Digital literacy – essential or desirable?

There’s no question that adult educators need basic literacy and little doubt that information literacy – knowing how to research, find, assess, use and manage information – is a fundamental aspect of teaching and learning.

What about digital literacy? There are various aspects, sliding and evolving scales of digital literacy, so what is a reasonable minimum expectation for proficiency in 2013?

Should adult educators be expected to communicate by email and social media and research via the internet? Should we know how to find, evaluate and create information using digital technology and to use digital applications to enrich our teaching and professional development? In other words, what is essential and what is desirable?

A Twitter discussion last night using the hashtag #ukfechat has prompted this blog. The timing coincides with the forthcoming launch of a new WEA Tutor Portal for us to share and update key course administration tasks and information electronically.

During the Twitter discussion, Sarah Simons commented, “Think there’s group of people pretending digital age isn’t happening & other group perhaps overplaying essentiality?”

diglit mrs ss

We can all probably identify someone at each end of this spectrum, with most people being somewhere between the extremes, but we’re also aware of the increasing pace of public services becoming digital by default. People who are unable to use email and the internet are at risk of being excluded from activities and services. Carol Azumah Dennis’s tweet reinforced this.

Diglit dbd1

Many adult educators are creative and proficient users of technology but others might benefit from support in developing their skills, not just for their work but for life in general. Could Bob Harrison’s suggestion of digitally literate students acting as technology mentors for their tutors be worth exploring further?

ukfechat dbd2

It’s a model that chimes with the WEA’s approach to relationships between tutors and students and with our Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network (DAIN) in the East Midlands.

Thanks to Sarah Simons for facilitating the Twitter chat and sparking a productive exchange.

What do you think?

(Twitter users can follow last night’s conversations using the hashtag #ukfechat)

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

6 Responses to Digital literacy – essential or desirable?

  1. Dave Boydon says:

    I think digital literacy can be a really useful tool. On a micro level, this week I recorded, on my phone, an interview with an international student about inter cultural issues; I was then able to send this sound file to myself to upload onto a presentation I am due to give to the faculty. This makes the pre-sensation less dry.

    On a wider scale there’s e-twinning steered by the British council, quad blogging and webinars. When digital technology plays to it’s discrete strengths it’s fantastic. When it tries to replicate what might be done be more effectively in a face-to-face learning environment, I think it is less successful.

  2. Dave Boydon says:

    …That should be ‘presentation’ rather than pre-sensation!

  3. Shining a light / discussing this incredibly interesting area is always personally very stimulating, as you can see from my response !

    Here’s a fantastically interesting article on getting people digitally involved

    It is stated that “The whole of human knowledge is no longer in the library of Alexandria it’s on the Web !” so the Web (not technology per say) is an incredible and FREE resource.

    This said, digital technology can be as much as a barrier as an enabler, it’s not the technology that’s king it’s the content, just as with the delivery of a course, as a slight a side if you turn your nose up at digital technologies I’d ask you to go to and watch just ONE video and reflect on the video and the technology. It’s not the technology but the content or what it’s used for i.e. I could make a throw away 10 year old piece of technology as effective, if not more, than the latest shiny piece of incredibly expensive kit i.e. I have personally rebuilt a throw away netbook for an individual that suffers from clinical depression, now people can stay in touch with the individual when they can’t even find the energy to leave the house !

    E-mail is dead ! if you want to get my attention – Facebook or Twitter – don’t believe me – here’s an article from Aunty Beeb , also by blogging like this or tweeting you can reach a much wider audience.

    The government is pushing digital inclusion very hard and has won major awards for the simplicity of GOV.UK

    Should a master craftsman be able to use e-mail, I guess if they are a master craftsman the later shouldn’t be a problem, but it keeps them away from their passion. If someone is an incredibly passionate coach of others, would we rather they invest in developing their passion and learners, rather than wade through painful processes that don’t enable and enhance their delivery and growth processes, but if paperwork and admin activities can be streamlined and made available via my phone, so I can do the ancillary stuff quickly and easily – I’m in – There’s an app for that !

    Technology can be a great enabler, personally found I was constantly drawing the same thing over and over for learners, the drawing is now in electronic format that I can print and handout and can now spend valuable drawing time on interactively discussing the content of the drawing with learners.

    If you’ve got this far – look at what the NEXT generation of trainers are doing with simple technologies to get there message across – these guys are the future and check their phones before they close their eyes and as soon as they open them the next day ! We have to be able to move with the times or the next generation will just pass us by !

    Now that digital technology is virtually FREE i.e. used computers or the Raspberry Pi , the only real barrier is bandwidth / connectivity and if your creative, even this can be FREE from your local library or coffee shops – most WEA adult learning centre’s have technology, connectivity and expertise available to help you or others be successful and develop their digital literacy skills

    Finally ! If it all get’s to much – don’t go to bits (or bytes) turn it all off and interact with the most incredible computers you’ll ever experience that will always make you LOL and go OMG – human beings !

    UBUNTU !

  4. Pingback: Possibilities and probabilities of digital literacies | woman-in-flight

  5. azumahcarol says:

    Thanks for this blog post Ann, and the twitter discussion, essential or desirable frames the question well.

    The truth is, it’s hard to imagine anyone – least of all a teacher – who is not accomplished in the use of digital literacies. Does anyone – these days – use pen and paper for anything other then the occasional post-it note?

    I’ve penned a brief response.

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