Welcome to Trends in Education: Discussing Digital Competence, Digital Literacy, and Digital Fluency
The roles of educators are changing. There’s a growing need for technical expertise as instruction becomes less prescriptive and more facilitative in both traditional and online learning environments.
The focus is now on building knowledge rather than imparting it (Becker, Brown, Dahlstrom, Davis, DePaul, Diaz, and Pomerantz, 2018, pp. 34-35).
Understanding the distinction between digital competence, digital literacy, and digital fluency is an important professional responsibility for educators, learners, instructional designers, and educational technologists.
To master these terms, we need to know where they conflate and diverge.
The term digital competence appears to intersect proficiency and good judgement.
It encompasses not only skill, but the ability to discern which skills are needed with which tools to complete various tasks in a given context - throughout the lifespan.
The terms digital literacy and digital competence are often confused (Spante, Hashemi, Lundin, and Algers, 2018, p. 15). Researchers identified differences between the older term, digital literacy - used since 1997 (Gilster, as cited by Spante et al., 2018, p. 5) – and the newer term, digital competence – which first appeared in 2006 (European Commission, as cited by Spante et al., 2018, p. 2). These differences related to discipline, geographical region, and purpose (Spante et al., 2018, p. 13).
Literature reviewed by Spante, Hashemi, Lundin, and Algers (2018) supports a definition of digital literacy as an ability to absorb and process information via digital technologies. We use that information to help ourselves and others participate and flourish in society.
According to Becker et al. (2018), “Digital literacy transcends gaining discrete technological skills to generating a deeper understanding of the digital environment, enabling intuitive and discerning adaptation to new contexts and co-creation of content”.
Alexander, Ashford-Rowe, Barajas-Murphy, Dobbin, Knott, McCormack, Pomerantz, Seilhamer, and Weber (2019) defined digital fluency as “the ability to leverage digital tools and platforms to communicate critically, design creatively, make informed decisions, and solve wicked problems while anticipating new ones.”
We see that there’s a lot of crossover between these two terms. Jennifer Sparrow (2018) explained the difference more succinctly: "…digital literacy is an understanding of how to use the tools; digital fluency is the ability to create something new with those tools." Sparrow took things a bit further and expanded the term digital fluency to include specific types of fluency. Here’s how I interpret them:
Curiosity fluency is the type of fluency we demonstrate when we develop research questions and pursue the answers.
Transmedia is an excellent example of communication fluency, wherein brands select different methods and media to tell stories to their audience.
Also called maker fluency, creation fluency is used by doctors to create artificial organs with 3D printing, or by innovators at Microsoft Garage who team up to design new products in AI and virtual reality.
Data fluency involves not only the ability to search and sort through data, but to design searches purposefully with the aim of identifying new questions to ask and new ways to use data for advancement.
Innovation fluency involves the willingness to fail and to figure out what you could best learn from that failure and how to use that knowledge in future projects.
In their 2019 EDUCASE report, Alexander at al. indicated that digital literacy no longer meets the needs of students or educators
“Digital fluency requires a rich understanding of the digital environment, enabling co-creation of content and the ability to adapt to new contexts. Institutions must not only support the uses of digital tools and resources by all members of the organization but also leverage their strategic technologies in ways that support critical thinking and complex problem solving” (Alexander et al., 2019, p. 14)
Digital competence is knowing what to use, how to use it, and when to use it intentionally. Digital literacy is both understanding and adapting technologies to expressively communicate the information they generate. Digital fluency is using digital technologies in new ways to identify and solve problems collaboratively and design new technologies that creatively further innovation and advancement.
I hope this presentation increased your understanding of these three kindred terms. Where are you on this spectrum?
If you have feedback or questions, feel free to leave a comment.
Alexander, B., Ashford-Rowe, K., Barajas-Murphy, N., Dobbin, G., Knott, J., McCormack, M., Pomerantz, J., Seilhamer, R. and Weber, N. (2019). EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: 2019 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/resources/2019/4/2019-horizon-report
Becker, S. A., Brown, M., Dahlstrom, E., Davis, A., DePaul, K. Diaz, V., and Pomerantz, J. (2018). NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from https://www.educause.edu/horizonreport
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Martyn, C. & Harvey, G. (2017). Time of your life [mp3 file]. Purple Planet Music. Retrieved from https://www.purple-planet.com
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Spante, M., Hashemi, S. S., Lundin, M., & Algers, A. (2018). Digital competence and digital literacy in higher education research: Systematic review of concept use. Cogent Education, 5(1), 1519143. https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2018.1519143
Sparrow, J. (2018). Digital fluency: Preparing students to create big, bold problems. EDUCAUSE Review, (53)2, 54. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/3/digital-fluency-preparing-students-to-create-big-bold-problems
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