The Ultimate Guide to Digital Literacy

Published: May 31, 2017 - 9:13am EDT

Reading glasses on a stack of books

Digital literacy is a very popular concept right now. But what does it mean? How do you improve your own digital literacy skills, and how do you go about teaching digital literacy skills to others? In an ever-changing world where technology dominates many aspects of our schools, workplaces, and governing institutions, it’s so important to make sure we keep up with digital trends, and hone our skills so we can keep up with the modern world.

In this ultimate guide, we’re going to give you a complete breakdown of digital literacy, including:

  • what it is
  • how it can improve your life
  • how to work on your skills
  • resources you can make use of
  • how to create your own digital literacy program
  • what the digital divide is
  • a great list of articles you can read if we don’t completely satisfy your thirst for knowledge!

Let’s get started with some basics.

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy is the ability to comprehend digital technology and devices, like the Internet. By learning basic digital skills, one can easily navigate through the world of technology with minimal assistance. Those with digital literacy can easily make use of new technologies as a part of their daily lives.

Tablet and Mac computer

Digital literacy skills are extremely important to acquire and continuously work on in the modern world. Their significance cannot be understated; many jobs now require at least basic digital skills, even for minor things such as accessing the employee schedule or pay stubs online. Many of the best available services today also require an email address to sign up for, meaning you need to understand basic forms of online communication.

It’s clear why we need to possess digital literacy skills, and why they are so important. But if you haven’t had a lot of exposure to technology, or lack the means to access it on a regular basis, how do you acquire these skills? More importantly, will working to improve your digital literacy even be worth it?

Actually, there are very simple ways digital literacy can improve your life. So if you put in a little effort, you will see results right away!

13 simple ways digital literacy can improve your life

  1. Access more communication options, more frequently
  2. More easily access information and knowledge on a global scale
  3. Increase your online social presence
  4. Find easier ways to meet new people
  5. Save time completing tasks and errands online
  6. Save money by shopping online
  7. Book travel more easily, and see real-person reviews of venues before you book
  8. Learn how to better protect your safety and privacy
  9. Learn better ways to find a job, and increase your job opportunities
  10. Find endless entertainment online, including streaming movies and television
  11. Organize your life and increase your productivity
  12. Get real-time updates on things like sports, weather, news, and more
  13. Help teach others, and close the digital divide!

There are so many more ways that being digitally literate can help you out, beyond the ones we've listed here. If you want to learn more, check out our article about the importance of digital literacy, which goes into more detail about how it can improve your life.

How can I improve my digital literacy?

Improving your own skills is important for fulfilling many roles in your life: in the workplace, in schools, as a teacher, and in your daily life – as an everyday citizen. Here are 6 simple things you can do to start improving your own skills, and start working to improve your life

Man using a tablet

6 steps to take to improve your digital literacy

1. Take free online courses and lessons.

If you’re just beginning to learn new digital skills, one of the best places to start is with online courses, lessons, or modules. These will often help you develop concrete proficiencies, whether those are basic computer/Internet/mobile device skills, or perhaps some advanced digital aptitudes. We’ve got a great list of resources for you below if you’re looking for a great website for this, but this is a great first step you can take to improve your skills.

Many websites that provide these resources, like our website TechBoomers.com, have step-by-step instructions, images, videos, activities, and even interactive games to help you learn better. Typically, you progress through one lesson on a specific topic, and then complete some kind of assessment at the end to test your skills and reflect on what you’ve learned.

2. Improve your methods of digital communication.

Learning how to communicate with others online is a key skill, and it's one of the first skills people often learn when they get online. This is a great way to improve your life by allowing you to learn new and better ways to communicate with your friends and family over the Internet (often for free!). However, it can also really help increase your opportunities with things like finding a job, or connecting with other people you might not normally have met otherwise.

Start out by signing up for an email service to have your own email address. This will allow you to sign up for many other services on websites and apps. A relevant example would be online video conferencing services like Skype, which allow you to use the Internet to video chat with your loved ones.

3.Increase your online presence and ability to interact with others.

Learning how to use various digital communication methods will help you get yourself out there online. And by doing this, you gain the ability to connect with others on a much larger scale. Try signing up for a popular social media network to see what it is like to have a digital presence. You’ll learn a lot about how interacting with others in the digital sphere can affect your life outside of the Internet, and you’ll be able to keep up with all of the updates of those you know and connect with online.

4. Make an effort to use technology more.

As soon as you begin learning new skills, it's important to make an effort to start integrating technology into your daily life. This will let you practice your skills, forming the foundation for taking them to the next level. Think about some simple ways you can bring more technology into your life, such as taking 20 minutes a day to surf the web, or signing up for some new online services.

5. Practice your skills over time, and teach them to others.

You wouldn’t want your newly-gained skills to be wasted or forgotten! It’s important to keep using your abilities as often as possible, and keep learning as you go. It’s impossible to learn it all when it comes to digital technology and the Internet, because it changes at such an alarming rate. The best you can do to try and keep up with it all is to continue honing your skills, and never lose your desire to learn.

Another great way to keep your skills sharp is to try teaching them to others. Even if you’re not an instructor, you can teach your friends and family about the things you learn, like how to use the services and great websites you’ve found useful in your own life. Teaching also helps you gain a much deeper understanding of what you know, because you’re required to understand something more clearly when you’re forced to explain it to someone else.

6. Make use of online digital literacy resources.

In addition to the types of resources we mentioned above, there are many other great resources online about how to use popular websites and apps, as well as how to do various tasks on your computer or device. There are also lots of other informative articles about various digital literacy topics, written by authorities on the subject from all over the world. They should be easy enough to find with a simple Internet search, but if you're really stuck as to where to start, you can check out our list below of great resources to start making use of.

Digital literacy resources you need to start using

Course-style websites

Course on how to use a computer

TechBoomers.com – Over 100 free courses on popular websites, apps, and devices
Our website, TechBoomers, is a great resource with course-style articles with information on the most popular websites, apps, devices, and other digital literacy topics. You can learn how to use the best sites, with step-by-step tutorials (with pictures!) that help you become a pro. You can use the courses for your own learning, or to teach others!

GCFLearnFree.org – Free online learning
GCFLearnFree is a website with hundreds of online tutorials that can help you learn basic skills. These include how computers and the Internet work, how to type on a keyboard, how to navigate a graphical interface with a mouse, how to use Microsoft Office productivity software, and much more. If you need tips on some basic elements of using computers and popular websites, check this site out today.

Intel Education – The basics components of computers and how they work
The creators of some of the world’s best processors have put together introductory modules on a wide variety of digital technology topics. You'll learn about computers and operating systems, word processors, multimedia, how the Internet works, and more! If you’re new to computers in general, this is a great starting point.

LearnMyWay – Introductory modules for making good use of the Internet
LearnMyWay has helpful lessons that are very useful for teaching you about how Internet usage can really improve your life. Choose from topics including “Online safety,” “Using your computer or device,” “Managing your money online,” or “Finding a job online.”

Games and interactive tools

Interactive digital literacy game for children

Media Smarts – Digital literacy games for children
Media Smarts has many online educational games that teach lessons about the digital space, primarily to children. These include how to recognize websites targeting children, how to understand privacy policies and how they work, and more. Media Smarts is a non-profit charitable organization, and a great source of information for children about Internet usage.

The Carnegie Cyber Academy – Learn how to defeat “cyber villains”
This is a great online educational game for children, with amazing animation and even better lessons about the Internet. This game is particularly focused on Internet safety, highlighting the potential dangers that the Internet poses. Earn badges as you complete tasks, and learn how to apply your newly-learned skills to real websites.

ByteBack – Keyboard typing tutorial
This is an easy-to-use typing tutorial that teaches you how to type efficiently on a keyboard. It starts with the fundamentals of using a keyboard, and then introduces lessons aimed at increasing your typing accuracy and speed. After each lesson, you get a run-down of how you performed, so you can keep working to improve in the future.

Digital literacy communities

DigitalLiteracy.gov homepage

DigitalLiteracy.gov
This community is a portal that aims to teach digital skills through job training and community initiatives. The content is well-organized, easy to access, and supported by many U.S. government branches: Health and Human Services; Education; Commerce, Energy, and Labor; and more!

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA)
The NDIA is a great organization that promotes the advancement of digital inclusion for all.  They believe that digital technologies and communications should be readily available to all, so they work to change current policies that don’t allow for equal opportunity to use digital technologies.

TechSoup.org
TechSoup works to provide information to everyone around the world who teaches digital literacy. In addition, they offer their members discounted devices, software and hardware, in-person training, and digital training services. Their organization may be able to help you with any of your own personal initiatives.

Training resources for developing your own curriculum

Digital literacy curriculum example

Common Sense Education – Guides, lessons, toolkits, and helpful tips
This is a great organization with amazing resources for instructors that demonstrate proven teaching strategies, resources for professional development, interactive lessons and games for students, and so much more. If you’re an instructor looking to teach digital skills, try starting here.

South West Grid for Learning – Digital literacy curriculum for K-12 instruction
If you’re teaching at the elementary school level, this comprehensive curriculum addressing topics through every year of education will be a great resource for you. It contains dozens of online lessons about topics like online safety and privacy, sending emails, understanding how to follow your digital trail, cyber-bulling, and more.

JISC Digital Literacy Organizational Review – A single lesson to reflect on digital literacy
This stand-alone lesson is a much better starting point for inspiration if you’re instructing adults. It contains an ordered lesson with ice breakers for the group, forms for them to fill out while you ask questions, and more. This lesson best used for an introductory lesson for adults unfamiliar with digital literacy.

DigitalLearn.org – Online courses you can use for free
DigitalLearn is a great online resource with free courses you can use to learn about how to use computers, email, search engines, and other computer basics. However, with a partnership, you can use these courses to develop your own curriculum, or even feature the courses in whole on your own website. For more information, see how the Nashville Public Library made use of this great opportunity.

Cyber-Seniors – Helping seniors navigate the online world
Cyber-Seniors began as a high school project where teenagers mentored senior, and helped them enter cyberspace, and begin learning how to use technology. It has now grown, and can even help you start your own Cyber-Seniors program, and help spread knowledge to seniors in your area.

For more details on these resources, as well as even more that you can make use of, check out our amazing article on 32 digital literacy resources you need to start using today! Some of these resources such as TechBoomers or GCFLearnFree can be used for creating your own curriculum under Creative Commons License.

How do I create my own digital literacy curriculum?

Depending on who you are instructing, the answer to this question can be very different. We have some tips below specific to children and seniors, but no matter who you’re teaching, there are some simple steps you can follow to go about beginning to create your own curriculum.

Classroom

To create a digital literacy curriculum, make sure to identify your audience first. This will help you develop your lessons to target them. Then, you need to decide how long your individual sessions will be, as well as how long the course will be in general. That will help you determine how to time your lessons.

Once you have these considerations worked out, you can start thinking about different topics to organize your lessons by. Should you divide them up by time, theme, device, website, or specific skill? Our advice is always to begin with something more basic, and then work from there. Develop the basic computer and Internet skills required to do more advanced things in the future, and have your students repeatedly practice these basic skills over time.

Next, you’ll need to find some resources to help inspire you (and you can scroll back up to our lists above if you want a starting point or two). Basing your curriculum on resources that already exist can help you in a substantial way. Some websites let you use their online courses and modules in entirety for your own lessons, while others may just have great ideas or specific articles that can help you out.

Finally, make sure to write out a plan for each of your lessons. Think about setting goals for your students, in terms of what skills you’d like them to know at the end of each lesson. Once you’ve got your plan, make sure to secure an appropriate learning space for your lessons. Specifically, try to find one with access to computers and digital devices for all to use.

What makes for an effective digital literacy program?

1. Your students can demonstrate their skills during and after the lesson.

A concrete way you can see if your program is working is to see if your students are able to demonstrate the skills you have taught them. Make sure to monitor student progress during the lessons, and assist them with honing their skills. However, once they leave the classroom, those skills should still be worked on! Make sure your lessons include easy-to-remember steps that your students can take home with them and replicate.

2. You have provided the necessary resources for digital learning.

You may have the best tips for digital literacy out there, but without the proper resources available, your students won’t be able to practice their skills at home! Make sure the room you teach your lessons in has adequate devices and space for everyone, allowing you to comfortably interact with your students. This type of digital learning often requires a lot of hands-on contact, so make sure you’ve chosen a space that allows this, as was stated above.

3. You have a follow-up for lessons to help your students use their new skills.

After your lesson is over, it’s important to connect with your students, making sure they still remember everything you taught them. A great way to do this is to send a follow-up email to check in and see how they are doing after the lesson. They may take that as an opportunity to ask further questions, or even help evaluate your lessons so you can improve them in the future.

4. Your learners can create and share something concrete.

When you complete your lessons, a great task you can put forward to your students is to create and share something based on the topic of the lesson. Your students will feel an immense amount of pride seeing how their skills can be put into practice in the real world. It's also a good gauge to see how effective your teaching is.

5. Your lessons are accessible for everyone.

One final consideration is how accessible your lessons are for everyone. In a basic sense, your lessons should be clear and easy to understand. Additionally, they should be held in a space where everyone can easily see and hear you, and ask you questions if they need to. More specifically, your lessons should also accommodate those with accessibility needs.

A great way to identify what accommodations you may need to make is by privately corresponding with students prior to your lessons starting. Your students will let you know if you need to acquire any special software or devices to help those with impairments to their vision, hearing, learning, mobility, or anything else.

5 tips for teaching digital literacy to children

  1. They will likely be beginning with few or no skills, so start off with the basics.
     
  2. Many children could have grown up in homes without access to digital devices or the Internet, so their abilities won’t be as advanced as their classmates.
     
  3. Teaching online safety is extremely important, as children are particularly susceptible to online fraud and other dangers.
     
  4. Teaching safe communication is very important; emphasize that it’s important for them to only speak with people they know.
     
  5. Teaching proper online etiquette when interacting with others is very important. Highlighting how to recognize and avoid cyber-bullying is a great lesson as well!

4 tips for teaching digital literacy to seniors

  1. Many seniors are interested in learning how to incorporate technology into their daily lives for the first time. However, be aware that they can have varying levels of technical proficiency, based on life experience.
     
  2. Protecting privacy online is a very important lesson to teach.
     
  3. Providing concrete examples of how certain skills can help improve their lives is a great way to inspire them to learn more.
     
  4. It’s important to emphasize the impact their online actions have on their real life.

If you want to learn more about developing your own digital literacy curriculum, check out our article on teaching digital literacy skills. If you want to see an example of how online websites can help inspire you to create your own program, check out this great story about a Maryland library teaching digital technology to seniors.

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide is the gap created by various factors leading to a separation between those who have the ability to use technology and digital devices easily, and those who struggle to navigate them independently. In general, it’s a difference between those who know the digital world, and those who don’t.

The inequality created by the digital divide can be caused by many possible factors. These include age, lifetime exposure to technology, country of residence or origin, available disposable income, access to the Internet, and personal motivation to learn.

The digital divide is a pervasive problem in our society. As technology advances, it gets harder and harder to keep up with learning how to use new devices and applications. Luckily, we’ve got a quick list here of ways to close the digital divide.

5 ways to close the digital divide for yourself and others

People using devices in a public space

1. Learn how to use technology on your own.

The best way for you to personally start closing the digital divide is to actively learn how to use technology and digital devices – just jump right in! Get online and try starting your own social media account, or use a search engine to learn more about any topic. If you have disposable income, try buying a digital device that interests you, and dedicate some time to learning how to use it.

There are many websites out there that can help you learn how to use any technology you have! In addition, if you don’t have easy access to the Internet or a lot of disposable income, you can make use of the free computers and Internet access at your local library. Your library may even hold digital literacy seminars that you can participate in to learn more!

2. Think about your Internet access, and think of how to improve it.

If one of the reasons you’ve struggled to keep up with digital trends in the past is because of your lack of Internet access, try thinking of ways to improve it. This doesn’t necessarily require you to spend money, either! You may be able to make use of free public Wi-Fi hubs, depending on where you live. These "hotspots" are now available in public spaces in many major cities, such as coffee shops and popular chain restaurants.

3. Teach others and work on developing your own curriculum.

Once you have learned skills yourself, a great way to hone them is to teach some of them to others. Teaching requires you to gain a deeper understanding of what you know. That is, when you are forced to explain a series of steps to someone, or how something works, it’s much more difficult than just doing it on your own.

If you are a professional instructor, you can also use our helpful hints above to develop your own digital literacy curriculum!

4. Find ways to integrate technology into your daily routine.

When you have thought of some ways to work on your skills and improve your Internet access, you should think of ways to bring technology into your life in a more concrete way. Make it part of your daily routine to get online and learn about a new website, service, or device.

If you have a job that incorporates digital technologies, make use of them while at work. Think of ways to use them to streamline your job and make your tasks more efficient. Once your skills get even more advanced, you might even be able to make suggestions for improving processes for your entire company.

5. Actively follow-up with digital trends and never stop learning.

You can never stop learning digital technologies; they are changing every day to help make our lives better! Still, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with digital technology, including the latest and greatest gadgets and apps. You may learn how to use a certain website perfectly, but there could be another one like it out there that suits your needs better. Make sure you’re always motivated to keep learning, as mastering digital technologies is a life-long journey!

If you want to learn more, we’ve got another ultimate guide for you that explains the digital divide's causes, impact, and potential solutions. Check it out if you’re interested!

Want to learn more? Check out these great digital literacy articles!

These are some of our favorite informational articles on digital literacy to help you learn more about various topics of digital literacy.

Media Smarts – “Digital Literacy Fundamentals”
This article examines the scope of digital literacy, including its principles, skills associated with it, and the competencies you can gain from digital literacy. If you’re just starting out with digital literacy, this is a great way to start learning.

Edutopia – “Digital Literacy is the Bedrock for Lifelong Learning”
This is the article for you if you want to understand how digital literacy will impact your real life. It also illustrates how gaining digital literacy skills can help you with your ability to learn other skills, ideas, and concepts.

Educause – “From Written to Digital: The New Literacy”
Traditional literacy was once the key to success in the world. This article argues that now, in the age of digital technology, digital literacy is more important. The article also compares the types of skills you gain from both kinds of literacy, and explains how digital skills can help advance you even further in today’s world.

Elcom – “Communication Tools Used in Modern Day Business”
If you need to learn how to integrate useful digital technologies and services into the workplace, check this article out. Integrating things such as employee chat rooms, work forums, or a company blog into your enterprise can be a great way to improve workplace productivity and employee efficiency.

Get Safe Online – “Keep Your Business Safe Online”
This brochure has great tips and tricks for keeping your business safe when employees are online. Examples include only giving access to online accounts to those who absolutely need it, or creating clear guidelines for employee use of company services.

TeachHub – “Technology in the Classroom: What is Digital Literacy?”
This article outlines a few simple ways to integrate basic technology into the classroom. It covers how to use cloud-based storage, social media, virtual collaboration, and more with your students.

U.S. News – “The Growing Need for Technical and Digital Literacy”
If you speak English as a second language, this article may be for you. It reflects on how those without great English skills can be at greater risk of becoming victims of online crime and fraud. Some criminals will even imitate a government website to try to steal identities!

Webroot – “A Parent’s Guide to Online Safety”
This article lists ten easy steps to helping you start a conversation with your child about online safety. Learn about how to teach your children the dangers of interacting with strangers online, and how what they do online can have consequences in real life. If you have young children who are new to technology, check this article out.

W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium) – “Accessibility”
If you’re looking for more information about making your digital literacy environment or lessons more accessible for those with accessibility needs, check out this article. It makes a great case for the importance of integrating accessible technology and aiming to allow equal opportunity for access to digital technologies for all.

Check out this article for even more awesome articles about all things digital litearcy!

 

We hope this guide really helped improve your understanding of digital literacy and everything that goes into it. We’ve got plenty of great resources here for you at TechBoomers.com, including an entire series of articles on the various aspects of digital literacy. Check out the rest of our site to learn about the most popular websites and apps, and to learn what’s going on in the tech world.

Support TechBoomers

TechBoomers offers free articles that teach people how to use technology to make their lives easier (and more fun!). To support our work, some of our content contains links to websites that pay us affiliate commissions when our users visit them through us and make purchases. Learn more about how this works.

Add your comments below. We'd love to hear from you!