CM: The Importance of Digital Literacy
By Laureen Guldbrandsen, Digital Literacy Coordinator, PALS
Digital Literacy is more than just the knowledge about and ability to use the technology available right now. It is also about building the confidence to adapt as technology inevitably changes. (1) It includes being able to turn on your computer, access your emails, and use the latest operating system without too many problems.
While digital literacy is something we’ve addressed before, COVID-19 highlighted the necessity it is. People scrambled to work remotely, learn (or help their children learn) online, search for new jobs, improve their employable and personal skills, and connect with friends and family. (2)
There are many benefits associated with improved digital literacy:
1. Social Inclusion
In a progressively digital age, more people are looking to connect online through the use of technology, like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc. New digitized community support platforms are readily available to older adults, individuals in rural areas, individuals with disabilities, minority langauge speakers, etc. (3)
2. Critical Thinking
With access to the internet, individuals learn where and how to search online to do their own research. Individuals are learning how to use the Internet to learn new skills, languages, and hobbies.
3. Employment Opportunities
Many jobs only accept online applications and require a basic understanding of digital skills in order for employees to carry out tasks. As well we have seen an increase in the many remote job opportunities that are now available.
4. Quality of Life
Digital literacy allows the use of modern technology to make our lives easier — telehealth, accessing health records and requisitions, transportation, digital finance and others – meaning you must have foundational digital skills. Being able to access information and services with ease is a key component to living a good life.
Challenges in Digital Literacy
While there are many benefits to digital literacy, there are also many challenges in this area. Technology is constantly changing, and as a result the bar for what we consider “basic” skills is constantly being raised. This means that those who do not have the foundational skills are left behind. In addition, changing technology means new terminology may be used. If there is a lack of access to digital literacy education or the learner does not have access to the digital tools to practice, then we again will see many challenges.
Intersectionality is a Compounded Challenge in Digital Literacy
When someone’s life is already impacted due to ethnicity, age, gender, economic status, or language barriers—including low-literacy—there is an intersection in how the individual is affected and existing inequalities are exacerbated. Intersectionality can be seen in various ways, (4) but the most common intersections with low-digital literacy skills include the following:
- Low-income individuals
- English Language Learners
- Persons with low literacy skills
- Health -mental, physical, differing abilities, et al.
How Project Adult Literacy Society Can Help
PALS helps adult learners improve their reading, writing, math, and basic digital skills. We offer our services free of charge, thanks to volunteer tutors, on a flexible schedule to meet service users’ needs.
In the digital literacy program, learners decide what they want to learn and work on the skills they feel they need to improve. The flexibility in what they choose to work on means that learners are improving the skills they need and are most interested in; often these skills are not what we assume they need. This ensures that learners are an active and engaged part of their learning.
Learners are matched with tutors for one-to-one tutoring or may attend digital literacy classes which feature lessons on how to turn on and navigate basic computer usage up to learning how to use Microsoft Office to create recipes, resumes, and more.
Digital literacy is no longer a luxury, it is a fundamental human right. As technology changes, access to the right tools and knowledge is essential. Help an adult gain the skill they need and volunteer as a digital literacy tutor. More information is available on our website at palsedmonton.ca.
Note: This is an excerpt from our March 2023 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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(1) ABC Life Literacy Canada. (2023). What is Digital Literacy? | abclifeliteracy.ca. Retrieved from abclifeliteracy.ca: https://abclifeliteracy.ca/digital-literacy/
(2) Taurines, L. (2020, September 8). Digital Literacy in the times of COVID | Capgemini. Retrieved from Capgemini: https://www.capgemini.com/insights/expert-perspectives/digital-literacy-in-the-times-of-covid/
(3) Association for Progressive Communications. (2017, March 22). Bridging the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective: APC submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | Association for Progressive Communications. Retrieved from Association for Progressive Communications: https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/bridging-gender-digital-divide-human-rights-perspective-apc-submission-office-high-commissioner
(4) Association for Progressive Communications. (2020, February 24). Inside the Digital Society: Digital inclusion and social inclusion | Association for Progressive Communications. Retrieved from Association for Progressive Communications: https://www.apc.org/en/blog/inside-digital-society-digital-inclusion-and-social-inclusion