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Digital Literacy

There were reading and writing literacies. Then came Cultural Literacy, Media Literacy  and Information Literacy. And then somewhere in the midst of these came Digital Literacy.

Digital Literacy essentially means the abilities of people to access and utilize technology to promote or enhance their daily lives. The American Library Association has defined Digital Literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” The effect of technology on our daily lives, in particular the past 20 or so years, is indisputable; however, technology continues to change and it is presently at its fastest pace ever.

This has led to an evolving definition of Digital Literacy, one that today encompasses not just how we interpret, but how we employ and utilize the digital world to create needed items.

Our 21st century employee

Digital resources are a necessity in the modern age and the way we employ them is integral in our success. Knowledge of digital platforms is not enough. The reality of the modern workplace is a proficiency with digital understanding, being able to pivot among multiple platforms to be able to generate the needed product, and, of course, adapt to the next new “thing” in technology as it emerges.

Some recent studies show the gap in digital knowledge and digital expectation between employees and employers.

In an survey, students were asked if they felt digitally prepared for work, 44 percent responded that they felt “well-prepared” or “very prepared.” In contrast, only 18 percent of surveyed employers responded that students are prepared for entry-level positions.

In a Hart Research Associates study, 80 percent of employers found electronic portfolios fairly or very useful in identifying useful job skills, compared with only 45 percent of employers who found traditional college transcripts helpful.

John Jolliffe, a senior manager with Adobe, described changes in how we define Digital Literacy by describing today’s students and workers as “becoming content makers, fluent in expressing and presenting their ideas to external audiences. They don’t just want to understand problems, but to produce solutions to problems; or just how to use a technology, but to apply it imaginatively to perform a task or produce something new. “

This presents the challenge for today in higher education: How do we teach these skills and how do we leverage them effectively and efficiently within the curricula of our disciplines?

Digital users and digital composers

Some of the greatest changes in the way we store and access information have come in the past 20 years. Some of these changes include wholesale digitization of assets, including infrastructure, connected machines, data, and data platforms. This change affects how we interact with that information, as the digitization of operations, including processes, payments and business models, and customer and supply chain interactions has followed suit. This has led to a digitization of the workforce, which requires worker use of digital tools, digitally skilled workers, and entirely new digital jobs and roles.

New goals for education

This new digital paradigm requires new skills from both workers and educated individuals navigating the world. Digital literacy development, as a whole, helps contribute to the knowledge society. Learners are able to interpret and make meaning of an abundance of information and navigate how they share data online.

However, these digital skills would not only supply the confidence to address a digital world but would enable workers and citizens to become not just efficient consumers of the digital but composers of the digital. The new Digital Literacy should be , in fact, a skill set of the creative as well as the analytic.

Recognizing and developing Digital Literacy skills is our primary task right now. These will be as crucial for everyone moving into the 21st century as any literacy skills that have come before. It’s important that we invest wide attention to it.


Adams Becker, S., Pasquini, L.A., and Zentner, A. (2017). 2017 Digital Literacy Impact Study: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief. Volume 3.5, September 2017. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Hart Research Associates, Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success(Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015), p. 13., “New Skills Gap Survey Reveals Increasing Student Demand for Digital Skills, Employer Appetite for Tech Savvy Hires,” press release, July 16, 2014.

Jolliffe, J. (2016, Nov 22). New Approaches to Digital Literacy and the Digital Skills Gap. Adobe Blogs. 

Levy, L. A. (2016, May 2). 7 Reasons Why Digital Literacy is Important for Teachers. USC Rossier online. 

Medlock Paul, Casey & Spires, Hiller & N. Kerkhoff, Shea. (2017). Digital Literacy for the 21st Century. 2235-2242.

Ventimiglia, P. and Pullman, G. (2016, Mar 7). From Written to Digital: The New Literacy. Educause. 

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