Digital Literacy: The Most Valuable Tool for Lifelong Learning

We live in a digital world and organisations with higher rates of digital literacy are more likely to thrive. Running an efficient team without digitally literate employees today is virtually impossible.

Digital literacy is like traditional forms of literacy – the medium may change, but the basic skills remain the same. Where we think of literacy as the ability to read, write, interpret, and critically evaluate the written word, digital literacy asks us to apply the same skills to digital media.

Digital literacy is how proficient one is in using technologies to either find, assess, create, or communicate information. This means being able to find digital information, create digital content, and share it.

According to Developing Employability: “Digital literacy is the ability to identify and use technology confidently, creatively and critically to meet the demands and challenges of life, learning and work in a digital society”.

McKinsey defines digital literacy as “the ability to handle digital data, use popular software, access digital services, and interact with AI”.

According to UNESCO: “Digital literacy is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.”

In other words, digital literacy is having the skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information occur through digital technologies such as internet platforms, social media, and smartphones.

Therefore, a few key indicators of digital literacy include being able to:

  • Confidently identify and operate different technologies.
  • Access, interpret, and critically evaluate information in digital spheres.
  • Communicate with others using online tools.
  • Manage your online identity while being conscious of security, safety, and privacy.
  • Create digital content, not just consume it.



The importance of digital literacy in professional life cannot be understated. It goes a long way in making an individual employable now and in the future. A 2017 study from the European Commission found that 90% of professionals are required to possess at least basic digital skills. At work, employees are required to interact with people in digital environments, use information in appropriate ways, and create new ideas and products collaboratively.

Practical digital skills for the workplace include:

Project collaboration: Good project collaboration skills enable teams to work together seamlessly. Project collaboration involves three skills: excellent communication, organisation, and the ability to use project collaboration tools. These abilities improve employees’ productivity and efficiency. As such, leaders don’t have to check in with each team member individually.

Digital etiquette: Digital etiquette describes a set of conventional social behaviour requirements for the internet. This is also known as netiquette. Bad netiquette can land employees and their companies in hot water. Actions such as spamming and offensive jokes are bad netiquette.

Digital security: In 2020, the average cost of a data breach was $3.86 million (R61,5 million). The key to minimising such threats is continuous employee training. According to an IBM report from 2014, 95% of data breaches were caused by human error. Only through continuous training can employees stay abreast of current information and tactics in the cybersecurity world.

But the list of practical skills doesn’t end there. Here are five key digital literacy types:

Photo-visual literacy: This is the ability to recognise a photo or infographic and be able to understand the symbolism behind them. So, you’re able to “read” the photo on the screen intuitively and understand the instruction and the message behind the visual. For example, if you see a photo of a trash bin, you immediately know that it represents “delete”.

Socio-emotional literacy: This is the ability to identify the advantage of working in the digital space but also identifying the “traps” and dangers that may come with working in cyberspace and how to avoid them.

Information literacy: The ability to know when there is a need for information and using that information for the problem at hand. It’s also having skepticism when consuming information – for example, knowing how to identify fake news in a time of misinformation.

Reproduction literacy: Digital reproduction literacy is the ability to create a meaningful, authentic, and creative work or interpretation, by integrating existing independent pieces of information.

Branching literacy: Branching literacy is understanding the complexity of cyberspace. For many, it might come quite naturally after years of understanding how the digital world operates. It is the ability to navigate the internet and databases without getting “lost” in cyberspace.  In simple terms, it involves making a mental note of how you got to a certain page once you are there, how to leave it, opening other tabs, choosing options based on visuals, etc.

Digital literacy continues to evolve, which means many employees fall behind with their digital skills. Therefore, companies must work on improving the digital skills of employees. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, 26% of learning and development (L&D) teams see digital upskilling as one of their primary focus areas in 2022. Likewise, 30% of L&D teams plan to launch digital fluency or transformation programmes in 2022. Several benefits, including increased job satisfaction and employee engagement, can be achieved by providing employees with training in digital literacy.

So, what can be done to improve employees’ digital literacy?

To put these skills into action, a good place to start is by communicating the value of digital literacy to employees. In other words, answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” Explain that increased digital literacy can improve productivity, expand knowledge, offer new skills, and help people stay employable.

Once the importance of digital literacy is firmly established, run an assessment of employees’ current digital literacy skills. Doing so will help you determine which areas require improvement. Surveys that ask employees to assess their digital knowledge, or even online tests, can be good ways to check a team’s digital literacy.

The most successful digital literacy programmes are not once-off events, but a continuous process. Enabling ongoing initiatives involves adopting and implementing a comprehensive strategy toward developing digital literacy in the workplace. Set clear, measurable objectives to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. By doing so you will have a strong idea of which skills to prioritise. Collaborate with employees to design these objectives.

A digital literacy program at work can raise the mood of your employees and help increase overall efficiency. Set clear goals and give the digital literacy programme enough time to succeed.


Written by Rob Ewart



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