3 Reasons Students Need to Develop Digital Literacy

by Alex Gay

posted on 03-14-2019

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well on its way, where artificial intelligence and the internet of things connects everything from doorbells to kitchen appliances. And in the now decades-long digital age, technology keeps advancing: iPhones, apps, social media, cryptocurrency, and on and on. Statista estimates in 2020 there will be 2.87 billion smartphone users, up from 1.57 billion in 2014; and in the 10 years between 2010 and 2020, social media users are expected to triple. So it’s fair to say that students are very familiar with digital devices and incorporating technology into their everyday lives. In fact, 81 percent of adults feel confident in their ability to “use the internet and other communications devices to keep up with information demands” in their life.

But true digital literacy is more than just knowing how to use a web browser or navigate basic software. It’s being empowered to use digital tools enabling students to solve problems, create innovative projects, and enhance communications to prepare for the challenges of an evolving workplace. And digital literacy starts as students think critically, creatively solve problems, collaborate effectively, and communicate with impact. Across all educational disciplines, from math and engineering to language, social sciences, and business, when students are digitally literate, they become thoughtful consumers of digital content, effective and collaborative creators of digital content, and problem-solvers who are prepared to join the workforce and make social contributions to their communities.

They become thoughtful consumers of digital content

Today’s students have instant access to any information they want — and they’re getting better at handling it. In 2006, 27 percent of Americans felt overloaded by information. In 2016, a new survey found that number had dropped to 20 percent. Further, 80 percent responded positively that “Most of the time, it is easy… to determine what information is trustworthy.”

Students must be proactive about the way they consume digital content. When students are truly digitally literate, they are critical viewers of the content before them. Literate students learn to evaluate and question their sources, think critically and draw strong conclusions about the information, and push themselves to creatively apply their newfound knowledge in a unique way. Creative tools like Creative Cloud assist students in making that leap from digital consumers to digital producers.

Accessing, analyzing, and evaluating media are essential skills as we shift more and more toward artificial intelligence and fractured information sources, and where skills learned today could be outdated in 5-10 years. When students understand where information is coming from and evaluate its legitimacy, as well as the importance of their online footprint, they are better digital citizens and lifelong learners who can adapt and apply knowledge to the real world.

They become effective and collaborative creators of digital content

There’s a reason over a billion hours of YouTube videos are consumed daily: people like stories. We learn best through storytelling, whether it’s communicating research results, debating a trending political topic, or simplifying complex concepts into easy-to-understand sound bites. Part of being digitally literate is being able to tell dynamic stories.

Because we consume information in a digital way, students should be prepared to create their own digital content in the learning environment. Being a part of the conversation digitally — whether it’s through video, podcasts, infographics, or other design elements — allows students to learn in a modern and meaningful way, and also easily share and collaborate on ideas and projects. Students in any discipline who have access to creative tools like Adobe’s Creative Cloud for class assignments and projects can more easily develop and communicate their comprehension.

With this digital literacy comes other essential skills: “They must be creative, think critically, solve problems creatively, and collaborate effectively,” says Bryan Lamkin, Adobe executive vice president and general manager of Digital Media.

These skills come from thinking beyond writing an essay. When students collaborate and create in a different medium, they must develop and tap into these skills to think outside the box.

When students are taught digital literacy, they get more than just exposure to technology: they develop important life skills that lead to a deeper understanding of the digital world and curate content in a way that is useful and relatable.

David Goodrum, director of academic technology and information services at Oregon State University, said, “Furthermore, a 21st century view of learner success requires students to not only be thoughtful consumers of digital content, but effective and collaborative creators of digital media, demonstrating competencies and communicating ideas through dynamic storytelling, data visualization, and content curation.”

Students will not only use these skills in the classroom, but take them into the workforce and be competitive and innovative in any industry.

They become social contributors in their communities

Students need to be prepared to be competitive in a modern workforce and make a positive impact on the community at large. Digitally literate students are much more prepared to contribute to the solutions to complex business and social problems.

Innovative solutions require innovative thinkers. Educators are finding that students need to be ready to be creative problem-solvers so that they are competitive in the workforce and don’t lose their jobs to automation. These vital skills include independent learning, learning through success or failure, and working with diverse teams. They are also the skills sought after for higher-earning job opportunities. In fact, 82.9 percent of managers are looking for excellent problem-solving skills in new hires.

But it’s not just about the future. Creative problem-solving — along with other key soft skills like creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration — translates immediately in the workforce. Google found that its most successful employees possess skills like “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem-solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” While recruiting efforts focused on STEM skills, these soft skills are what set the highest-performing employees apart. When students across all disciplines utilize creative tools to communicate in new mediums it helps to connect the dots between creative, innovative thinking and the real-world work that comes post-graduation.

And even beyond the professional setting, developing these skills has a direct effect on distilling online information and encouraging a social and cultural understanding.

“In all their courses, students must participate in activities that strengthen their abilities to engage in active critical inquiry through the practices of reading and writing,” says Ellen Carillo, a professor at the University of Connecticut. “Moreover, institutions need to foreground the importance of dispositions such as openness, flexibility, and empathy, which can help students become better readers, writers, and researchers while also giving students the tools to engage in dialogue across divides within and beyond the classroom.”

Having a digitally literate student body has a big impact on how students interact with each other, in the workforce, and in their communities at large. Digital literacy produces students who are thoughtful, critical consumers of digital content, can effectively collaborate to create their own digital content, and be innovative problem-solvers both in the workplace and in their communities. It’s up to educators and businesses to realize and encourage this literacy, ensuring that students are prepared for the evolving workforce.

Discover ways educators are encouraging students to expand their digital literacy skills. Learn more about Digital Literacy.

Topics: Industry, Education, digital literacy,