Coventry University ‘Teaching, Learning and Assessment Strategy’ defines digital fluency as the ‘skills necessary for living, learning and working in a digital society’.  This definition is used by Beetham (2010) in her review of JISC digital literacies projects.

But what does this mean in terms of embedding digital literacies into a course?

The term was first used in the late 1990’s by Gilster (1997) who placed an emphasis on critical thinking, but with a focus toward digital information.   Martin (2003) referred to digital literacy as “a way of life” and suggested: “It is about knowing what information is available and where to find it. It is about understanding what is right for you. It is about using it (responsibly) in your daily life.”  Here there is an emphasis on information literacies.

What is included in the definition has needed to evolve to reflect the changing nature of the TEL environment.  With the growth of social media the participatory nature of digital literacies is increasingly recognised (Henry Jenkins).  As such there is a move from the consume-create, or a research-publish model, prevalent when Glister coined the term, towards a model of production and participation. A definition of digital literacy therefore needs to include participation in social networks as a central element of knowledge production and reproduction (Beetham, 2010).

What is included within the broad scope of digital literacies can be informed by what Martin describes as the ‘thoughtful deployment of technical competencies in authentic situations, demonstrating problem-solving, reflection, evaluation, analysis etc’.  Plus Henry Jenkins’ emphasis on participatory and cultural practices and also recognition of the expected 21st Century work practices with greater emphasis on these participatory practices, competencies in networking, reflection, selecting and sharing.

The LLida project identified the following categories of literacies as reflecting the discourse of that time (2010):

  • Learning to learn – different from study skills and representative a difference between formal and informal learning
  • Information literacies – slow changing, well accepted. Contrasts with technological context ie Google.  Reflective of academic practices.
  • Media literacies – different interpretations, will include critique so does have some overlap with academic practices
  • Communication literacies/skills – challenged by changing modes of communication.  Recognise that some areas require specific forms of communication.
  • ICT/digital skills – rapidly changing area
  • Employability skills – can overlap with other areas, but unique here are entrepreneurship
  • Citizenship – also overlaps with other literacies but specifically could be said to include ethics, social responsibility, sustainability

An important element within any definition is to ensure that digital literacy is seen as developmental and not as an entitlement, with the focus not on providing access to the use of technology or developing ICT and information literacy skills in isolation.

The educational benefits and importance of digital literacies

Today’s learners, and their educators, need to respond to changes in:

  • the nature of work
  • the nature of learning for work, and learning in work
  • (arguably) the nature of cognition or knowledge processing
  • the nature of useful knowledge in society
  • the nature of social life and citizenship
  • communications media
  • other technologies and technical capabilities
  • the experience and expectations of learners themselves, as a consequence of the above

(Beetham et al., 2009 p8)


Beetham, H. (2010) Review and Scoping Study for a cross-JISC Learning and Digital Literacies Programme: Sept 2010, JISC

Beetham, H., McGill, L. & Littlejohn, A. (2009) Thriving in the 21st century: Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (LLiDA project), The Caledonian Academy, Glasgow Caledonian University

Gilster, P. (1997) Digital literacy, New York: Wiley

Jenkins, H (nd) New media literacies

Martin, A. (2003) Towards e-literacy. In: Martin, A. and Rader, R. (eds.) Information and IT Literacy: Enabling Learning in the 21st century. London: Facet, pp.3–23.