Digital Literacy Links


In preparation for Fall Institute 2013 – Interpreting PIAAC Results: Understanding Competencies of the Future, we are providing links to resources on different aspects of "literacy" or "literacies" in the use of digital technologies.







The term “digital literacy” was used as early as 1990 but the concept as now used seems to date back to Paul Gilster’s book of the same name (Gilster 1997):

From P. Gilster, Digital Literacy (New York, 1997), p.1-2, found on

“Digital literacy is the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers. The concept of literacy goes beyond simply being able to read; it has always meant the ability to read with meaning, and to understand. […] Acquiring digital literacy for Internet use involves mastering a set of core competencies.The most essential of these is the ability to make informed judgments about what you find on-line, for unlike conventional media, much of the Net is unfiltered by editors and open to the contributions of all.”

There is no commonly agreed upon definition of “digital literacy”. Here are some definitions that have been proposed:


Digital Literacy Standards – British Columbia Department of Education

 “the interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology and communication tools to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, create and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society”.


Digital Literacy Model (graphic) – Media Smarts

According to this model “Competencies for digital literacy can be classified according to three main principles: Use, Understand and Create.”


Defining Digital Literacy (2013, January) – David Rosen, in Adult Literacy Education [blog]

David Rosen suggests that ““Digital literacy” may not be a separate kind of literacy but rather a descriptive phrase for how people get and perhaps use meaning in a digital milieu.


Jones-Kavalier, Barbara R., Flannigan, Suzanne L.  (2006). Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century. Educause Review Online.  Available at

“Digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment, with “digital” meaning information represented in numeric form and primarily for use by a computer. Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media (text, sound, images), to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. According to Gilster,5 the most critical of these is the ability to make educated judgments about what we find online.”


Cornell University Digital Literacy Resource

“Digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”



Related Concepts: Problem solving in a technology rich environment


International Study of Adults Frequently Asked Questions – Statistics Canada

“This refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. It is not a measurement of “computer literacy” but rather of the cognitive skills required in the information age – an age in which the accessibility of boundless information has made it essential for us to be able to work out what information we need, to evaluate it critically and to use it to solve problems.”


PIAAC Expert Group on Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments. (2009). PIAAC Problem-Solving in Technology-Rich Environments: A Conceptual Framework. OECD Education Working Paper No. 36. p.7

“Problem solving in technology-rich environments involves using digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks. The first PIAAC problem solving survey will focus on the abilities to solve problems for personal, work and civic purposes by setting up appropriate goals and plans, accessing and making use of information through computers and computer networks.”



Related Concepts: Information Literacy


Association of Colleges and Research Libraries. (2000). The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Retrieved 2011, from Association of Colleges and Research Libraries

“Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”


Bawden, D. (2001). Information and digital literacies; a review of concepts. Retrieved 2011, from

This paper uses a literature survey and analysis to review the concepts of ‘information literacy’ and ‘digital literacy’ as well as related concepts, including computer literacy, library literacy, network literacy, internet literacy and hyperliteracy.


UNESCO. (2008). Understanding Information Literacy: A Primer, by Forest Woody Horton, Jr., from

This is a non-technical overview explaining what “information literacy” means.



Digital Literacy as Information Processing


Prensky, M. (2001, October). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

In this paper Mark Prensky argues that “digital natives” – those who have grown up with digital technology” process information differently from “digital immigrants” – those who came to these technologies later in life, which causes problems when teachers are “digital immigrants” and students are “digital natives”.



Theoretical Approaches


Aviram, A., & Eshet-Alkalai, Y. (2006). Towards a theory of digital literacy: Three scenarios for the next steps. European Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning. Available at

This paper attempts to “develop a theoretical framework for the discussion of digital literacy, by considering and analyzing the major topics, questions, and research directions that should be rigorously tackled in order to produce a better-developed scientific and education-oriented approach.” It uses two main strategies: one that “accepts the basic assumption that what we are dealing with is a number of separate skills”, and another, more skeptical, approach based on the hypothesis “that beyond the list of digital skills lies something much deeper.”


Markauskaite, L. (2006). Towards an integrated analytical framework of information and communications technology literacy: from intended to implemented and achieved dimensions. Available at

This paper attempts to clarify the relationships between ICT literacy, information literacy, media literacy and other new literacies, and discusses terms such as 'ICT', 'literacy' and 'ICT literacy'. It presents an analytical framework for investigating contemporary understandings of information and communication technologies literacy.



Assessment Tools

Ordered by publication date.


NorthstarDigital Literacy Project. (2012). Available at

The Northstar Digital Literacy Project defines basic skills needed to perform tasks on computers and online. These skills can be assessed through online, self-guided modules. Included are basic computer digital literacy standards and modules in six main areas: Basic Computer Use, Internet, Windows Operating System, Mac OS, Email, and Word Processing (Word). Those who pass the assessments at approved sites can obtain the Northstar Digital Literacy Certificate. This provides a credential for employment. (adapted from website)


Van Joolingen, W. (2003). The PISA framework for assessment of ICT literacy. Available at

A presentation on the measurement of ICT skills by PISA.


Educational Testing Service (ETS). (2004). ICT Literacy Assessment, an Issue Paper from ETS. Available at

Describes the ICT Literacy Assessment.


Educational Testing service (ETS). (2007). ICT Proficiencies measure both Cognitive and Technical Skills. Available at

The ICT Literacy Assessment “uses real-time, scenario-based tasks” […] “to assess seven ICT skills required of today’s higher education students” […], measuring both knowledge of technology and “the ability to use critical-thinking skills to solve problems within a technological environment. The 75-minute test contains two different types of tasks:  14 short tasks, each of which addresses a single ICT skill, and one long task, which addresses multiple skills. Short tasks are designed to take no more than four minutes each to complete. The long task should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.”


California Emerging Technology Fund. (2008). California ICT digital literacy assessment and curriculum framework.California Emerging Technology Fund. Available at

“The purpose of the California ICT Digital Literacy Assessments and Curriculum Framework is to provide a standardized approach for assessment, diagnosis, and continuous improvement of basic information and communications (ICT) digital literacy skills for students and the workforce.”


Calvani, A. C., Fini, A., & Ranieri, M. (2008). Models and instruments for assessing digital competence at school. Journal of e-learning and knowledge society (4),3, September 2008, 183-193.

“How digital competence can be defined and assessed? One of the most known instruments to certificate IT skills is the European Computer Driving License (ECDL), but it focuses on the mastery of specific technical skills while neglecting dimensions which are pedagogically significant. In such a context, our research group developed a conceptual model for the notion of digital competence based on three dimensions: technological, cognitive and ethical. Grounding on this model, we worked out and tested an instrument (Instant DCA) to assess digital competence in students aged 15/16 years.”


van Deursen, A., & van Dijk, J. (2008). Measuring digital skills: Performance tests of operational, formal, information and strategic Internet skills among the Dutch population. Presented at the ICA Conference, Montreal, 22-26 May 2008. Available at

This paper focuses on a study of the distribution of “digital skills” among the Dutch population. It proposes operational definitions for operational, formal, information and strategic skills.


HRSDC. (2009, October 28). Computer use self-assessment. Employment and Social Development Canada. Available at

An online self-assessment for the Computer Use “Essential Skill”.




Resources for Teachers




Digital Futures in Teacher Education: An Open Resource on Digital Literacy for Educators, Teachers and Schools

“an open resource for educators, teachers and schools.”

YouTube in the Classroom  - AlphaPlus

A short brief that shows some of the ways YouTube can be used in the adult literacy classroom.



Digital Literacy Organizations



Information and Communication Technology Council


Media Smarts


United States

Partnership for 21st Century Skills.



Policy and Curriculum Frameworks


Community of Expertise in Educational Technologies (CEET). Draft Digital Literacy Standards. British Columbia Department of Education.


Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. (2011). Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework: Competency D. Use Digital Technology. March 2011

This outlines the tasks that form the “use digital technology” competency in the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum.




Research and Policy Reports

These reports are ordered by date of publication.


Martin, A., & Grudziecki, J. (2006). DigEuLit: Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development.University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Describes the DigEuLit project, funded by the EC eLearning Initiative, which had the task of “defining digital literacy and developing a framework and tools for digital literacy development in European  educational settings”. Proposes a definition of digital literacy which “focuses on the processes of using digital tools to support the achievement of goals in the individual’s life-situation.” The project developed online tools for tracking digital literacy progress.


Canada. (2010). Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity: Consultation paper on a digital economy strategy for Canada. Available at

Includes a chapter on “Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow”.


Media Smarts. (2010). Digital literacy in Canada: From inclusion to transformation: A Submission to the Digital Economy Strategy Consultation. Available at

“This submission by Media Awareness Network (MNet) addresses the need for the Government of Canada to include digital literacy skills development as a cornerstone of its national strategy for the digital economy, and calls on the federal government to take a leadership role in supporting solutions that will create citizens who know how to use digital technologies to their fullest and who can think critically about digital content.”


Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) (2011). Digital Skills Research: Interview with Natalie Frank, Manager, OLES – Literature review & framework [Audio – 6:00]. Available at

This segment of a podcast series developed by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) discusses an international literature review of research related to digital literacy. The review found that a wide range of related terms and concepts, such as “computer literacy” and “digital skills”, are being used, and that these concepts are increasingly focused on reflective and interpretive rather than technical competence. 


Media Smarts. (2012). Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Talking to Youth and Parents about Life Online – Media Smarts

“This exploratory study examines the attitudes and experiences of children, youth and parents relating to networked technologies. Results indicate a generation of adults who have become hyper-vigilant about young people’s online lives and a generation of youth who are navigating “life in the fishbowl” when it comes to their digital experiences. Findings will set the stage for a national survey of students in 2013.”







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