There was a time, before the Internet, when Zenith's Lazy-Bones[1] meant plugging your remote control into the TV, the only algorithms people used were knitting patterns, programming meant setting the VCR to record your favourite TV programme and phishing and pharming were just spelling mistakes in a world where literacy meant the ability to read and write.

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy is much more than reading and writing online or using the latest technology. With the explosion of social media, being digitally literate not only means being able to access and read online content but knowing how to navigate it safely.

Digital literacy skills require people to use both their literacy and technical skills to find, evaluate, create, curate and communicate information in a way that makes them effective digital consumers. Moreover, digital literacy skills should also encourage cyber awareness and cyber safety while consuming digital content, ensuring that your personal information remains yours and that we share it by choice.

Aren’t all young people digitally literate?

We often refer to young people as ‘digital natives’, a term coined by Marc Prensky in 2001. What we mean by this is a generation who have grown up in a digital world; a world of technology, social media and of course, the internet. We assume, wrongly in most cases, that because a digital native can use a smart phone, tablet or a computer that they somehow absorb digital literacy from the ether. We can often assume that they inherently know how to use all of the features of their phone, tablet or computer to their full functionality in a way that ensures they get the best from the technology, while remaining safe online.

Who should teach digital literacy?

Becoming digitally literate in a safe and supported environment, like the classroom, will help to prepare young people to safely explore the online world. This type of environment can also teach young people about digital etiquette, the issues around cyberbullying and the ever-evolving world of cyber security and cyber threats.

Digital literacy in education is becoming more embedded in the curriculum at a younger age. There is an expectation that when students leave full-time education they are fully digital literate, having obtained the pre-requisite knowledge and skills. Cyber threats are ever evolving with scams becoming ever more sophisticated, and many schools and educators struggling to keep pace with this rapidly and ever-changing world.

Most employers understand the threats posed to their business by cyber criminals and will educate their work force, developing their digital literacy skills - skills that will stand them in good stead both in and out of the work place.

What is the impact of poor digital literacy for assessments?

With the increasing use of on-screen assessments for things like aptitude test for jobs, the theory part of our driving test and their ever-increasing role in vocational qualifications, is it just a matter time before more general qualifications (GCSE’s and A-levels) move on-screen. In which case, digital literacy becomes ever more important and a fundamental factor in engaging with the assessment and the very qualifications that may shape a person’s future.

Clearly, employers are using digital assessment more, and schools are teaching it to students. In the rapidly changing digital world where social engineering techniques and cyber threats are becoming ever more sophisticated, the question remains: do we need a more over-arching strategy for teaching digital literacy?

[1] The first TV remote control, called the “Lazy Bones,” was developed in 1950 by Zenith. Remote Background - Zenith Electronics