Blog task #2: Connected Learning and Digital Literacy

Learning is messy guys. #madscientist #i by brueckj23, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  brueckj23  Learning is messy guys


Discussions about what digital literacy is range from the complex to the simple. Bawden (2008) examines the background of the term through a literature review and comes up with “four generally agreed components”: underpinnings such as “literacy per se”; background knowledge of the world of information and the nature of information resources; six central competencies including information literacy and media literacy; and, attitudes and perspectives, which together make up digital literacy. Chase and Laufenberg (2011) on the other hand ask us to “accept digital literacy as a genre, a format and tool to be found within the domain of standard literacy”.

Stephen Heppell in The future of learning video suggests that our definition of literacy is too narrow and should include media literacy and digital literacy; that literacy is being able to tell a story through a range of mediums and using different tools.

I like the notion from Paul Gilster that “digital literacy is about mastering ideas, not keystrokes” (Bawden, 2008 p.18) and he is closer to Chase and Laufenberg (2011) in suggesting digital literacy is simply literacy in the digital age.

This illustration from Futurelab showing an overlapping array of skills, attributes and behaviours with digital literacy at their centre covers Bawden’s four components and to me sums up the most important elements. It is interesting that e-safety is the only element exclusive to the online world.

Hague, C., & Payton, S. (2010) Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum, p19.

To me what is key in education is considering what you can do with the tools available to you rather than teaching the tools themselves. A digitally literate individual can apply those skills, capacities and behaviours to whatever tool is at hand. Marc Prensky’s discussion on verbs and nouns supports this “Verbs are the skills that students need to learn, practice, and master.” while nouns “are the tools students use to learn to do, or practice the verbs”. (Prensky, n.d.) Prensky urges teachers to focus on the verbs while using the most up-to-date nouns possible.

I believe the key thing that distinguishes digital literacy from literacy is the inherent ability to harness the possibilities that technology provides to communicate with a potentially global audience. In the past a person considered highly literate may never have had a word he or she wrote read by anyone other than the specific intended audience such as a teacher, nor would they have considered its possibility.

Chase and Laufenberg (2011) demonstrate that “access to technology enables students to engage in discovery, judge relevancy and appropriateness” (p.3) and allow the teacher to be a knowledge node instead of knowledge font, bringing us to connected learning. Prior to this course I did not know of Connected Learning as a documented learning model (Connected Learning Principles | Connected Learning, n.d.) and would have explained it as education conducted within a connected environment using the power of online publishing and interaction for authentic learning experiences. According to Ito and others (2013)

Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement” (p.4)

The principles of connected learning weren’t born in the digital age, but they are extraordinarily well-suited to it – because digital technology has the capacity to engage the widest range of young people in learning experiences previously available to a select few.  (Frequently Asked Questions | Connected Learning. n.d.)

It is clear the skills, capacities and behaviours that make up digital literacy are at the centre of connected learning.

Issues I see facing the development of students’ digital literacy and the adoption of connected learning in secondary schools are similar. Rigidity (real or interpreted) in the curriculum, particularly in the later years, and opposition from teachers who wish to continue teaching subjects (not children) as they always have. Managing ambiguity, one of Helen Haste’s key competences, requires acceptance of the notion that there is no single, linear solution. For teachers this means embracing the messiness of connected learning and that is a real challenge for many.


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

Chase, Z., & Laufenberg, D. (2011). Digital Literacies: Embracing the Squishiness of Digital Literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(7), 535–537.

Connected Learning Principles | Connected Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2014, from

Frequently Asked Questions | Connected Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2014, from

Hague, C., & Payton, S. (2010). Digital literacy across the curriculum. Bristol: Futurelab.

Ito, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingstone,, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and  Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from

Prensky, Marc (n.d.). Verbs and Nouns. Marc Prensky. Retrieved March 30, 2014, from