"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Defining Digital Literacy

Adult education programs often fall short of addressing the digital literacy needs of low educated, low literacy English language learners, many of whom may not have Internet access on demand. Adult ed programs do a decent job of providing access through libraries, skill source centers, and adult education settings, however, access is only the beginning. Digital literacy encompasses a skill set that must be learned and practiced so that it can be put to use in an online setting. To that end, digital literacy is a competency for teachers, too. It is not enough to publish lofty goals for adult education programs using buzz words such as 21st century skills or technology integration without a professional development component. The most needy learners require skilled teachers. Program resources devoted to data collection and reporting do not address the digital literacy needs of these learners or their teachers. Valid data and program success, in this writer's opinion, begin with teachers.

I've been following blogs and postings by David Rosen, who pointed me in the direction of a technology self-assessment tool http://www.adultedonline.org/index.cfm If you want to assess your own digital literacy skills / technology integration, give it a try. Furthermore, I am sharing David's definition of digital literacy. I think his words get to the heart of what it means to be digitally literate, for us and our adult learners.

re-posted courtesy of David Rosen  http://davidjrosen.wordpress.com 

At one end of the spectrum digital literacy means basic comfort and competence in using computers, smart phones, electronic tablets, and other web-accessible devices. Toward the other end it means what some call information literacy, the ability to judge the quality of information one receives through electronic means. If literacy is getting meaning from print, then digital literacy is getting basic meaning from what you read — or have read out loud to you – through the use of a digital electronic device. It is also, at the higher end of the spectrum, sorting out wheat from chaff, using the higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

For me digital literacy involves reading widely, keeping informed, knowing when and how to be critical and when to embrace new information, new ideas. It also means how to approach new technologies – hardware and software – skeptically, fearlessly, and with enthusiasm. It means being limber in how one thinks, agile in using technology, expecting as normal seismic shifts in new information and communication tools.

Digital literacy is also fun. Unlike print literacy, we expect through digital literacy to be offered visual and sound embellishments of text. Digital magazines should be beautiful to see and hear. They should be interactive, with opportunities for talking and writing about what we read with others.

Digital literacy opens a door to digital learning. We are seeing the dawn of online courses, digital chautauquas and online study circles. We are also seeing the early stages of using digital technologies to learn anywhere, anytime, and as fast or slowly as one wants, with more easily accessible and better learning resources

David J. Rosen, Ed.D. is President of Newsome Associates in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. His interests include integrating technology in the adult education classroom, using technology for learning outside the classroom, and education and employment for out-of-school youth. He is an implementation advisor for the Learner Web, a major national adult learner support initiative.


  1. I've been doing some of the readings and I have a concern. Teaching educators to use digital literacy methods may be harder for older educators. I know some teachers use "some" technology but not others if they don't understand it or don't like it.

  2. cpscat I agree that technology integration is not happening, or not happening to the degree that it could, with ABE instruction. David Rosen started a discussion thread on this very topic in a LINCS forum https://community.lincs.ed.gov/discussion/five-burning-technology-questions. Integrating technology in ABE programs was my research topic in another class. There are 2 interesting descriptive studies by Jim Berger (2010 & 2005) where he looked at ABE teachers' perceived consequences of using technology in the classroom. He profiled teachers in the 2010 study, and suggested further research on the social system (ABE teachers' work environments) and demographics of ABE teachers - age was specifically mentioned. I happen to think ABE programs lack the funding and resources to effectively train and prepare teachers to use technologies with students. We put teachers, computers, and students in a room and expect magic to happen. In my humble opinion, technology integration means integration in the whole ABE program rather than making it an ancillary component of our curriculum. Anyway, I may look at the literacies-in-use in my work environment (with my fellow ESOL teachers) for the project in this class. In addition to their age range, my colleagues are a diverse, multi-national, multi-cultural, "data rich" group.

  3. Many of my students are literate but not necessarily computer literate. Tomorrow I am teaching "Introduction to Computers and the Internet". In the beginning I expected my students to be older and not familiar with the computer environment, but I'm finding more adults that did not go to college and are looking for jobs requiring computer experience or experience in specific programs. I shouldn't be, but sometimes I am surprised at how many adults have not been exposed to the computer.

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Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.