Digital Fluency - Overcoming Skills and Gender Gaps with Education

By: Stephen Schwartz
DeVryWORKS Business Development Manager, Strategic Alliances

Defining Digital Fluency

Today, fully leveraging the digitized world, both at work and in daily life, requires digital fluency – or as described by authors C. Briggs and K. Makice, “the ability to reliably achieve desired outcomes through the use of digital technology.”[1] Where digital literacy was once a goal for skilled workers and students alike, digital fluency goes beyond knowing how to use devices and what applications to rely on. Those who are digitally fluent have achieved a higher level of proficiency with the tools of technology, knowing when and why they should apply them to achieve the goals at hand. While the word digital relates to the form of binary digits, it also defines electronic technology, such as in a "digital device".[2] Fluency is the quality of an effortless flow; or ability to express oneself readily and effortlessly.[3] Combining these words, we can arrive at the term digital fluency, which relates to the ready, effortless use of technology to learn, work and communicate.

The Value of Digital Fluency in the Workplace

A range of valuable skills – hard, soft and applied skills – contribute to digital fluency, including competencies that allow one to gather, evaluate, critique, develop, create, design and express oneself in a way to synthesize information.[4] As a result, a digitally fluent person can interpret and effectively communicate information acquired from the outcomes of their technical application or practice. Their fluency enables them to work with multiple technologies, learn new tools on the fly and apply them to solve problems, in order to benefit teams and act on business strategies.

With the prevalence of technology in everyday life, entry level workers may join the workforce with high levels of digital literacy, ready to become fluent in critical areas. Digital fluency among management and leaders of the organization becomes equally valuable, as they design strategic paths and set corporate objectives relative to the potential of the digital tools, solutions and workforce skills available to them.

Digital Fluency and Education

Many researchers and educators agree that the use of digital technology needs to begin early in K-12 school years, and should be even more fully immersed in curriculum at higher education institutions. From an educator's perspective, several things are needed for students to achieve digital fluency: a reliable and robust technology infrastructure, effective technology use by administrators and educators, plus information communication technology frameworks.[5]

A digitally fluent student will know where/how to access digital information efficiently and critique its relevance and accuracy, plus recognize effective methods in electronically reaching their intended audience, using technologies responsibly and securely. Student engagement with learning increases as more technology is introduced into the classroom. Ideally, students will move past mastering the basics to become lifelong learners as digital technology advances. As technologies and their applications are continuously evolving, digital fluency will be developed continuously over one’s lifetime.

To achieve digital fluency with students at any stage, use of technology must be made routine, readily available and accessible in support of curricula throughout the learning continuum. For example, educational institutions certainly would need to build and maintain Wi-Fi infrastructure, provide necessary computing hardware and software, offer digital literacy courses, and provide opportunities to participate in experiential learning, high-skills majors and STEM curriculum to better realize employability skills. Effective use of the Internet should take into account skills needed to successfully navigate technologies for learning, critical thinking, research and collaboration.[6] Curriculum outcomes should align with digital fluency goals, measured by digital competency benchmarks, which need to be correlated to demands from a rapidly changing world that is increasingly tech-intense and interconnected through dynamic interaction of smart devices, data, programs, processes and people.

Skills Gaps and Skilled Worker Shortages

The skills gap – in particular, the tech skills gap – is a significant issue across many industries. Companies need more employees with not only “hard” tech skills like programming and networking, but also the kind of applied tech skills that it takes to succeed in business in modern, dynamic, and often global, workplaces. Given this stage of global economic development, many organizations are facing a skilled worker shortage.

Additionally, in most countries, particularly in the developing world, women are underrepresented in the workforce and they are a significant source of untapped talent.[7] A 2016 study by Accenture suggests the best way to close both the gender gap and skilled workers gap is through digital fluency.[8] The results of this study and others indicate that increasing access to learning via digital media results in a smaller gender gap, in both opportunity and advancement. “Higher rates of digital fluency among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace.”[9]

Indeed, digital fluency may serve as an accelerant throughout every stage of an employee’s career, male or female, as their digital proficiencies enable them to resolve business problems and help their employers achieve strategic goals. According to a 2002 article, younger generations entering the workforce without appropriate tech skills may struggle to find a position, as digital fluency is now very often a prerequisite for obtaining a job.[10] For experienced workers, access to new opportunities may be presented through the understanding and use of advancing methodologies and tools. Employers and educational institutions alike are driven to invest in and enable digital fluency to allow today’s workforce and tomorrow’s leaders to accomplish more with technology.

Impact on Organizations, Individuals and Information

Innovations and technology have changed the way people learn and interact for thousands of years and have encouraged the pace of social change and education throughout history.[11] Digital fluency as a qualification or skillset is no exception. A pointed example: as more information is published exclusively on digital platforms, print is quickly becoming a diminishing medium for distribution, with only 2% of new information created today appearing in print format.[12] Digital fluency thus becomes an essential skill relevant to the ability to locate, evaluate, learn from and use information, on a PC, personal device, or by other electronic means. It also becomes the cornerstone of producing, managing and sharing information as well.

This evolution of our everyday reality at home, in the marketplace and in the workplace highlights the need for the continued emphasis on elevating digital skills through a lifelong learning endeavor. By further aligning tech-centric training with business strategies, and leaning into digital fluency through education, both organizations and individuals can gain and maintain a competitive edge.

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References

1Briggs, C. and Makice, K., (2011), Digital Fluency: Building Success in the Digital Age. Retrieved from http://www.socialens.com/blog/wp- content/uploads/downloads/2012/01/SociaLens_Digital_Fluency_Sample1.pdf
2Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/digital
3The Free Dictionary, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fluency
4Hsi, S., Pinkard, N., & Woolsey, K. (2005) Creating equity spaces for digitally fluent kids. Retrieved from http://exploratorium.edu/research/digitalkids/Digital_equity_paper.pdf, via Unpacking the TDSB’s Vision for Learning: Research Brief on Digital Fluency, Toronto District School Board Research Services (2016)
5Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2013). Technology in education framework: Teaching and learning, administrative operation, provincial infrastructure. Saskatchewan Ministry of Education
6White, Gerald K., (2013), Digital fluency: skills necessary for learning in the digital age, Australian Council for Educational Research, Retrieved 6/19/2017, http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=digital_learning
7Accenture, Retrieved 6/19/17, https://www.accenture.com/t20160303T014010__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-9/Accenture-IWD-2016-Research-Getting-To-Equal.pdf
8Cutright, Elizabeth, (2016), Digital Fluency Closing Tech’s Gender Gap, Retrieved 6/19/17, http://www.yardi.com/blog/news/developing-digital-fluency/15122.html
9Accenture, Retrieved 6/19/17, https://www.accenture.com/t20160303T014010__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-9/Accenture-IWD-2016-Research-Getting-To-Equal.pdf
10Resnick, M., (2002), Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age, retrieved 6/19/17, http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/report.pdf , p. 33. Also referenced in G. Kirkman (Ed.), The global information technology report: Readiness for the networked world. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, via https://blakereynoldsblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/what-is-digital-fluency-how-does-it-affect-the-younger-generation/
11White, Gerald K., (2013), Digital fluency: skills necessary for learning in the digital age, Australian Council for Educational Research, Retrieved 6/19/2017, http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=digital_learning
1221ST Century Information Fluency Project, (2014). Digital information fluency. Retrieved 6/19/2017, http://guides.rasmussen.edu/digitalfluency