Network Literacy

Image from Pixabay CC0

In 1994 I was a young graduate who worked in a university library, full of books, microfiche and CD-ROMs. I taught Information and research skills classes but network literacy was unheard of. In my spare time I went to the cinema to see Four Weddings and a Funeral, bought compact discs from JB Hi Fi and anticipated new episodes of Friends on the television. I did not have a mobile telephone and although a new web browser, Mosaic was launched that year, I was yet to experience the world wide web.

This is the same year Charles McClure wrote about network literacy. He could see that the the new “network of networks” would require new skills to use electronic information effectively (1994). He was concerned that individuals who were network illiterate would be disadvantaged and become second class citizens. He proposed that people should understand how networked information occurs, know how to access it, manipulate it and analyse it for personal and professional life.

Fast forward seventeen years and Howard Rheingold is using YouTube to talk about network literacy. Like McClure, Rheingold believes people need to understand network architecture and how they work technically. The rest of Rheingold’s views on network literacy differ from McClure’s because of the growth of the internet and the impact social networks have had. Rheingold emphasises the socially networked world that involves collaboration and sharing. Network literacy allows people to form groups, participate and innovate (2011).

Though McClure and Rheingold’s definitions differ due to the evolution of networks, both agree that network literacy involves knowledge and skills that are essential for twenty-first century literacy. Without network literacy, individuals risk being excluded from society and unable to benefit from social capital through online social networking (Pegrum, 2010).

As I have grown as an adult, so have the networks that I use. Although my library training was in the pre-internet era, it instilled in me skills that have helped me adapt and be open to new network experiences.


McClure, C. R. (1994). Network literacy: A role for libraries? Information Technology and Libraries, 13(2), 115-125. Retrieved from

Pegrum, M. (2010). ‘I Link, Therefore I Am’: Network literacy as a core digital literacy. In E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(4), 346-354.

Rheingold, H. (2011, February 13). Network literacy part 1 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Rheingold, H. (2011, February 13). Network literacy part 2[Video file]. Retrieved from


4 Comments on Network Literacy

  1. Julie Lindsay
    August 7, 2016 at 4:08 am (5 years ago)

    It’s interesting to reflect back on how life used to be….and wonder at how we ever survived as educators with our networks and online learning connections!
    1994 was the year my daughter was born and I bought my first Apple/Mac laptop! The things I did with that laptop……
    Good point about having the skills to adapt.

  2. Julia
    August 7, 2016 at 9:10 pm (5 years ago)

    I loved your description of what you were doing and watching in 1994. It’s amazing how adaptive we are. The majority of what we do each day wasn’t invented when we were at school, yet we seem to cope. I just think how much more engaging school could be if we embraced the “Partnering pedagogy” Prensky writes about.

  3. Fiona Jostsons
    October 5, 2017 at 1:56 am (4 years ago)

    Your sumamry of the difference between McClure and Rheinhold’s definition of network literacy has helped me a lot. Many thanks.

      October 6, 2017 at 1:02 am (4 years ago)

      Thank you Fiona. Happy that my blog post was useful to someone else.