Increasing Your Workforce’s Digital Fluency
By Alexandra Levit
Digital literary and fluency are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences. According to Christian Briggs and Kevin Makice, two early advocates of the concept of digital fluency and the authors of Digital Fluency: Building Success in the Digital Age1, both digital literacy and digital fluency involve the ability to use technology to achieve a desired outcome.
A digitally literate person knows how to use technologies and what to do with them, but the outcome is less likely to match their intention. It is not until that person reaches a level of fluency that they are comfortable with when to use the tools to achieve the desired outcome, and even why the tools they are using are likely to have the desired outcome period.
True digital fluency may incorporate having an understanding of the overall digital landscape, and being able to appropriately and confidently select a technology to solve a given business problem. Digitally fluent individuals are often effective communicators and are competent at pushing forward implementations and encouraging adoption.
Why Digital Fluency Matters for Everyone
Per the CORE Education blog2, digital fluency is a crucial part of a broader set of competencies related to 21st century learning. Being able to manipulate technologies so we can create and navigate information successfully is supported by our ability to work collaboratively, solve real-world problems creatively, and pursue our own learning goals. Given this broad application, everyone working in a professional capacity today may benefit from achieving digital fluency, and educational institutions and organizations alike may wish to take steps to facilitate skill acquisition.
In the recent DeVry University Career Advisory Board Job Preparedness Indicator study3, my colleagues and I examined the skills needed by employees outside the IT function to leverage the right technology systems to do their jobs. In the research, we learned that:
- Digital fluency skills have officially moved out of IT. They matter for everyone. When asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “when I interview a prospective candidate, the presence of these skills and experience is a competitive differentiator,” nearly 70 percent agreed
- Despite a demonstrated need among employers, many skills related to digital fluency are relatively uncommon in the candidate pool. Data analytics, for instance, was among the least common skills at the entry, middle, and senior levels
- Digital fluency-related skills that are most important in modern workplaces include how to create a compelling story from data and how to best use and integrate software systems to maximize business value
- Organizations recognize that it's THEIR responsibility to train employees in these skills: 75 percent are taking action - from internal courses to tuition reimbursement - to ensure that this happens
One general way to achieve digital fluency is to make new technologies routine, readily available and accessible in support of existing business processes. For example, educational institutions and organizations might consider building and maintaining Wi-Fi infrastructure, providing necessary computing hardware and software, and offering digital fluency training and opportunities to participate in experiential learning.
The Role of Leaders
There are a few reasons why leaders are essential to your organization’s pursuit of strong digital fluency. First of all, many leaders aren’t of the age where they spent a majority of their careers immersed in technology, so they are prime candidates to develop this skillset. Secondly, leaders are well-positioned to view digital fluency from the perspective of overarching business objectives and determine how it can be effectively strengthened in a particular employee base.
To this end, it’s a good idea to continuously expose leaders to available technologies, asking them to “test drive” or pilot cutting-edge hardware and software whenever possible. When implementations are tied to a clear business case, leaders may be easier to convince. Once leaders have embraced new technologies and understand the fundamentals themselves, they can promote them to their workforces, facilitate mentorship, training, and user adoption, and encourage further digital transformation (or the process of using technology to radically change your business).
Finally, leaders may serve as your organization’s mouthpiece for digital fluency, so you may also wish to work with IT to school your leaders on how to talk about the importance of digital fluency to organizational performance, customer engagement, and shareholder value.
1Briggs, C and Makice, K (2012). Digital Fluency: Building Success in the Digital Age, Digital Fluency Publishing.
2Spencer, K (2015), CoreEducation Blog, What Is Digital Fluency?, accessed on the Internet at http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/10/what-is-digital-fluency.html (June 9, 2018).
3Career Advisory Board (2018), CareerAdvisoryBoard.org, 2017 Job Preparedness Indicator Study, accessed on the Internet at http://www.careeradvisoryboard.org/research/job-preparedness-indicator-survey-2018.html (June 9, 2018).
About the Author
Alexandra Levit is the chairman of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. She is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.