Teaching Digital Literacy Skills: The Classroom, the Workplace, and the Community

Published: May 24, 2017 - 9:00am EDT

Work collaboration at a desk

Teaching digital literacy is extremely important in our current era. Digital and technological skills are now a main component of everyday life for many; these skills are used every day in the home, schools, the workplace, and the community. If you’re an instructor and recognize the need for teaching digital literacy, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between teaching these skills in the classroom environment, teaching them to improve job performance, and teaching to help the community. We’ve also got a great list of basic skills that should be included in your lessons for each category, along with explanations for why said skills are important. To learn more, read on!

Why teach digital literacy skills?

Teaching digital literacy skills is important because these skills are quickly becoming necessary in order to be successful in the modern world. As such, we must collectively work to help foster equal access to digital technologies for everyone, allowing them equal opportunities to participate as digital citizens.

Digital skills are taught in classrooms to prepare youth for working life, in the workplace to help adults adapt to changing technological conditions, and in the community to help citizens improve the lives of themselves and each other. There are many skills you can teach at any of these levels, and many of them will be somewhat understood by your students before you begin your lessons. But there are also certain topics you should focus on to make sure your learners have a thorough understanding of them. We'll list some of them below, as well as tips on how to teach them effectively.

Teaching digital literacy in the classroom

Childen looking at a computer monitor

Basic skills to teach:

Online safety and privacy

No matter what lessons you teach in the classroom, none will be as valuable as teaching how to stay safe and private online – preferably as early as possible. For your students, learning how to keep themselves safe and protect their privacy online is of the utmost importance when they begin using the Internet.  There are many things out there on the Internet that can do them harm if they aren’t informed about how to counter them.

Recognizing dangers

The ability of your students to recognize what could do them harm on the Internet, or from the digital services they use, is also very important.  They can’t protect themselves if they don’t understand how to recognize when something on the Internet might pose a threat to them.

Safe communication

Gaining digital skills opens up many new avenues for online communication. However, making sure this communication is safe is also very important. Make sure that your students know if their messages are protected, encrypted, and secured before agreeing to use any kind of messaging service or communication platform.

Recognizing ads directed at children

There are millions of advertisements on the Internet directed specifically at children. Some can be scams, covers for viruses or other malicious programs, or other ways of tricking the child into doing something without their guardian’s approval. Children get online at earlier and earlier ages, and so it's very important that they understand when a media message is specifically targeting them.

A great tool to help children learn about this is Media Smarts, which has an interactive game to teach children how to recognize targeted advertising. It also has a great article for parents and instructors to learn more about how online marketing targets children.

Parental consent

Children need to learn about how many websites and services they use would require their parent to consent to their use before they begin using them. The earlier this is learned, the safer children will be while online in general.

Internet etiquette

Internet etiquette (or 'netiquette', for short) is a set of guidelines for how to properly interact with others while online. Without learning the importance of treating others with respect online, some children may take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to bully or harass others. Conversely, other children may struggle to deal with these kinds of online attacks.

Establishing the proper ways to interact with others online should be taught to children before they begin to use Internet communication tools, such as social media websites, mobile messaging apps, or video conferencing software. It's important that they know how to respectfully deal with other people on the Internet, whether those people are friends from school or strangers from halfway around the world.

What is different about teaching young students?

When you’re teaching children at the elementary school level, they will have varying levels of ability. Some will have had no exposure to technology due to a variety of factors, while others will have grown up with the constant presence of technology in their homes. Managing such an environment can be difficult, especially because some students won’t have the means to practice and hone their skills when they leave the classroom, while others will.

Though some children will have basic skills, they may lack an understanding of many of the safety-related concepts we’ve listed above. Their skills must be learned in conjunction with these important concepts to ensure the lifelong online safety of these young learners.

Teaching digital literacy in the workplace

Woman using a cell phone and laptop at her desk

Basic skills to teach:

Online professionalism

It's important for employees of any business to know how to navigate through digital space, but it's also important for them to know how to separate their personal and business lives – on the Internet more than anywhere else.  Though this can be challenging, you can help by researching the best ways to integrate technology into your workspace while still keeping it professional.

Maintaining company reputation

It’s also important to teach employees how to act appropriately in the digital world. Even something as simple as an email is a reflection of the company, and it's important for your employees to understand that. Make sure that they understand that the impact of what they publicly say and do online can be every bit as significant to maintaining their company's reputation as their actions in real life.

Securing, accessing, and sharing company data

How your company data is stored is something that should be explained to all employees. They need to fully understand how to protect and secure your company's sensitive information in order to prevent any loss of data. It’s also important that your employees understand when it is appropriate to share data, and when information needs to only be disseminated to those involved with the company.

Online collaboration with colleagues

Learning how to function in the digital space as part of a team is a key component of many workplaces now. Fortunately, there are many ways colleagues can work with one another over the Internet on the same ongoing projects for as long as they need to. Some popular services you can make use of to help this process include:

  • Dropbox – Dropbox is a file-storage service that allows you to create any organizational system you want, shared between the Internet and your own devices. You can save and edit files that you or your colleagues have shared, see what files have recently been changed (and by whom), and even restore old versions of files if you lose something!
     
  • Google Drive – Google Drive is a file-storage service similar to Dropbox, but it is even more conducive to workplace collaboration.  Multiple users can work on a file at the same time, and see changes being made to the file in real time. Google Drive also works in conjunction with Google Docs and other Google products, so you can easily create new files right within your storage platform.
     
  • Evernote – Evernote is an all-in-one service that combines organization, note-taking, digital storage, and collaboration functions. It's a great way to work on projects together with colleagues, since you can all work from the same account, storing all the documents and files you need in one place.
     
  • Trello – Trello is a task-management service that allows you to clearly outline, sort, and track the progress of tasks for your entire team. You can set due dates for jobs, attach files necessary for working on a task, leave comments to help other employees working on the job, and more. It’s one of the easiest ways to keep track of all the tasks you need to get done!

5 reasons to teach digital literacy to your employees

  1. Increase the presence of your company – Getting your company online and creating an online presence can significantly increase the number of people who are simply aware of what you do.
     
  2. Makes employees more efficient – Even if your employees have basic digital skills, there may be skills you can teach them to increase their productivity. Try monitoring how long certain tasks take for your employees to finish, and then think of things they could do (or services they could use) to help streamline their processes.
     
  3. Streamline processes of the company – Teaching digital skills simply makes many job functions easier, faster, and more efficient.
     
  4. Improve overall job performance with useful sites and tools – Like the great services we mentioned above, there are many websites and apps that can help improve job performance, speed of task completion, management style and effectiveness, and so on.
     
  5. Digital awareness can bring new ideas and improve the company – If your employees start learning new digital skills, they may be more inclined to keep up with digital trends and continue learning. In turn, they will bring these new ideas back to the company, which could help to improve the way you do things.

Teaching digital literacy in the community

Using a laptop in a remote village

Basic skills to teach:

Equal access and opportunity

Though your community members will undoubtedly have varying levels of digital literacy skills, you should still promote equal access to – and opportunity with – digital technologies, all the same. Many people simply don’t have access to digital technologies and the Internet in their homes for various reasons, such as not being geographically close to Internet infrastructure, lacking disposable income, and so forth.

It’s important that any digital literacy program you run acknowledges gaps in access to digital technology and works to remedy them. It’s also important to teach that those who haven’t had the opportunity to grow up with technology are still perfectly capable of learning, given the right resources and a little bit of motivation.

Community engagement and improvement

Teaching digital literacy can have a great impact on your community. Spreading knowledge of digital skills can help any community advance initiatives and rally support for causes. It can also just generally help to give community members a sense of unity by increasing the number of ways that they can connect.

Improve lives of community members

There are many ways that people in your community can improve their lives by learning technological skills. Their experiences at home, work, and school can be enhanced in many of the ways we’ve already talked about! Plus, your community as a whole can learn how to better communicate, work together, and make use of both new and existing resources.

Community engagement initiatives: how to improve your community using technology

Many programs and initiatives already exist that aim to improve communities through teaching digital literacy. Whether you’re looking to join an existing technology training group or want some inspiration to organize your own, there are many institutions that you can consider.

Check out some of our favorite programs below:

DigitalLiteracy.gov
This initiative helps provide resources for digital literacy instructors in the United States in order to help them improve their teaching methods. There are many partners groups supporting this program, including the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and many more.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA)
One of the leading digital literacy organizations, the NDIA aims to bring equal opportunities for access to – and competence with – digital technologies to everyone. They aim to actually change policies to help those who currently don’t have the means to learn, due to factors such as financial austerity or the current lack of resources in an area.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ConnectHome Initiative
A combined effort of government departments, community leaders, and interested private sector groups, the ConnectHome Initiative aims to bring affordable, high-speed Internet into the homes of low-income families across the United States.

DigitalUnite.com
Digital Unite works in the U.K. to help train and support those who advocate for digital literacy. They do so by helping to make hundreds of online e-Learning topics, lessons, and more easily available to instructors for free! They even have their own network of tutors who can come to your home and assist with learning digital skills.

 

That’s our advice on teaching digital literacy skills in your community, in the workplace, or in a classroom. Remember, digital education is important for all, as is developing an effective program for delivering your material. If you want some pointers, check out our article on how to create an amazing digital literacy program.

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