Being digitally savvy in a digital world

By Wayne Kelly

February 26, 2018

In today’s digital world, having access to the right technology is just the first step in being able to reap the benefits of our digital society. Once you have the technology, the next essential question is: Do you know how to use it?

For individuals, businesses and communities alike, having the ability to use the technology and knowing when to use it is an essential part of the digital solution. This general ability to use digital technologies and to adapt to the changing digital landscape is often referred to as digital literacy.

Scholars, research centres and policy organizations agree on the importance of digital literacy and the fact that it is more than just the ability to use technology. While there is no one standard definition for the nuts and bolts of digital literacy — there are some common and shared concepts in recently developed digital literacy frameworks.

Image from Pixabay

Digital Literacy Resources

Three digital skill/literacy frameworks have been selected to provide a range of current perspectives and to showcase the common elements between them in regards to digital skills. These three frameworks were developed by:

(1) Leading scholars in Internet skill assessment,

(2) A prominent research institute in Canada that is examining the changing digital economy and society, and

(3) A not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing digital and media literacy in Canadian youth.

Leading scholars in Internet skill assessment

Alexander Van Deursen from the University of Twente and Ellen Helsper of the London School of Economics evolved literature and their previous research to develop and test a framework for Internet skills. Below are the 5 skill areas they identified as critical for Internet and digital skills, further detail and factors related to the 5 skills can be found in their research article:

i. Operational skills- the skills to operate digital media

ii. Information & Navigation skills — searching, selecting and evaluating information in digital media

iii. Social skills — understanding which information should and shouldn’t be shared online and the best way to manage that information on social platforms

iv. Creative skills — how to create digital content and websites for online consumption

v. Mobile skills — how to manage and maintain the functionality and apps of a mobile device

Image from Pixabay

Research Institute in Canada

The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, located within Ryerson University, undertook a literature review in 2017 to understand the context of digital literacy within Canada. Focusing on digital skills for the labour market, the report proposed a framework to help understand digital literacy which onsite on three distinct components:

i. Technical skills — this includes everything on the spectrum of using digital technologies to creating content and coding

ii. Cognitive skills — the ability to understand digital technologies, being able to evaluate and process information and adapt to new technologies and approaches as they emerge

iii. Critical thinking skills — the ability to understand the relationship between digital practices, power and sociocultural contexts

Interestingly, the framework proposed is based on the technical skills building on top of the cognitive and critical thinking skills, progressing from general workforce digital skills to sector-specific professional digital skills.

Youth Digital Literacy Not-for-Profit

MediaSmarts is a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital media and literacy that is focused on providing leadership on digital literacy through the development of resources and research.

Their digital literacy contribution stems from the Canada-wide survey of youth that the organization conducted in 2013 to understand the role of digital technologies in young people’s lives. Based on this survey along with other research, project work and feedback MediaSmarts identifies a digital literacy model based on three main principles:

i. Use — the technical abilities needed to engage with computers, digital devices and the Internet.

ii. Understand — the critical piece and set of skills that help digital technology users comprehend, contextualize and critically evaluate digital media in regards to online information, encounters and actions.

iii. Create — this is the ability to produce and communicate content through a variety of digital mediums. This principle goes beyond one-way production of content and includes the ability to engage via social media tools and platforms.


There are common elements and overlapping concepts in each the three frameworks provided here. While the terms used differ and the frameworks go into different depths of detail, all three of the frameworks have similar groups of skills and knowledge.

These commonalities provide insights into some of the essential characteristics of digital literacy in our current digital society:

Each framework identifies technical skills as separate and essential component — one framework identifies that digital skill knowledge should progress from common digital skills to professional digital skills to sector specific digital skills.

Each framework emphasizes the importance of contextual and cognitive critical thinking skills that are equally or even more important than the technical skills for digital literacy.

All of the frameworks stress the ability to understand digital safety and responsible behaviour.

Two of the frameworks establish creative skills as a separate set of skills that needs to be emphasized and developed.

Image from Pixabay

Understanding that while these are not the only digital literacy frameworks developed and may not be the ideal resource for your field, sector or geographic location, together these frameworks do provide a current perspective and understanding on digital literacy in today’s society.

These frameworks also reveal that the question “Do you know how to use it?” is only one part of being a digitally literate and that additional skills and knowledge are needed for individuals to have the ability to make the most effective use of the digital technologies in our society.

Read about the Manitoba Rural Broadband project here.