In the Digital Era, Digital Literacy is Fundamental

Digital Literacy is fundamental

Highlights of an interview I did with Learning.com in fall 2015. The focus was on digital literacy at the primary and secondary levels; however, the ideas and arguments extend beyond that. Digital literacy is an issue that all organizations and organizational leaders need to make a top priority for the foreseeable future.

Last fall Learning.com, a company that “provides K-12 solutions to support [school] districts as they transition to digital content and build students’ digital literacy skills,” asked me to share my perspective on the importance of digital literacy as part of primary and secondary education. Earlier this year they published the interview in a four-part series they called “Digital Natives to Digitally Literate.” Here are some highlights (and links to each part of the interview)…

In the beginning of the interview, one of the questions I was asked was, “What advice can you give educators and students about the digital proficiencies they’ll need going forward?” My response:

The focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and STEAM (STEM + Art) educational initiatives is critically important, but those initiatives alone aren’t enough. In other words, they’re necessary but not sufficient. We need to look at education in the Digital Era beyond preparing individuals for jobs and careers that have a specific technology focus, like software development. We also need to think beyond technology-enabled learning and the hardware and software that facilitate it.

In response to a question about the estimated $1.3 trillion skills gap in the United States, I answered in part:

Having five generations in the workforce (from Baby Boomers to Millennials) for the foreseeable future means that we will have a wide range of digital literacy in the workplace, and organizations will have to find a way to address that. Some people will have strong technical skills but lack the “softer” skills associated with using technology appropriately. Others have developed good judgment over time but are functionally illiterate when it comes to technology.

The next question focused on whether younger people already “know” how to use technology. My response:

The assumption that people born after a certain year simply ‘get’ technology (and therefore don’t need formal instruction or guidance) is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons:

– Being comfortable with technology consumption doesn’t make someone competent at curation, creation, and collaboration.

– There’s a tendency to overestimate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of young people, especially when it comes to leveraging social and digital technology in the context of their academic or work lives. Many of them are far less competent than we assume them to be.

– There’s no such thing as “A” Digital Native. Technically speaking, a 22 year-old, 12 year-old and 2 year-old are all Digital Natives, but what it means for each of them is drastically different.

– According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2014 survey: Top 10 findings, technological change in the workplace is leading to a skills half-life of only 2.5 years. Given that, it’s impossible for anyone to “already know how” to use all the technology they’re going to encounter in their lives.

The interview concluded with a question about the advice I would offer to educators as they approach nearly constant change on the technology front. My answer began with the following.

They should use the same approach they use for other important priorities. First, make it a strategic imperative – something that must be done, not simply something that could be done if… We need to put digital literacy in the same category as verbal literacy and numeracy. Children today must be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and tech. They must learn not just their ABCs and 123s, but also their 0101s.

I invite you to read the full transcript of the interview by clicking on the links above. And please keep in mind that even though this interview focused on digital literacy in the context of primary and secondary education, the ideas and arguments I shared extend beyond that. Digital literacy is an issue that all organizations and organizational leaders need to make a top priority for the foreseeable future.

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