Digital literacy is essentially the discovery, evaluation, creation and communication of information, but there is more to it. Many experts prefer to focus on specific technology and literacy skills and do not define the term. In today’s constantly evolving technological society, Digital literacy is critical for navigating and thriving. This article will explore what digital literacy is, its importance, and challenges.
What is Digital Literacy?
The American Library Association’s digital-literacy task force defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”While Microsoft defines digital literacy as the ability to navigate our digital world using reading, writing, technical skills, and critical thinking, it uses technology – like smartphones, PCs, e-readers, and more – to find, evaluate, and communicate information.
Hiller Spires, a professor of literacy and technology at North Carolina State University, views digital literacy as having three buckets:
1) Finding and consuming digital content;
2) Creating digital content; and
3) Communicating or sharing it.
Digital literacy goes beyond technical knowledge. It refers to the knowledge, skills, and perspectives that enable an individual to be safe, secure, and empowered in an increasingly digital world. It extends to an individual’s digital activities, participation, interactions, socialising, searching, learning, and other online activities. Digital literacy is a growing part of new-age skills development and features in UNICEF’s framework, which seeks to prepare children and adults for school, work and life.
However, what constitutes digital literacy varies depending on the age, geography, local culture, and context. For instance, for the younger generation, it doesn’t mean they are not supposed to be online, but it requires them to understand the digital world.
Let’s understand it better through this video:
What is Digital Literacy? | Cultivating Digital Literacy
Why is Digital Literacy Important?
We all know digital literacy is becoming increasingly important in today’s world as technology continues to play a central role in our daily lives, including our social interactions and education.
Identifying information accurately and validating it is crucial as the digital world is getting more and more cluttered. Digital literacy also encompasses using devices and software efficiently, protecting personal data, protecting yourself from online threats, etc., not just in personal but academic and professional lives as well.
People or groups with malicious intent continuously discover and develop new ways to exploit others; therefore, the risks associated with the internet world are constantly evolving. Although digital literacy skills may not wholly shield students from online safety challenges, they can help equip them with crucial knowledge, awareness, tools, processes, and resources to safeguard their privacy and safety while being online.
Digital literacy skills also encompass digital responsibility, which involves ethical consumption and communication of information online. As technology dependence increases, students face various challenges, such as plagiarism, cyberbullying, verifying sources of information, and behaving responsibly while interacting with others. Digital literacy equips students with the necessary skills to navigate through these challenges effectively, enabling them to become responsible digital citizens.
Digital Educational Progress
The increased use of technology in education has made digital literacy skills more essential than ever. Over the past decade, computers, tablets, and the internet have become prominent even in K-12 education. Since it offers a structured way of getting familiar with the digital world, students with digital literacy skills become comfortable and confident in navigating online learning platforms. In contrast, those who lack this skill may struggle. Furthermore, since most standardised assessments are now administered online, it is crucial that students have the confidence to stay focused and not get distracted by technology.
Today, social interactions are happening online, and it is growing day by day. Earlier, friendships and familial connections relied on slow and traditional ways of communication like letters, but technological evolution has eliminated these obstacles, providing a vast socialising world. On the positive side, social media facilitates the ability to connect with individuals beyond one’s immediate geographical boundaries. However, it exposes people, particularly youngsters, to precarious social situations. With digital literacy, students can learn to be safe online and engage with others safely, safeguarding their personal information and keeping themselves and others safe from online threats, crime, and scams.
Bridging the digital divide, especially for working professionals, is another advantage of digital literacy. Despite technology’s proliferation in homes and educational institutions, many students and young working professionals lack digital literacy skills and online etiquette. Digital literacy education is the need of the hour for students and professionals to empower them with better skills and prepare them for today’s career opportunities.
Digital literacy can support the development of strong life skills in several ways. It can enhance communication skills by providing individuals with the ability to express themselves effectively online and teach them about collaboration with others using digital tools. Digital literacy can also improve critical thinking skills by enabling individuals to evaluate the credibility and reliability of online information. It can support the development of problem-solving skills and creativity by providing individuals with the ability to navigate digital technology tools, troubleshoot technical issues and use digital tools to create and share multimedia content.
Why is Digital Literacy Important for Learning? | Cultivating Digital Literacy
Digital Literacy Skills to Succeed in Learning and Beyond | Yimin Yang | TEDxYouth@GrandviewHeights
In this video, Yimin Yang, a 13-year-old student at Southland Elementary, talks about digital media. He also highlights the risks and challenges of the digital world and how important it is for kids and teens to understand these risks and challenges while accessing the internet so they may be able to become responsible digital citizens.
What are the Challenges of Digital Literacy?
There are several challenges that students and educators may need help with while developing or teaching digital literacy, such as lack of awareness about the ethical use of the internet, lack of guidance, difficulty in navigating the overwhelming amount of information available online, and more. Let’s dive deep into these challenges:
Here are some of the challenges associated with digital literacy:
Lack of Access to and Knowledge of Technology
One of the most challenging aspects of digital literacy is the requirement for a certain level of technical expertise and understanding. Not everyone has access to cutting-edge technology and tools or has been properly trained to use them, which can result in a digital divide in which certain people lag in digital skills and knowledge. This can have severe consequences for access to school, employment, and social and civic participation.
Trouble in Finding the Right Resource
Another barrier to digital literacy is the lack of capability to find the right resource from the billions that are available online. With so much information at your fingertips, it can be difficult to identify which sources are genuine and trustworthy. Critical thinking and analytical skills are needed to evaluate the quality of material found online and discern between facts and opinions, biases, disinformation and propaganda. This necessitates a critical approach with experience, awareness and knowledge.
Lack of Guidance
Concerns about privacy and security are amplified when we talk about digital literacy. Many people are unaware of the potential dangers of the internet and lack supervision from a digital expert. With a lack of information about digital literacy, trainers and practitioners, it is a topic that needs greater attention than we think.
Lack of Awareness & Interest in Digital Technology
Another challenge is the lack of awareness and interest in digital technology among certain sections of the population, particularly older adults and women. Nearly half of the world’s population is still not online. While Asia has the highest number of people without access, Africa tops the world in the percentage of the population without connection at 88 per cent. Furthermore, in digitally connected countries, male internet users outnumber their female counterparts in every region of the world. This ‘digital divide’ does not just signify those who have access to the internet and those who do not. The gap also encompasses several other discrepancies, including the quality of digital infrastructure in rural communities, the speed of connectivity in remote areas, and the training and skills required to navigate such technology.
Lack of Emphasis on Digital Literacy in Education
There is a lack of emphasis on making individuals digitally literate. Despite the growing importance of digital skills in the job market, many schools and colleges worldwide do not offer adequate training in digital literacy. This results in a lack of digital skills among young people, which can hinder their employment prospects in the future.
You may also read Embedding Digital Literacy in the Classroom.