What Is Digital Literacy and Why Does It Matter?
What does the term “digital literacy” mean to you? The meaning of digital literacy will vary greatly by source. The American Library Association (ALA) 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.
Digital literacy doesn’t just mean IT proficiency. It requires thinking skills, an awareness of the necessary standards of behavior expected in online environments, and an understanding of the shared social issues created by digital technologies.
Beyond the meaning of digital literacy
To keep things simple, digital literacy = digital tools knowledge + critical thinking + social engagement.
- Digital tools knowledge: the ability to use digital tools to design and create compelling original content, to access, use, and share information.
- Critical thinking: questioning how authentic, valid and useful digital information is
- Social engagement: communicating and collaborating with others in the digital space.
Digital literacy is the ability not only to find but also to analyze and evaluate information. This means finding the answer to a question and then judging whether the source is reliable or no. Some examples of digital literacy skills are:
- Using your phone to check emails.
- Creating an online profile on a social media platform
- Using online search to complete a research project
- Using an online search engine to find the answer to a question
- Evaluating online resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of the information
The impact of digital literacy on students
Most students already use technology, such as tablets, smartphones, and computers, at home. Many of them know how to navigate the web, share images and videos on social media, and do a Google search to find information. However, true digital literacy goes beyond these skills.
Students who have digital literacy skills know how to find and consume digital content. They understand the perils of cyberbullying and seek to stop current bullies and prevent others from cyberbullying. They understand the basics of Internet safety such as creating strong passwords, using privacy settings, and knowing what to share or not on social media. A Digital Literacy Impact Study showed that learners with a solid grounding in digital literacy have a competitive advantage in the workforce.
Digitally literate students are also confident using digital content and tools in their learning. These students become social contributors in their communities, they can effectively collaborate to create their own digital content, and be innovative problem solvers.
Recognizing the importance of digital literacy for students nowadays, the World Literacy Foundations has been working in the last years on two EdTech projects to benefit the education of children in remote communities in Africa and Colombia. The main purpose behind the projects is to enhance the literacy levels of students using a digital learning tool that comprises a literacy app pre-loaded on solar-powered tablets. Throughout the programs, learners have constant exposure to the devices which facilitates the development of digital literacy skills.