Digital Digest: Putting Digital Literacy and Digital Resilience into Frame

With digital literacy quickly becoming essential for success in most personal, civic, educational, and career pursuits, adult educators across the country are searching for guidance on what digital skills to teach.

Published apr. 28, 2022

This blog post is the first in a series in which we will be sharing lessons learned from a national landscape scan conducted by the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) project. DRAW is a new initiative from JFF, World Education, and Safal Partners that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education under contract GS10F0094X. Its goal is to better prepare and support adult education practitioners to teach foundational digital skills and address barriers learners face when using digital technologies.

Digital resilience refers to the ability to navigate rapid digital transformation with confidence. The increased use of ecommerce, shift to online learning, and use of telehealth services are just a few of the changes adult learners find themselves having to navigate. Meanwhile, in the workforce, increased automation and the integration of technology into many jobs mean there is an ever-growing list of platforms and processes to which workers must adapt. The specific skills required for employment, participation in education, and communication with friends and family are changing almost constantly.

With digital literacy quickly becoming essential for success in most personal, civic, educational, and career pursuits, adult educators across the country are searching for guidance on what digital skills to teach. In a national landscape scan for the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) project, numerous stakeholders—including adult educators, employers, and workforce experts—identified a need for common definitions and frameworks for digital skills. It is important that these definitions and frameworks reflect rapid changes in technology so that instruction supports learners’ needs to navigate an increasingly digital world and prepare for employers’ current and future skill demands.

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From Digital Literacy to Digital Resilience

The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provides funding for adult education and workforce development programs, has adopted the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ definition of digital literacy skills: “the skills associated with—(A) using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information; and (B) developing digital citizenship and the responsible use of technology.” This is a definition that many education, workforce, and digital inclusion efforts have adopted. What’s missing, however, is the capacity for navigating digital transformation and continuously learning new technologies – something top of mind for adult learners, educators, and program leaders, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing nature of work. Learners have noted that they need specific digital skills to use the platforms required for both formal and informal work, including entrepreneurial and gig-economy opportunities. Hence, we selected the term digital resilience as the focus for DRAW. The Digital US coalition has defined digital resilience as “having the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands. Digital resilience improves capacity to problem-solve and upskill, navigate digital transformations, and be active participants in society and the economy.”

Shifting the goal from digital literacy to digital resilience requires that adult educators and digital inclusion services shift from teaching specific digital skills to building learners’ confidence and ability to adapt to and use new technologies on their own. Professional development will be essential for making this shift, given that our national landscape scan identified a frequent misunderstanding: a belief that digital skill development happens through the purchase of software or a tool on which a learner starts to work, rather than through the development of skills that are transferable across devices or applications. Shifting the goal and instructional approach will also require new ways of assessing digital resilience and making available aligned credentials or microbadges that signal to employers that individuals have developed the competencies needed to succeed in educational and career opportunities. For these reasons, we looked to see how existing frameworks could guide a shift in instructional and assessment strategies toward digital resilience.

Follow our blog series for further findings and discoveries pertaining to adult basic education

Read about Digital Skills Library here

Educators can: Assess students for digital readiness, Teach in-demand skills, Validate competencies via credentials, and Guide students to relevant opportunities. Employers can: Define competencies they need, Assess and validate competencies of employees and new hires, Create clear talent pipelines and career paths, and Partner with service providers. Learner-workers can: Find programs that offer the digital skills they need, Develop in-demand skills, Demonstrate competencies for assessment and placement, Earn credentials to validate their competencies, and Be “screened in” to opportunities based on skill acquisition.

Source: "Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce: Creating On-Ramps to Opportunity." May 2020 Report. Produced by Digital US.

List and Compilation of Digital Skill Frameworks

With digital resilience in mind, our research team scanned the country and the globe for frameworks focused on digital skills and competencies and identified more than 50. Among those that are commonly used in U.S. adult education programs are the framework presented in the:

Other key frameworks we identified include:

International frameworks include:

We found many common themes across the frameworks, though they vary in the intended audience and purpose, with some more geared toward employers rather than educators. For example, Markle worked with leading employers to develop the Digital Blindspot report, in which it outlines the digital skills required for modern employment and provides employers with guidance on prioritizing investments in digital training. The frameworks discussed in the report also vary in the level of skills involved, from foundational (such as using devices or accessing the internet) to more advanced, and in the granularity of skill descriptions. Most frameworks categorize types of skills into buckets, while fewer provide details on the discrete digital skills that programs can integrate into curricula, assessments, or badges.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all framework, there are many useful ones to guide educators and other stakeholders working in diverse contexts. That said, they vary in the degree to which they touch on the need to develop lifelong learning skills in order to continually learn new technologies, and the DRAW team identified a need for more detailed definitions of the skills and competencies required for demonstrating digital resilience.

The full list of digital skills frameworks found in our landscape scan will be available this summer.

For a more detailed description of some of these frameworks and their use, the EdTech Center at World Education provides a compilation of them in the white paper "Now More Than Ever: The Need for Digital Skills Frameworks."

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Finding Common Themes: The Seattle Digital Equity Initiative

Though there are variations across the frameworks, there are many common themes. When the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative compared international digital skills training frameworks in 2019, it identified 10 common themes and 74 distinct digital skills, which are discussed in its Digital Skill Sets for Diverse Users report. The 10 themes are:

  • Communication: Exchanging information with others on digital platforms using various strategies to collaborate, share, and communicate.
  • Creation: Engaging in digital spaces to design, create, and revise content online.
  • Device ownership: Practices that support device longevity, including physical care, protective software, and the use of technical support.
  • Gateway skills: Foundational skills required to use a device and participate online.
  • Information skills: Skills to apply, evaluate, and manage information across digital and physical environments.
  • Lifelong learning: Engagement in self-assessment of digital skills, using self-reflection to tailor accessible digital environments and continue digital skills learning.
  • Mobile: Understanding basic functions of a mobile device to communicate and access goods and services.
  • Online life: Access to online resources that support the digitalization of daily tasks and socialization within a broader digital community.
  • Privacy and security: Maintenance of practices to secure digital identity, recognize threats, and understand the broader safety implications of working in a digital environment.
  • Workplace: Advancing workplace success and professionalism through engagement with an organization’s online tools and other supportive digital systems.

The report provides guidance on which of the 74 skills are most relevant to diverse users, such as gateway skills for beginners, skills for users focused on jobs/employment, skills for advancing one’s education, and skills for parents.

The Seattle Digital Equity Initiative framework has proved valuable to adult education providers and educators alike. For example, the EdTech Center at World Education curated digital skills instructional resources in alignment with the framework’s skills in its free, openly available Digital Skills Library, which the DRAW project subsequently expanded through an EdTech Maker Space initiative in early 2022. Additionally, some employers in the Digital US Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity, such as Tyson Foods, are using the framework to plan training for their frontline workforce.

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Skills for Employment and Lifelong Learning

As we look to equip our adult learners and communities to be more digitally resilient in the future of work, there is value in better understanding the digital skills needed for employment and lifelong learning.

Digital Skills for Employment

In our national landscape scan, we found that instructors and learners both highlighted a need for greater understanding of the skills required for employment. Many frameworks specifically call out digital skills required in the workplace. While definitions varied, these skills align with six themes:

  • Digital problem solving—the nimble use of skills, strategies, and mindsets required to navigate online and use novel resources, tools, and interfaces in efficient and flexible ways to accomplish personal and professional goals.
  • Information seeking, including locating information online and assessing its relevance and validity, which is sometimes integrated with problem solving.
  • Communication, which includes appropriate email communication and the use of digital collaboration tools, with some frameworks adding working with diverse colleagues in a digital environment and managing one’s online reputation.
  • Privacy, security, and ethics, including complying with IT policies, safeguarding sensitive information, protecting one’s personal data, and handling suspicious emails.
  • Content creation, with some frameworks calling out content creation specifically.
  • Learning and upskilling, including self-assessment of digital skills and lifelong learning.

Digital Skills for Lifelong Learning

An important contribution to shaping our understanding of how to help learners develop digital resilience is ISTE’s Profile of a Lifelong Learner framework, which the organization developed to fill a previously missing description of digital literacy—one that can link digital skills to behavior, mindset, and action. The framework consists of five learner features—Lifelong Learner, Empowered Worker, Digital Citizen, Solution Seeker, and Mindful Colleague and builds from ISTE’s work developing the ISTE Standards for Students and ISTE Standards for Educators. Both sets of standards were developed for K-12 audiences but have been successfully adopted and used in adult education, including in state efforts to certify adult educators in Texas.

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Supporting Educators to Make Use of Frameworks

Existing digital skills definitions and frameworks provide descriptions of the digital skills adults need to succeed in work and life. Our next step in the DRAW initiative is to support adult education and workforce providers in making better use of them and applying them in different contexts to shape instruction, assessment, and badging efforts. Our goal is to help programs and practitioners think strategically about which skills they teach and how, so they can increase the impact of their efforts to build the digital resilience of all adult learners.

Please follow the DRAW project page for further updates, information, professional development support, and discussion on these critical topics. There will be a live Twitter chat on May 23 on employer engagement, which will include sharing Digital US Employer Roadmap and Upskill America's Digital Skills Discussion Guide and also extant resources on examples of employer engagement. Stay tuned!

This blog post was created by Jobs for the Future and World Education and as part of the DRAW project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, under contract GS10F0094X. The views expressed by the project do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and its contents should not be considered an endorsement by the federal government or the funding agency.