Developing Digital Literacy to develop learning

What is Digital Literacy?

The term Literacy relates to the language that we use to communicate with each other. Literacy is often associated with reading and writing and these to aspects can be linked to Digital Literacy (Hague & Williamson, 2009). The reading element is taking information from the technology whether this is through text, image, video, sound or one of the many other types of information in technology that are. The writing element is creating information in the technology. Similarly, this can be in different formats, such as text or images. Therefore, Digital Literacy can be defined as the basic skills that people need to be able to access the ever-widening variety of technology that exists. However, this definition can be criticised as too simplistic. That students’ Digital Literacy is not just about them being able to access digital media but might also be in relation to their ability to use the technology (Hague & Payton, DIgital Literacy across the curriculum, 2010). These skills have been broken down into a range of different components. See below:

Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 17.54.49

Image source: Digital Literacy across the Curriculum Report by Futurelab (Hague & Payton, 2010)

There are different criteria that can be used to assess a students’ Digital Literacy. For example, Exeter University has test that gives a score in different types of Digital Literacy and provides advice to improve on weaker areas –

Moreover, a recent JISC paper expanded on the concept of Digital Literacies, defining them as “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society”. They outlined a model with six elements to illustrate their definition:

digital literacy

Images source:

Digital Literacy vs Digital Fluency

If we understand Digital Literacy as the basic skills that people need to access technology then there must be a deeper level of understanding and an ability to use technology more fluently. Digital Fluency could be considered this next step in understanding. Miller and Bartlett (2012) believe that for someone to have Digital Fluency they need three components:

  • Net-savviness – which is an understanding of the way the interest works
  • Critical evaluation tools – which is the ability to check the information you are gathering
  • Diversity – which is the ability to search in a wide variety of places.

This helps to give an idea of what skills a Digital Fluent person might need. However, it primarily focuses on using the Internet. I would propose that to be Digitally Fluent you need to be able to use a wider range of technologies with the same set of competencies. Moreover, the concept of “Fluency” points towards a more naturally, flowing, integrated and adapted set of competencies being developed – This approach is illustrated by Spencer’s (2015) thoughts that Digital Fluency and the linkage to the Hierarchy of Competence show below:


Image source:

This model can show a development of Digital Literacy when the user in moving to Conscious Competence. In this phase, they are able to use the technology suggested in the way that is suggested to them. However, the user becomes Digitally Fluent when they achieve Unconscious Competence, where they are automatically able to select the best technology and manipulate the technology in a way that helps them achieve their goals.

Although sometimes the definition for Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency can be interchanged, it is important to consider a high level of digital thinking when starting to consider the differences between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (Wang, Myers, & Sundaram, 2013). Digital Natives are those born within the age of technology who are thought to have an almost innate ability to use technology, while Digital Immigrants are those who are been introduced to technology at some point in their lives (Prensky, 2001).

Do we get to choose: Digital Native or Digital Immigrant?

The concept of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants raises a few concerns for me.

  1. Firstly, what happens when Digital Natives are taught by Digital Immigrants?

We are in an educational era where traditional teaching methods, such as PowerPoint, are often less engaging for students who are more familiar with receiving information presented in a variety of quick, engaging medium, for example videos (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2008). In a more specific sense, we must also take into consideration the progress Digital Natives are going to have in computing teaching if those who are teaching do not have the same level or currency of skills. The Royal Society (Furber, 2012) found that there was a shortage of specialist computing teachers that could teach the skills required.

  1. Secondly, Digital Native or Immigrant, are these the only two options?

I suggest there may be an in-between category, of those who have some Digital Literacy, which is only part formed into Digital Fluency, or even have become Digitally Fluent with the technology that existed in their early childhood but not with later technologies? Additionally, when considering Digital Immigrants, does this include everyone who is not a Digital Native or are there different levels, as surely the different levels of Digital Literacy must be considered?

  1. Thirdly, does when you are born determine which category you are part of?

Having worked for much of my career in an educational setting of extremely low socio-economic status, I have seen that children who are born into the digital age are not as Digitally Literate as is initially assumed by their birth date. Children who do not have access to the latest technology or are limited by their experiences of technology surely can’t hope to reach these levels of Digital Fluency without dedicated teaching. When these children find basic typing skills challenging, we surely cannot assume they are part of the same Digital Native category. Therefore I propose that it is not the period of time within which you are born, but the quantity and quality that you access different technologies. Digital Literacy can be broken into two categories; Information Literacy and Multimedia Literacy. Information Literacy is focused on the locating, sorting and evaluating of information. While, Multimedia Literacy is the ability to ‘interpret, design and create’ (Warschauer, 2007). Warschauer (2007) explains that children from more privileged backgrounds, who have access to a range of technologies, develop skills in both. However, those from disadvantaged backgrounds may struggle more with Information Literacy and, therefore, may rely on Multimedia Literacy. This means that disadvantaged children are not developing Digital Literacy in all areas. Wang, Myers and Sundaram (2013) suggest that there are a range of different factors, as well as the one I have had experience in, that can effect someone’s ability to develop Digital Fluency and therefore these are similar to those that could influence whether they become a Digital Native or not. These factors are shown below.


Imaged source: Wang, Q., Myers, M., & Sundaram, D. (2013). Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants: Towards a Model of Digital Fluency. Business & Information Systems Engineering , 5 (6), 409-419.

  1. Finally, can you develop your Digital Fluency to move from Digital Immigrant to Digital Native?

Although I accept that there must be certain advantages in the way that you are able to use technology as a Digital Native, I would suggest that if you tackle some of the factors shown above by Wang, Myers and Sundaram (2013) that students can develop their Digital Fluency to a level similar to, or the same as, those who have been born into a world where it is pervasive.

For teachers however, this poses significant challenges. Organisations such as JISC and those who develop PgCE type programmes are beginning to rise to the challenge of addressing this need, but it is one that I recognise will be a personal, lifelong challenge for many of us.


Furber, S. (2012). Shut down or restart: The way forward for computing in UK schools. London: The Royal Society.

Hague, C., & Payton, S. (2010). DIgital Literacy across the curriculum. Bristol: Futurelab.

Hague, C., & Williamson, B. (2009). Digital participation, digital literacy, and school subjects. Bristol: Futurelab.

Jones-Kavalier, B., & Flannigan, S. (2008). Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century. Literacy of the 21st Century , 35 (3), 13–16.

Miller, C., & Bartlett, J. (2012). ‘Digital fluency’: towards young people’s critical use of the internet. Journal of Information Literacy , 6 (2), 35-55.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon , 9 (5), 1-6.

Spencer, K. (2015). What is Digital Fluency? Retrieved 1 1, 2018, from CORE blog:

Wang, Q., Myers, M., & Sundaram, D. (2013). Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants: Towards a Model of Digital Fluency. Business & Information Systems Engineering , 5 (6), 409-419.

Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry , 1 (1), 41-49.


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