What exactly is digital literacy, anyway?

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Doris and I have been blogging about the new economy of contingent workers the past few weeks, and the skills, behaviors, knowledge and abilities needed in order to navigate the new terrain. Since we are steeped in the ideas, theory, and language of working online, we are finding that our definitions of terms may be different than what others use and know.

We had the opportunity last week to present at the Maine Adult Education Association conference, and aside from the pleasure of meeting old friends (for me) and making new MAEA logoones (for both Doris and I), we also had an opportunity to spend Monday to Friday together f2f. A rare treat for us! The topic of one of our learning opportunities was Digital Literacy. We prepared a poster that stressed the changing workplace, what we consider digital literacy skills, and how necessary they are in today’s and tomorrow’s world. If you read our blog you have heard this several times before.

As we talked with both vendors and participants throughout the conference, Doris and I realized that many attendees thought that digital literacy was simply computer literacy, and our definition of digital literacy was not at all what others were using, understanding, or envisioning. 

What is the difference between computer literacy and digital literacy, and why does it matter?

Why can’t you use computer literacy and digital literacy interchangeably?

Wikipedia defines computer literacy as:

Computer literacy is defined as the knowledge and ability to utilize computers and related technology efficiently, with a range of skills covering levels from elementary use to programming and advanced problem solving.

Computer literacy is certainly necessary to master in order to be digitally literate, but computer literacy in and of itself is not enough to be competent in today’s world of work, learning, and connections. This short video by Harold Jarche describes why:

As we move further into the network era, knowing how to use technology just affords us the entre into the networked world. It used to be that learning a software program such as Microsoft Word was a valued skill in the workplace. Today, it is an expectation that you are able to use MS Word or other programs to collaboratively create reports, documents, and other media. It is the ability to co-create that is valued, not what software you are able to use. Computer literacy is using the software, digital literacy is fluently using what you can do technically to connect, work with, and learn from others.

Defining Digital Literacy

We have incorporated the work of Harold Jarche and Howard Rheingold to define digital literacy for us.

Digital Literacies2

Here is our brief definitions of these skills that we handed out at the conference:

From Harold Jarche (http://jarche.com): Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM)

Seek: Develop media literacy to seek out relevant, reliable, and sound resources using trusted sources and triangulation of data. This lessens cognitive overload.

Sense: What did you learn? What new knowledge did you gain? How will you use this new knowledge?

Share: Social intelligence is built through sharing your sense-making with others. This leads to new knowledge creation and the development of useful, purposeful social networks.

From Howard Rheingold (http://rheingold.com): Net Smart

Develop Infotention: A means of training your attention to make the best use of your time and online resources. It is a combination of attentional discipline and information-handling tools. This is a method for turning information overload into knowledge navigation.

Crap Detection: Developing the tools and routines to tell accurate online information from inaccurate information, misinformation, and disinformation.

Online Participation: Knowing how to blog, tweet, wiki, search, comment, innovate, program, and/or organize online to share your learning online with others.

Social-Digital Know-How: The Arts and Science of collective intelligence. Knowing how to interact with others online, including knowing how to use online tools to do it, so ideas can be exchanged, shared, and developed in organized, useful ways.

Building Online Networks: Growing an online Personal Learning Network (PLN) to deepen, enhance, accelerate personal learning, and to add to the growing collective learning of the network.

Digital literacy encompasses many skills to make sense of, analyze, and share learning back out to your personal network of trusted online collaborators and co-learners. Computer literacy is mastery of technology in order to do so. We don’t think they are interchangeable, but are synergistic.

The New York City school system has a wonderful definition of digital literacy, not unlike our definition using Jarche and Rheingold’s work:

Digital literacy is more than knowing how to send a text or watch a music video. It means having the knowledge and ability to use a range of technology tools for varied purposes. A digitally literate person can use technology strategically to find and evaluate information, connect and collaborate with others, produce and share original content, and use the Internet and technology tools to achieve many academic, professional, and personal goals.

As Jarche says in his video, we are straddling the information era as it morphs into the networked era. It is always hard to straddle anything, let alone an era! However, we can build our own bridge across the divide by investing in our online, networked, Do-It-Yourself professional development and building our digital literacy through Personal Knowledge Mastery and the digital skills necessary ( Infotention, Crap Detection, Online Participation, Social-digital know how, and online networks) to do that. Adjusting our definitions to be more aligned with our world is certainly a part of it, too.

What is your definition of digital literacy? Who or what do you base it on? How are you building your digital literacy skills?

Featured image courtesy of: https://www.techwire.net/literacy-2-0-psa-campaign-takes-on-digital-literacy/

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  1. […] many times in this blog about the importance of digital literacies for adult success in work,  learning, and  life. Jill Finsen, a good friend of ours at WLS and an artist, also explained how vital […]

  2. […] It is certainly part of the infotention and mindfulness that we have advocated in our blog posts here and here for knowledge workers to develop. Blogging regularly also clarifies your thinking and […]

  3. […] have broached this subject before in various ways. I wrote a blog on our definition of digital literacy, Doris and I have written blogs on working out loud, Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM), and work […]

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