Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is the ability to aggregate, analyze, synthesize and communicate data using technology tools and sources' (Stafford, 2015). The current status of digital literacy shows that students are not receiving an education in an enhanced technology learning environment and that workplace digital literacy is a problem for designers of professional instruction (Jackson, 2013; Leffler, 2015; Milloy, 2015).
Digital Literacy
By Dr. Richard Bair and Dr. Timothy Stafford
Training & Development, Volume 43, Number 3
ISSN 1839-8561

Digital Literacy Expectations

With the growth of distance technology there was also an expectation of an educational access revolution that would sweep the world and change the way all learners would manipulate and interact with content materials. This was an intriguing thought, and while many believed learners in every part of the world would no longer be deprived, the reality is that teaching with technology can be a struggle for any nation. The internet provides a multitude of avenues for research and learning, and teachers are called to guide students to make good choices about the media they use and how they use it (Jansen, & van der Merwe, 2015). The online enrollment grows every year at all levels and graduating students are expected to have digital literacy skills when they enter the work market. But is the level of education these learners are receiving meeting the expectations of the learners and the employment marketplace? And if not, where does the fault lie and how do we overcome the obstacles?

There is a divide between student expectations and teacher instructional delivery that is growing wider as learners interact in a technology immersed world. It is clear that the educational institutions and teachers are not proactive in the quest to bridge the digital divide. Rather the majority spend more time and effort working to filter access through technology. For educational institutions to grow they should work under the assumption that instructional technologies are tools that should be used to enhance learning experiences. Instructional design must leverage technology tools in educational environments that engage students in learning materials and develop skills students will need in the working environment.

Learner Forensics

Technology will continue to have a profound multimodal impact on the learning and socialising aspects of learners, and shape the benchmark for digital literacy. Before learners enter the classroom they already have a wealth of experience with the World Wide Web, smartphones, tablets and video games. In most scenarios the learners bring a level of technology experience that exceeds their instructors, and sets the stage for high expectations concerning how they would like to learn. Each group of learners may also be quite diverse in their levels of technology experience which will also create a challenge for the instructor. The culture of todays learners stems from a mix of using YouTube and social sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Learners have developed a habit and an expectation to learn and manipulate content in these settings. The high numbers of learners already using these types of tools indicates that they would be comfortable learning in distance education environments. This suggests that Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard and Moodle bring a look, feel, and functionality that is similar to the social platforms familiar to learners. Learners also expect to manipulate technology tools to learn skills, not just experience a technology tool to merely deliver content (Nasah, DaCosta, Kinsell, &Seok, 2010).

Another key is to understand learner perceptions of the importance of developing technology skills that will be necessary in the working environment. A study by Hall, Nix, and Baker (2013) found that over 92% of students surveyed believed technology skills are important for future employment. This same study also indicated that the students felt strongly (over 82%) that technology skills were important to possess for their personal life activities. Statistically this indicates that the majority of learners not only believe digital skills are important for education, but that these skills will play an important role in major aspects of their personal lives.

Student frustrations also stem from the expectations institutions or teachers place on students to be digitally literate, while assessing these same students through traditional methods (Instance & Kools, 2013). Students have the expectation of technologies in the learning environment to be used in a manner that makes learning engaging, interesting and relevant. Online technologies should be interwoven into the learning content to make learning convenient and productive (Leffler, 2015). Otherwise technology can add to the frustration of students and serve as a detriment to learning.

Instructional Forensics

Teachers play a large role in digital literacy through their willingness to learn and incorporate new technologies into lessons. To provide a quality digital learning experience, teachers need to provide advice, share skills, and their technology experience level with students. Here begins the problem with digital literacy, as many teachers whom are considered veterans, resist or fear change and hold on to the traditional methods of teaching because they are the tried and true methods, so why change them. Teachers may also fear using technology tools or just cannot get comfortable incorporating technology into their lessons. These various reasons create a noticeable gap between the technology savvy students and the teachers who resist changing their methods to the current times (Codrington & Grant-Marshall, 2012).

So how do we design for success and bridge the digital literacy gap? First, courses need to be designed to engage the learners with the content materials and with their peers. The design also needs to go beyond merely using technology tools; the design must expand the knowledge and skills of the learners through using and creating with technology tools (Bair, 2015). By allowing learners to thrive in a student-centered technology environment, the learners will move at a pace that better suits their needs while interacting and sharing with their peers as a community.

The second part of the design involves engaging teachers and their institutions to actively participate as members of the technology realm. Through institutional support, teachers actively participate in technology training that promote the creation of lessons blended with technology tools in their content areas. The teachers and the institution must commit to being a forward-looking digital culture. A key piece is to constantly review what technologies students are immersed in outside the education environment and determine how to incorporate those tools into teacher training and content development. This will decrease the digital literacy gap between learners and educators. 

This article originally appeared in Training & Development journal June 2016 Vol 43 No 3, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development. Click here for more information.

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