Digital skills and digital literacy


The term ‘digital skills’ includes a wide range of capabilities. There are many different definitions, which range from the basic use of a computer or computer software to more advanced technical and programming skills.

To add to the potential confusion, the term ‘digital literacy’ is also used when referring to ‘digital skills’ or ‘digital capabilities’. A useful definition of digital literacy comes from Jisc, a national body that champions the use of digital technologies for UK education and research: ‘the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society’ (Jisc, 2015).

‘Digital literacy’ includes the skills everyone needs to be effective online, whether it’s searching efficiently, evaluating online information, communicating and sharing, or finding the right digital or online tools to suit particular needs.

These are skills that transfer across all areas of our lives. If you think back to the list you made in Activity 3.1, many of the things you listed are likely to have been relevant to your everyday or home life. However, the same activities and skills can help you to be more effective at work. In fact, many of the skills you’ve listed may appear in job descriptions. The ability to work online with members of staff in remote locations, for example, could be an essential skill for a particular job. Digital (literacy) skills are very important if you’re studying, and can make a different to how successful you are at researching, collaborating with other students or writing assignments.

Digital literacy is therefore also about using your digital skills in different contexts and having the confidence to decide what is right for you. One of the aims of this course is to help you develop confidence and skills to be able to ask the right questions of who, and what, you come across online. In other words, to think critically.

Activity 3.2 Identifying skills Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Reflecting on the skills you use in a digital environment will help you to gauge how confident you are about using them, and identify which ones you would like to improve. Choose one of the environments listed below and think about what skills you might need to do things effectively online. Note down your thoughts.

  • At home – for example, knowing how to find things on the internet quickly.
  • At work – for example, being able to find information for reports quickly to meet deadlines.
  • If you’re studying – for example, being able to conduct research online.


At home, I might need to know …At work, I might need to know …When I’m studying, I might need to know …
… where to look for information.… where to find statistics and research that I can use to get my point across.… where to find journal articles.
…how to communicate online to get my point across without upsetting anyone.… how to communicate with colleagues, clients and customers online, including using social media. When writing online, I would need to know who my audience is and be able to adapt what I write for that audience.… how to write online, especially blogs.
… what and who to trust online.… where to find reliable up-to-date information, or know the best people to go to for this information.… how to find trustworthy sources of information.

You’ve now thought about the different activities that you engage in when you’re online. You may also have identified a few of the issues you have come across while doing this. And finally, you’ve thought about the skills you might need to make you more effective when you’re online.

In the next section, you will get a chance to reflect on how confident you are about different aspects of online activity.

Next: A framework for digital skills

Last modified: Thursday, 28 September 2017, 6:10 PM