Here’s How to Build Your Digital Literacy Skills

If you’ve ever looked for a new job, you’ve probably seen skills like attention to detail, customer service and collaboration listed in job postings. These skills, like digital literacy, fall into a broad category of abilities that are fundamentally important to success, and yet are sometimes easy to overlook. Digital literacy is everywhere, and everyone possesses some level of it. Have you ever seen a child pick up a smartphone and start using it intuitively? Fixed your unreliable internet connection to set up a smart TV? Have you ever watched a video tutorial to teach yourself to use a new app? All of these examples stem from digital literacy: the ability to navigate an environment that’s fully integrated with diverse technologies.

These days, most careers and work environments utilize a myriad of technologies, and employers want to know that their job candidates will be able to keep up. Digital literacy is commonly defined as a soft skill, since it’s less about one specific technology (the likes of which are changing daily) and more about the ability to learn and adapt to technology. Being digitally literate is not the same thing as being a good learner, however.

Digital literacy involves four major pillars:

  • Stay up to date with existing technologies
  • Properly communicate in an online environment
  • Manage your ideas in an online environment
  • Manage teams leveraging technology

Within these abilities are many technologies you could learn, including some that most employers will expect you to know. For example, communicating in an online environment could involve video conferencing platforms that a manager might expect to train you in, but it also involves using email, a skill employers will likely expect you to have when you walk in the door.

Digital literacy refers to someone’s ability to use technology to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information. If an applicant claims to have digital literacy skills, you’d expect them to be able to conduct thorough online research, which they can then analyze and evaluate. You would also expect them to be capable of creating a range of different digital documents and to use digital communication systems. An understanding of web browsers, search engines and email is an expectation in digital literacy as well. These are now considered pretty basic skills. While it isn’t hugely advantageous to have them, it’s a big disadvantage to not have them.

Depending on the industry, the specific skills that fall under digital literacy will build from there. Creative roles might expect proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite and video editing software while research-based roles might expect you to know how to evaluate the legitimacy of online data sources. You can see why different skills within digital literacy would matter depending on the career you are headed for. We asked hiring managers to share some of the important digital literacy skills they look for and why.

1. Independent research. A lot of digital literacy is figuring out how to use technologies that you’ve never seen or only have a cursory knowledge of, so the ability to independently research and problem-solve speaks volumes of a candidate’s knack for adapting to dynamic technical landscapes—an incredibly valuable asset. The technology industry is made for life-long learners. If that’s what you’re hungry for and you have the chops to prove it, you’re in the right place.

2. Familiarity with terms and common platforms. You might not think of a term like Wi-Fi as special knowledge, but thirty years ago, it barely existed as a concept. There are many terms the average internet user knows, and many you could understand with a little extra reading. Digital literacy means that you know your way around the digital landscape. It doesn’t mean that you can write applications or install and configure a new LAN in the office, but you should at least be aware of what those are.

3. Collaboration. Playing nicely with others might not seem like a starkly digital skill, but you’re part of a team. When that whole team is part of an ecosystem that uses a bouquet of different technologies, being able to marry collaboration and independent problem-solving makes true digital literacy a well-rounded professional characteristic. Additionally, many employers rely on digital tools and software to facilitate collaboration. You won’t have to be a power user of every individual platform from day one, but having the ability to navigate without much trouble is valuable.

4. Adapting to new technology. One of the most important aspects of digital literacy is the ability to adapt very quickly to new technology. You need to keep an open mind to innovation whenever it’s implemented. This is the most important skill as it allows for the workplace to remain agile and up to date with the latest progress across each company’s respective industry. While we all love reaching a certain comfort level with our day-to-day work and the processes surrounding it, the world isn’t frozen in time. New tools, technologies and software will be rolled out, and you’ll need to be comfortable with adjusting when needed.

5. Teaching or explaining technologies you use. This could matter in many different ways; maybe you will teach a new recruit how to use the technical tools they’ll need on a daily basis, or need to translate the way you use a particular platform in a cross-functional team. Digital literacy is both understanding and imparting knowledge on a continual basis. It’s important because you’ll be on both the learning end and the teaching end of technologies for the rest of your career.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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