What Is Digital Literacy? (Plus Importance and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Digital literacy is how effectively a person can use information technology. It involves more than being able to read online content and refers to the cognitive and technical approaches people may possess to evaluate and use digital content. This is a key skill that you may find valuable to develop to advance your career. In this article, we explain what being digitally literate is and why it's important, examine some key literacy skills, go over the main types of digital literacy and provide tips to improve your literacy.

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy is the ability to competently and effectively use IT to find, utilise, create and communicate information. This involves more than being able to use technologies to a basic standard. For example, being technologically capable enough to read online text or post to social media does not make a person digitally literate. Literacy instead refers more to technical skills and cognitive approaches that people may possess to access information effectively.

When you're conducting online research, you may source large amounts of data. The digitally literate can assess the reliability of sources, identify false information, access resources safely and avoid any potentially malicious websites. Literacy is an approach, understanding and set of skills that allow people to confidently and effectively navigate online information.

Why is being digitally literate important?

Being digitally literate is often a requirement in many jobs. Many professions involve utilising IT. To be effective in their role, employers may expect employees to be digitally literate. Many companies may use internal intranets. These online portals are often different between organisations, but digitally literate employees can use their skills and cognition to become familiar with using a new system without requiring extensive training and supervision. There are many good practices that literate people use in their daily lives that can translate into a workplace environment.

There are aspects of cyber security, such as multi-factor authentication or best approaches for creating strong passwords, that employers may expect employees to be familiar and are part of their internal policies. Data protection regulations may require employees to be competent in these security approaches when using company equipment. Being digitally literate is crucial for ensuring you safely handle company data.

Digital literacy skills

Being digitally literate encompasses a wide range of competencies and practices. Here are a few common skills associated with being digitally literate:

Research

The ability to conduct effective independent research using IT is a crucial digital skill. There are applications for research in various areas of work and study. It's important that you can discern reliable information sources from unreliable ones.

Related: Research Skills: Definition, Benefits and How to Develop

Adaptiveness

Technology is a key tool for many organisations and regularly changes with new developments. People with a strong IT literacy can quickly adapt to technological developments and efficiently learn to use new hardware and software. Many employers value candidates who are quick learners, especially in fast-paced environments.

Collaboration

Collaboration and teamwork are valuable skills in many work environments. You may use different software platforms that differ from the ones you're familiar with. Being able to work and collaborate with coworkers on these different platforms can be a valuable skill to have. There are many companies that utilise remote workers or have multiple offices in different regions, so employers may require you to use online collaboration tools. Being proficient in collaborating through digital platforms is a useful transferable skill for many roles.

Related: Q&A: What Is Remote Work?

Technical understanding

It may not be necessary for your role to understand programming languages or know how to write applications, but some technical understanding can be useful. There are common software programmes you may use in different organisations, and an understanding of their functionality can be a beneficial transferrable skill. Knowledge of basic technical aspects of technology can also be helpful if you encounter problems, allowing you to diagnose what the issue may be and potentially fix it without needing to seek IT support.

Knowing some technical terminology can also help you properly communicate issues to IT support teams to resolve issues more efficiently. This can increase your productivity by reducing the time wasted caused by IT issues.

Teaching others

Besides understanding IT, being able to communicate digital knowledge can also be valuable. For example, you may be responsible for onboarding new personnel. Being able to impart your knowledge and understanding can help team members settle quickly and develop their skills. Teaching other people can also help you enhance your own understanding of IT.

3 main types of technological literacy

Being digitally literate involves engaging with online content and here are the three main types of online engagement:

1. Consuming online content

A basic aspect of literacy is sourcing and consuming online content. This involves having the skills to know where to look and what applications to utilise to find specific content. There are many methods you can employ to filter searches to improve your chances of finding relevant content, such as using keywords. Another aspect is critically evaluating the content you consume. Being digitally literate means you're able to discern the reliability of content by recognising dubious or biased information by critically evaluating data.

You may also become skilled at inferring why people may have posted content in a certain format. The context of the content may give clues as to the point of view, lifestyle or personal values of the author. How authors present content may also indicate any agenda they have or influence they want to create.

2. Creating content

There are many roles that involve creating and publishing online content. There are more facets to creating content than just writing in a digital format. Content creation can involve using appropriate language for the audience you're trying to engage with and employing best practices to increase viewership of content, such as search engine optimisation. Employers may expect you to create content across a variety of digital platforms. Many companies also have strict branding guidelines that dictate how you create content. It's crucial that you're able to understand and create content around any defined requirements.

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

3. Sharing content

People typically create digital content to be shared and consumed by others. There are many important skills to help accomplish this effectively. This can include using a specific style of writing or format of presentation. For example, content with useful graphics and effective use of easy to navigate links can be ideal for sharing. There are also considerations on how to share content, which may include distributing on the same digital channels a target audience engages with. It's also important to consider the impact of what you share online.

Being digitally literate includes understanding your digital footprint and the information you make available to consumers. The impact of what you share online can be particularly relevant when using social media platforms, especially when representing your employer. Many employers have specific guidelines on how their content creators can share their work. It's crucial to consider the perspective of consumers on the content you share, such as whether it's appropriate content for a target audience. For example, ensuring to only share age-relevant content if the target audience is young children.

Related: 16 Essential IT Skills (With Steps to Improve Them)

How can I become more digitally literate?

You can develop your online literacy skill by consuming digital content regularly. Every time you search, create or share online content, you may learn more about these processes and become more digitally proficient. It's beneficial to seek more diverse content to expand your perspectives and broaden your experiences. Consuming, creating and sharing different types of content across multiple channels that match your personal interests can be an effective and personalised way to become more digitally literate.

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