and the internet

Spam: Unsolicited, undesirable or illegal email or social media messages

SSO: Single Sign On, a service that handles identity validation for multiple other services.  Using Facebook or Google to sign into a website is an example of SSO.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

STEAM add “art” into the mix, and STEM becomes STEAM!

Virtual reality (VR) provides a computer-generated 3D environment (including both computer graphics and 360-degree video) that surrounds a user and responds to an individual’s actions in a natural way, usually through immersive head-mounted displays.

CREDITS:  We are grateful to Barry Haughey, Hologen for supporting the development of this and other sections of the Learning Zone.