The world is now more connected than ever before. The social networking website Facebook.com recently boasted of having over one billion active members. There are now more than six billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and it is estimated that over 144 billion e-mails are sent every day. Increasingly, our personal, government, education and business environments are becoming more technology-intensive.
Today, the issue of digital literacy stands out as a major differentiator of success at the individual, corporate and national level.
Digital literacy can be defined broadly as the capability to use digital technology and the knowledge of when and how to apply it. For example, digital literacy includes the skills necessary to undertake research, planning, decision making and content development using information technology tools and systems. Digital literacy in essence enables us to utilise technology to interact with the world.
Digital literacy, empowers individuals and organisations alike. In fact, digital literacy should be viewed as an essential skill and fundamental to individual, organisational and national success. We are routinely required to interface with technology in almost every dimension of life. From using a mobile phone to browsing the Internet, negotiating life in this technology-enabled world is increasingly dependent on the extent to which individuals can access, understand and leverage technology in their chosen fields.
Increasing digital literacy is important because information, services and even social interactions are now commonly made available through digital media and other technology enabled means. Our ability to understand and confidently use digital media and services is therefore an important prerequisite to effective participation in modern society and in the growing digital economy.
Conversely, development of the digital economy will be constrained if citizens and organisations are limited in their ability to participate because they lack understanding, appropriate competencies or confidence. Of course, those unable to fully participate will also likely be excluded from the benefits of the digital age.
Given the implications for productivity and competitiveness improving digital literacy should be a major priority for organisations and governments. According a recent CA Technologies study, more than 80 per cent of technology executives felt that lower digital literacy among senior executives is hampering business growth.
Technology executives fear senior-level digital illiteracy is leading to missed opportunities, lower enthusiasm from markets, poor competitiveness and slower time to market for businesses.
According to the CA survey, a quarter of chief information officers (CIOs) said their senior executives did not understand the impact of new and emerging technologies, and 37 per cent of CIOs said their executives believe their business does not use IT to grow the business to the extent that it should.
Almost a third said the senior management team sees information technology as a cost of doing business, rather than viewing it as a means through which to grow the organization and introduce greater agility, efficiency and competitiveness.
Given this disconnect, it is not surprising that only fifty percent of senior technology officers are involved in the strategic decision making process, impeding the digital strategic thinking of the senior leadership team.
These statistics reveal that leaders in both the public and private sector do not always make the connection that the value from IT comes from the ability to assimilate and exploit information and not from technology per se. Left unchecked, low digital literacy or outright digital illiteracy at senior levels of the public service, government, academia and private enterprise can have a profoundly negative effect on national development.
Megan Poore, an assistant professor at the University of Canberra, stated the challenge thus:
“We will not be able to achieve a liberating, collective intelligence until we can achieve a collective digital literacy, and we have now, more than ever, perhaps, the opportunity and the technologies to assist us in the human project of shaping, creating, authoring and developing ourselves as the formers of our own culture. To this end, we must create the conditions for people to become wise in their own way.”
Basic education once required us to teach our children to read and write and to teach manners and the difference between right and wrong. Now our students, at every level, must be taught the skills necessary to master our new digital existence. Holistic approaches to promoting and developing digital literacies will be key. Organisations can design programs to develop digital literacies for executive and for staff.
Educational institutions have to develop initiatives for building digital literacy competencies in educators and students.
Increasing digital literacy is not just a nice concept, it’s a national imperative. It is central to expanding our economic options and improving our global competitiveness.
Digital literacy needs to be diffused across the full learning spectrum—in schools and within organisations. Ultimately, everybody needs to comprehend how technology can empower them and create opportunities to participate in the digital economy. Digital literacy is not only key to success in the information age, it essential for survival.
Digital literacy checklist
Digitally literate individuals should:
1. possess the basic skills necessary to access and utilise various digital technologies and services;
2. participate confidently in the services provided by digital technologies;
3. exercise informed choices in digital media and electronic communications environments;
4. have an adequate level of knowledge and competency to be able to protect themselves, their social and their work environment from unwanted, inappropriate or unsafe content.
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-focused not-for-profit delivering values-based technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops. He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN.
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