Digital literacy vs Information Literacy?

Does an information literate person need to be digitally literate and vice versa?
This is me hopefully playing a bit of devil’s advocate here and shamelessly promoting work by Librarians in the field of Information Literacy.
Much of the discussion on “digital literacy” seems to look at the plumbing of digital tools rather than the quality of the information flowing through them, or the nuts and bolts of technology rather than what it is supporting – and neglect the notion of literacy. For me being digitally literate means having all the cognitive skills of information literacy PLUS the technical skills to make good use of resources PLUS a dimension of creativity in outputs which are difficult to achieve through the written word and an immediacy and step change in communication whether as a learner, teacher, support staff or creator.
In the JISC Digital Literacies materials developed by Helen Beetham and being used in this project the digitally skilled person must progress from skills (personal capabilities) through practice (ways of thinking and acting) to develop higher level attributes. The Information literate person should have these attributes of judgement, responsibility, the ability to synthesize and create new knowledge but will need to learn new skills to become digitally literate. We have all seen the whizziness of tools getting in the way of the communication (have a look at this Youtube for 4 minutes of fun) because the tool itself is compelling to play with. Could it therefore could it be harder for the person who loves technology to develop to literacy? I have been impressed with other bloggers here at Reading giving examples of the usefulness and context of the tools not just the tools themselves.
However I found a comment found on another Digital literacy project blog “Maybe being digitally literate is about knowing which pieces of information to know and which can be found, knowing how to find information and knowing what constitutes important information”. The notion of Information literacy (and probably the first librarians back in the days when the Library was the only secure repository of information worth keeping ) articulated this many years ago. The information literate person needs to identify an information need and knowhow to address their information and evaluate what you find.
On the UK Higher Education scene the SCONUL 7 pillars model of Information literacy first saw the light of day in 1999 though it built on work by library professionals particularly in the US and Australia and New Zealand before that. It has since been revised and divided into two documents – a core model for Higher Education and Information Literacy through a research lens. The latest draft is Information literacy through a digital literacy lens and you can still comment on this – contact me please.
See all of these and the original document and position paper on Information literacy at The original model was used and amended for digital and information literacy as one of the graduate attributes by Oxford Brookes.

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9 Responses to Digital literacy vs Information Literacy?

  1. Shirley Williams says:

    Thanks for this Helen. I think it is far too easy for those of us who love our technology to forget it is there to serve a purpose rather than something for us to admire because it exists.

  2. patparslow says:

    Thanks Helen,

    To play the other side of the Devil’s Advocacy part, perhaps it is also true that in a world where communication is increasingly mediated by technology, some of the skills required to develop literacy are ones which are under the (direct) umbrella of digital literacy?

    Yes, there are marvellous examples of poor technology use – just look at the comments on most YouTube videos, for example, to see how the many people sink to the lowest common denominator in terms of their inter-personal skills when faced with the immediacy of being able to ‘grand-stand’ to a global audience with relative anonymity. But people behave like this in pubs, on streets, and in playgrounds too – the technology just makes their contributions visible to a wider audience, more quickly, and with greater degree of persistence. The ‘how not to do a Powerpoint’ meme is quite strong, with many people criticising the tool on the basis of how it is used by people who do not know how to present. But, again, there were plenty of people who abused overhead projection slides and even blackboards in a similar way. The saving grace of the blackboard was that it was too tiresome to write up every word that you were saying. The key ‘failing’ of Powerpoint, and video, here is that it is then easy to share and expose the bad practice, if you can call that a failing.

    Because there is so much information available digitally, I don’t think we can really suggest that digital literacy skills should (or even could) come after literacy. The basic digital literacy skills are increasingly a need to enable people to be able to properly develop higher levels of literacy in general. The Web allows people to start to develop inter-cultural communications literacies in a way that was impractical for the majority of the population prior to cheap and easy access to the Internet. The main problem, I think, is that easy access reduces entry hurdles and people end up have to learn on their feet, potentially leaving a trail of ill-advised comment and poor decision making in their digital footprints.

    At the same time, we still have the situation where people haven’t learned the basic IT skills necessary to make a coherent argument in a document. Not that all online communication has to be via the written word, of course (although it is one of the more accessible forms of communicating ideas, as opposed to images or audio/video), but if people could make use of the tools available to help them produce content it would raise the bar considerably. For instance, being able (willing!) to use the spell checker or even the grammar checker in a word processor would be a great start. Not that grammar checkers are as good as one might hope, and spelling checkers obviously miss some classes of error.

    Using these tools can help with effective communication, and also support learning – if people have a will to learn. It seems to me that this is possibly another of technology’s ‘problems’; because it can make some things so much easier than it used to be, people are content to let their personal skills remain at a relatively low level and rely on others’ ability to interpret despite idiosyncratic spellings, grammar and phrasing. Or maybe they iz just doin it for teh lolz.

  3. Doug Belshaw says:

    Hi Helen, are you saying here that ‘digital literacy’ as a term is not necessary as everything is captured by ‘information literacy’?

  4. Helen Hathaway says:

    Just trying to get beyond the risk of over concentration on the skills of using tools to empahsise the literacy or scholarhip of being able to be evaluative and be professional, critical and creative. Technology has made it so easy (as Pat notes) to disseminate anything that it has become a truism to say that information overload is an issue for all of us. Also I am not sure that skills with using a specific digital technology actually are easily transferrable…many of us reasonably experienced in some technologies still need to know where to get help with our new toys – I do anyway.

  5. Tim Johnson says:

    Thanks for this Helen, at least I think it’s thank you. Doug I have the impression that Helen is saying the opposite – you can be information literate but might not be digitally literate. I do keep trying to make people understand the difference. Digital Literacy is a much broader term that encompasses the way we live (work and play). Sometimes being digitally literate is not about seeking or evaluating information but is about being able to be an active member of society.

  6. patparslow says:

    I think the point is that you can be Information Literate without, necessarily, being Digitally Literate (although with the advent of digital technologies, you won’t be fully information literate without the digital aspects). I think it is also fair to say you can be Digitally Literate without, necessarily, being fully Information Literate, although, again, you won’t be fully digitally literate without it.

    For instance, you could have the full suite of Information Literacy that existed (conceptually, at least) before digital technology, and not use computers. This would enable you to work and study as long as there were no requirements for you to use technology. Of course, increasingly there is less and less option involved, especially with Government initiatives to provide services through digital means.
    Similarly, you could be Digitally Literate, able to work, live and play using digital technology, but not have the first clue about an effective library search or citing sources. This would cover you for the majority of work roles, but you wouldn’t be fully Information Literate (and hence, by inference, not fully Digitally Literate either).

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