Connected learning and digital literacy



Information and social technologies in the digital age differ from earlier ages because they have moved from stable infrastructure to fluid infrastructure. (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011)  This is a connected and networked environment that amplifies our “ability to access and use nearly unlimited resources and incredible instruments while connecting with one another at the same time.” (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011) Furthermore, according to Moore’s Law, these connections are growing exponentially and doubling every eighteen months. (Verts, 2014)  Douglas Thomas (2012) tells us the connections that characterise the digital age have impacted classrooms, which are now places of context rather than content.  Teachers are no longer the voice of objective truth and students are able to view a piece of knowledge from many different sources from many different contexts. This shift to connected and participatory learning within new information environments will pose challenges and opportunities for learning and teaching.  One such challenge is grasping the way the digital age impacts literacy.  There has been some disagreement over the definition of digital literacies and the skills that belong in this tool kit but Chase and Laufenberg state that, despite this debate, common ground exists in the agreement that, whatever digital literacy is, it is important to the success of our students. (2011)

According to some of the models of digital literacy, how does literacy in the digital age differ from traditional literacy?

A common understanding of traditional literacy is the ability to read, write, listen and speak with enough competence to participate in society. Digital literacy broaches the idea that participation in contemporary society requires a set of skills beyond reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Bawden (2001) comments on a number of approaches to digital literacy since Gilster first introduced the idea in 1997. These include, but are not limited to, the American Library Association who developed a model of information literacy in 1989, Shapiro and Hughes (1996), who envisaged a concept of a computer literacy skills set, Hargittai (2005) who equated digital literacy with network literacy and Burniske (2007) who focused on the concept of critical thinking. A more recent conceptual model of digital literacy is that developed by Eshet-Alkalai (2004) which is based on the integration of five other literacies including photo-visual literacy, reproduction literacy, information literacy, branching literacy and social-emotional literacy. (Bawden, 2001)

Having looked at the different models of digital literacy, Bawden (2001) concludes that a number of generally agreed components emerge. These fall under four categories:

1 Underpinnings

  • literacy per se.
  • Computer / ICT literacy

2. Background knowledge

  • the world of information
  • nature of information resources

3. Central competencies

  • reading and understanding digital and non-digital formats
  • creating and communicating digital information
  • evaluation of information
  • knowledge assembly
  • information literacy
  • media literacy

4. Attitudes and perspectives

  • independent learning
  • moral / social literacy

This list seems quite complete but an addition that might like to be considered are the skills of managing ambiguity and managing technological change which are identified by Helen Haste (2009) as core competencies in a contemporary world.

What does digital literacy mean for learning and teaching?

One of the suggestions that have been prevalent in the digital literacy conversation is the matter of learners possessing generational traits and that those who entered the world after 1980 are “born digital” (Palfrey and Gassner, 2008).  The suggestion is that because these “digital natives” have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using the tools of the digital age, they think and process information in a fundamentally different way to their predecessors and don’t have to translate or learn ICT, but merely experience it. (Prensky, 2001) This however was challenged by a number of people including Nasah, DaCosta, Kinsell & Seok who stated  “empirical findings show that students’ use of ICT is driven by factors such as age, socioeconomic status, living arrangements and locale (Kennedy et al. 2008).  Thus, their use of ICT may be more a matter of digital literacy and digital access than a generational trait” (2010).


Three conclusions can be drawn from the discussion presented:

  • participation in a connected and networked world is driven by digital literacy and access;
  • digital literacy requires a set of skills beyond and inclusive of traditional literacy; and
  • literacy is important for student success.

If then, as educators, we accept these three precepts, we cannot ignore the need for digital literacy in our schools and must establish ways of embedding this into our curriculums and pedagogies.

There are many educators who have accepted this for some time and who have been working on curriculum models & resources that build these literacies. Drawing on the resources produced by groups such as FutureLab and connecting with other passionate educationalists in our PLNs is useful starting point.


Bawden, D. (2008). CHAPTER ONE: Origins and Concepts Of Digital Literacy. In Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies & Practices (pp. 17–32). Peter Lang Publishing.

Chase, Z., & Laufenberg, D. (2011). Embracing the squishiness of digital literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(7), 535-537. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.54.7.7

Haste, H. (2009, June 25). Technology and Youth: Problem Solver vs. Tool User (part 1 of 4). Retrieved from

Nasah, A., Dacosta, B., Kinsell, C., & Seok, S. (2010). The digital literacy debate: An investigation of digital propensity and information and communication technology. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(5), 531-555. doi: 10.1007/s11423-010-9151-8

Palfrey, J. G., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York: Basic Books.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace?

Thomas, D. (2012, September 12). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from

Verts, W. T. (2014). Moore’s Law. In World Book Advanced.  Retrieved March 31, 2014, from

 Image Attribution

Network Structure Internet Social Social Network, Geralt, Public Domain



1 Comment on Connected learning and digital literacy

  1. Judy O'Connell
    April 6, 2014 at 7:35 am (6 years ago)

    You’ve pulled together some key foundational concepts in this post, particularly in addressing the issue of digital literacy. I also appreciate that you have summarised key points, as this provides the context for your engagement with the PLN, and being able to use resources well in creating targetted curriculum strategies. There are different expressions of digital literacy, and so an educator does need to know about them, and then make informed choices – you’d doing that!


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