As technology transforms literacy practices, it also challenges what it means to have language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) needs. Digital literacy is becoming an essential skill for success in life and must also be considered.
The definition of digital literacy is still evolving, however it is generally agreed that it is about having the skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is progressively more through digital technologies (WSU, 2019).
Those with poor digital literacy skills may struggle to access employment, be unable to progress in work roles, have poor uptake of educational opportunities and even be unable to complete daily living tasks.
Data shows that although Australia ranks quite highly at a global level in regards to technology use and skills, as many as 69% of Australians actually have a level of skill in the bottom half of the possible range, with 25% being unable to use a computer or complete basic testing using technology. Research also shows that being ‘digitally disadvantaged’ is not solely an issue of socio-economics, but can affect individuals from all sectors of society. There may be a number of reasons as to why individuals do not or cannot access technology and develop their digital literacy skills.
Government policy and changes to VET over the last few years have attempted to address LLN needs, including digital literacy skills. There is also literature and multiple frameworks to help us build a picture of what a digitally literate adult in Australia could look like to support trainers and assessors in this endeavour.
Building a picture of what a digitally literate person looks like
A review of the Australian Core Skills Framework recognised the key role of digital technology and the embedding of digital literacy and technology in the documentation across the different levels and the three domains of communication (personal/community, workplace/employment and education/training).
However, having this content embedded within other skills makes it difficult and time consuming for a trainer/assessor to explicitly consider and review an individual’s digital literacy skill levels or give a descriptive picture of what a digitally literate person looks like, unlike other core skills identified. Additionally, it focuses heavily on use of digital technology and doesn’t fully address the wide variety and complexity of skills that allow individuals to function effectively in digital environments.
Moving beyond what is present in the ACSF to include further elements of digital capability, such as those developed by Jisc (2018), presents a more holistic picture of what a digitally literate person looks like and support meaningful integration of digital literacy tasks into training and assessment.
These six elements present the concept of proficiency in information and communication technology as a core element of being digitally literate, whilst other skills overlap and build on this capability. Importantly it highlights that overarching it all is our digital identity and wellbeing.
When a summary of indicators and performance features relating to digital technologies and literacies are placed into a similar format to the ACSF core skills performance grids, you can see the increasing complexity of digital literacy skill examples in each core skill by performance level. By also including the support considerations from the performance variables you can see the level of independence people should have. Building on from this, overlaying the six elements of digital capabilities as developed by Jisc further categories the types of skills being used at different levels and in different areas.
Note: this method places digital literacy skills within the context of English as a language. It may be very possible for an individual to have skills which are much higher when used in a context of a language other than English. These skills may therefore be more easily transferrable to new contexts within Australia, so long as adequate language support is provided.
Here is an example page focusing on the core skill of Learning. A copy of the full matrix is available to download from here: Snapshot: Digitally Literate Learner
This process of overlaying Jisc’s elements with the ACSF digital literacy examples highlights the emphasis currently placed on ICT proficiency (functional skills) in the ACSF. Of the 89 examples sourced from within the ACSF, more than half of these related to functional skills in using information and communication technology. About a third related to critical literacy skills, mainly focusing on information literacy and data literacy. There were isolated examples for creative production, participation and development. There was no evidence of examples relating to digital identify and wellbeing (self actualisation).
The ACSF does not fully address the wide variety and complexity of skills identified that will support individuals to function effectively in digital environments. Are we still in a state of training infancy with regards to digital learning skills? While critical literacy skills are important for digital literacy, there is a much wider range and more contemporary uses for digital technologies currently occurring in the workplace, education and community settings.
With consideration of the fact that the ACSF includes these domains of communication in the framework, there is opportunity to widen the scope of digital literacy skills and tasks identified within the framework. This may further encourage trainers/educators to consider the wider elements for digital literacy in learners. In particular, adding examples relating to creating digital content and skills relating to digital identity and safety would be of great benefit to learners.
This is an area for further investigation and work!