Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Importance Of Digital Literacy

 A guest post by Lindsey Wright:

Knowing how to read, write, and do arithmetic is certainly important. However, in the 21st century it is going to be just as important in conventional and online education to be literate with technology as well. Not only is it already difficult to find a job without basic computer and technological skills, but it is going to be hard to learn without them as well.

Computers and other digital technologies have become such a basic part of our lives that we frequently take them for granted. Do you remember the days when you wrote a letter instead of an e-mail, or actually used a phone to talk to someone instead of sending text messages, or looked something up in an encyclopedia rather than accessing the Internet? These technologies are so integrated into our lives that not knowing how to use them will leave you very far behind.

Think about how much we use technology to learn and perform even basic tasks. Instead of reading a paper book, most books can be accessed electronically. Instead of writing out an assignment, it's typed on a computer. Shared interest groups often don't meet face to face, but use social media to connect and share information. Being literate in these new technologies isn't just going to hold you back in school, it will hold you back in life.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, computer literacy can be connected to the ability to read and write. A 2010 study commissioned by the FCC found those who weren't literate offline were not digitally literate either. In response, the Digital Broadband Plan was created to offer digital literacy training to those who couldn't use the Internet due to lower levels of education. The fact that those who struggle to function on a digital level tend to have lower levels of education lends credence to the idea of the Internet both as a way for people to network and learn new things, but also as a potential barrier to further educational opportunities.

What is the impact of digital literacy beyond school? Finding work can be hard because not only will the digitally illiterate not have critical skills employers want, they're also potentially limited by inability to use social media to network and find jobs. At a very basic level, most job applications are now submitted online without ever using a piece of paper. Not knowing how to use a computer severely limits your ability to find work.

The MacArthur Institute did a study that took the implications of digital literacy one step further and talked about how it can influence social and cultural values as well. The conclusion was that while learning based on interacting with others allows people to socialize and develop in new ways, those new ways are still effective. Forms of education are changing, but the lessons learned are still be the same.

Being digitally illiterate is not an option. There are too many educational, social, and professional issues that come with not knowing how to use technology. Everything has gone digital and it is becoming such a basic part of our lives that it is going to hold you back in life if you are not able to use modern technology. Perhaps most importantly, ability to use technology is a critical prerequisite for understanding information communicated through that technology, and as such constitutes one of the keys to 21st century learning.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

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