Digital Literacy as part of LLN

41761343_s.jpgAs 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.

JISC 6 elements

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.

example summary Learning.png

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

Moving forwards…

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!


Language, Literacy, Numeracy (LLN) in Australian Emergency Services

The Challenge

Historically the emergency services have conducted a high percentage of face to face, hands on practical training.  However with the move to nationally accredited training and the introduction of the Public Safety Training Package  in the late 1990’s (as well as changes in community expectations, legal pressures and changing technologies) there has become an increase in written training materials, pre-course work, self-directed learning and online training. While creating opportunities for flexible learning, this increasingly raises the issue of Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN).

If you accept that the members of our emergency services are a representation of the Australian community they serve, then it is possible that 13.7% of the members have literacy levels of 1 or lower (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). This figure is consistent with other research into volunteer emergency services, which found that of those surveyed, 15% indicated that literacy was an issue for them. The sector is increasingly facing LLN challenges due to the diverse nature of our workforce.

The History


Despite there being Government policies and programs for decades, many expert groups have felt LLN skill development has not been given the value, funding or attention it deserves.  More specifically,  programs that have been developed are fragmented, contradictory and contain ad hoc strategies.

After 20 years of no new policy, 2012 saw the long-expected release of the National Foundation Skills Strategy (NFSS) which introduced a change in LLN terminology – no longer being referred to as LLN skills but as Foundation Skills – which was defined as a combination of English language, literacy, numeracy and employability skills. The introduction of this strategy and the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), has seen qualifications for trainers and assessors updated to focus more on meeting the needs of adult literacy and numeracy needs. This was acheived through the inclusion of an additional compulsory competency (currently TAELLN411).

Actions Taken

This competency has been rolled out to many members of the Emergency Services (specifically those required to hold the Cert IV in Training and Education) however for many more mentors, or trainers who hold only the Enterprise Trainer and Assessor skill sets, this professional development may have passed them by.

More recently, most emergency service organisations have introduced documentation of the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) levels into their training and assessment material to assist with identifying the necessary levels needed to undertake the training/assessment. Whilst some changes have been made within training materials to better reflect these levels a lot of training and assessment tasks still involve the completion of large amounts of reading, and tests such as multiple choice or written questions.

Generally all necessary documentation used by trainers, assessors and learners now includes a statement about how learners who require extra support can access this. Information is also included in learner/student handbooks if produced by the organisation. This in part links to requirements for maintaining RTO compliance.

With regards to online learning, organisations have started including the use of voice over, video support and a better percentage of animation/graphics to text to reduce literacy load of content – however online learning also presents an increased issue of digital literacy issues.

Many individual trainers and assessors within organisations have used various strategies informally to meet the learner requirements  – including the provision of practical, hands-on training, reader and writer support and spending additional time on written material where required.

Some organisations have introduced foundation skills testing as part of the recruitment process to identify learner issues that may require support – or to ensure learners hold the minimum required levels for their roles prior to being offered a position. This strategy has proved more challenging (logistically, financially and ethically) for the volunteer emergency services than services employing full time members.

Some organisations are beginning to introduce policy and guidelines to provide specific or practical suggestions to support trainers and assessors, or have identified “specialist” support personnel within the organisation that can be contacted for further guidance.

There is no doubt that emergency service organisations know that these issues exist – however without some clear cut, more recent data everyone is using best guesses to determine exactly how much of an issue our sector may have. With so many other competing demands, it’s also unsurprising that budget and time to develop support strategies and documentation for LLN/Foundation Skills is not a top priority.

Moving Forwards

So for those of us who are face to face with the learners who require extra support, what options do you have if you feel that organisationally the whole LLN/Foundation Skills thing is a bit wishy washy? Or that what is provided isn’t enough to meet the needs you have?

  • Contact someone – on a case by case basis, talk to your L&D Officer, your state level L&D Section or your identified LLN specialist in the organisation. Get some specific advice and help.
  • Look outside the organisation – within our sector another organisation may have some information that can help you out, such as guidelines or strategies that they suggest work for the type of training we all do.
  • Look outside the sector – there is a HEAP of specialist websites and organisations designed to support learners with needs and give suggestions for trainers and assessors who are working with them.
  • Encourage the individual learner to seek support and development – they can contact the Reading/Writing Hotline, or take a basic course at TAFE designed to develop adult literacy and numeracy skills.  This could be a chance to improve not just their participation in your training, but a chance to improve their future learning and opportunities in life.
  • Do some Professional Development for your own benefit – even if your organisation isn’t offering anything in this area at the moment, it doesn’t need to stop you!

Check out these suggestions:


This blog post comes thanks to the research and writing contributions
of Natalie Cassone