Exploring the Underbelly of Digital Literacies

By Professor Mark Brown

Digital Literacy is essential for successfully living, learning and working in today’s increasingly digitalised and rapidly changing world. This brief think piece is written on the assumption that most people would agree with this statement.

However, what we define or understand as digital literacy is far more problematic. As Lankshear and Knobel (2008) observe in their seminal book on the topic, ‘the most immediately obvious facts about accounts of digital literacy are that there are many of them and that there are significantly different kinds of concepts on offer’ (p.2). Therefore, in many respects it helps to talk of digital literacies rather than limit our thinking to a singular all-inclusive definition of the concept. In a similar vein, in both the academic and popular literature the language of digital literacies is often interchanged and/or intentionally expanded through terms like digital skills, digital fluency, digital capabilities, digital competencies, and so on. The different use of terminology and nomenclature makes the search for a commonly agreed definition or understanding of digital literacies even more elusive.


Key takeaways

Set against this messy backdrop of competing definitions, models and frameworks, this blog post prior to OEB MidSummit explores the often unspoken underbelly of digital literacies. There are three core messages woven throughout this critical discussion about what it means to be digitally literate in the 21st Century. Firstly, the definition of literacy in whatever form is inherently political. Secondly, the digital literacies movement is complex and many efforts to propose definitions and develop related models and frameworks are decontextualised from social and situated​ practice. Lastly, most models and frameworks for digital skills, literacies or competencies fail to adequately address some of the powerful macro-level drivers and entangled and contradictory discourses behind the goal of preparing more digitally skilled learners, workers and citizens.

You can read more about the underbelly of digital literacies by reading the full OEB Insights blog post where this think piece was originally published.