Skip Navigation

What is Digital Literacy?

Jump to a Topic

Use this quick-click navigation to get where you want to go:

Section Overview Questions to Consider
Digital Literacy Frameworks Related Terms Sample Definitions Your Definition


Imagine describing "Digital Literacy" to the members of your community. It is a broad, generic term that encompasses all the things. How do people think about digital skills? What matters to them, and why? Under what circumstances would people seek out this information? How can libraries help?

In this "What is Digital Literacy" section, we will:

  • Define what 'digital literacy' means in your community by reviewing existing digital literacy frameworks.
  • Brainstorm concrete examples of how digital literacy will come to life in your community. Begin to personalize digital literacy.
  • Identify your target audience to better define what digital literacy means to different demographics.

Most digital literacy frameworks are geared towards a specific demographic. For example, Common Sense Education is geared towards students in K-12 schools while Goodwill focuses mainly on adults looking to improve job skills. As librarians, it is our job to connect patrons with the right resource, geared towards the right age range and reason for learning. Then market and tailor programming, events, or workshops to feature our new Digital Literacy services.

Note: This section walks hand in hand with Identifying Your Target Audience. It is difficult to put a face to a name and identify tangible examples without a demographic in mind. You might find yourself going back and forth between these two sections as you lay the groundwork for a digital literacy plan.

The Learning Process

  1. Review the Digital Literacy Frameworks, Related Terms, and Sample Definitions.
  2. Idenfify your Target Audience & Motivations
  3. Define Digital Litearcy for Yourself
  4. Up Next: Learn about Online Privacy & Security

Questions to Consider

As you review these digital literacy frameworks, consider these questions:

  • How do digital skills look different for different age groups and stages of life?
  • Why do digital skills matter?
  • How would you advertise digital skills to library patrons?
  • Which of these frameworks did you prefer? Why?
  • Would you consider all of these frameworks to be comprehensive of all necessary digital skills?
  • Which skills are most important for different demographics?
  • In which context would specific skills come in handy?
  • Do these framworks offer specific enough examples and explanations?
  • How would you define digital literacy for your community?
  • Which resources do you prefer?

Digital Literacy Frameworks

Let's start by exploring existing, popular frameworks and resources designed to build digital literacy skills. Please review at least two of the digital literacy frameworks in this section, preferably more. Some are geared towards children, others are for adults. You will likely see similarities across all the frameworks.

  1. GCF Global: The Goodwill Foundation provides a wide variety of online learning resources for adults to "learn and develop the skills needed to advance in work and life". Check out the video on their home page.
  2. Common Sense Education: This group offers a set of lesson plans and resources for educators to introduce digital citizenship skills to K-12 students. Find a sample definition in this article.
  3. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE): ISTE is a global group of educators offering the ISTE Standards as a framework of "skills learners need to thrive in work and life". The focus is on technology and digital skills for teachers and students.
  4. The Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship: This framework was created by Mark Ribble and Marty Park. The elements were designed for schools but has also been adapted for adults.
  5. Media Smarts: Canada's Centre for Digital and Media Literacy compiled this set of resources to prepare K-12 students to acquire positive Digital and Media Literacy skills.

Note: These frameworks have a gold mine of resources! They will appear elsewhere in this course, and may be worth a second look.

Digital Literacy skills and resources are evolving as quickly as the technology on which they are based. The terms used to define digital literacy also ocntinue to change. Here are some related terms that may help you in your search for a tangible meaning of digital literacy:

  • Information Literacies
  • Multiliteracies
  • New Literacties
  • Media Literacy
  • Digital Skills
  • Future Ready Skills
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Online Civic Reasoning
  • Online Skills
  • ...and the list goes on...

Try not to go cross-eyed trying to keep all the definitions separate. They are all slightly different, yet remarkably similar. In this course, we're not going to worry about finding one terminology to rule them all. Focus on finding practical applications that work for you and your community. Call it whatever gets people in the door.

If you're curious, take a gander at this article from Education Week for an overview of Digital Literacy: An Evolving Definition to describe the confusion and constant change in focus over defining digital literacy.

Sample Definitions

Here are some sample definitions used by the major frameworks found online. The idea is to build a more tangible definition with skills geared towards a specific audience.

  1. American Library Association: ALA's Digital Literacy Task Force defines digital literacy as "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills".
  2. The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation: The North Carolina State Univeristy College of Education distilled digital literacy down into three categories: (a) locating and consuming digital content, (b) creating digital content, and (c) communicating digital content".
  3. Goodwill Foundation: Learn to develop the skills needed to advance in work and life.
  4. Media Smarts: Provide people with the essential skills for playing, learning and working as citizens of a digital world.

These definitions are a bit generic. Put digital literacy in your own words. Throughout this course, we will explore ways to bring digital literacy to life. Who is your target audience? Begin to build a more specific definition that works in practice.

Examples In My Own Words

  • Digital skills help people connect with friends and family in new and different ways.
  • Learn how to stay safe and secure in a digital world.
  • Learn new hobbies and skills for free online.
  • Help parents navigate the digital lives of their children.
  • Help teens balance their time online with other activities.
  • Improve job prospects by growing relevant digital skills.

What do people value most in your community? Consider how to make it personal:

Your Definition

You have reviewed existing digital literacy frameworks, related terms, and have seen some examples of digital literacy definitions. Now it's time to put it in your own words.

Feel free to use this Google form to define Digital Literacy to start your planning process. You will receive a copy of your response via email for your future reference. Tou may wish you complete this planning sheet after the Target Audience section.

Target Audience → Target Audience →

Back to Top