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Digital literacy is the set of skills and knowledge required for full participation in a technologically based society. Through digital literacy, effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs can be made for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. While digital literacy initially focused on digital skills and stand-alone computers, its focus has shifted to network devices including the Internet and social media. Paul Gilster, in his book entitled Digital Literacy, simplifies the term as the usage and comprehension of information in the age of digital technologies, emphasizing its importance in modern times. 
Digital literacy is distinct from computer literacy and digital skills. Computer literacy refers to knowledge and skills in using traditional computers, such as desktop PCs and laptops, and previously proceeded digital literacy. Computer literacy focuses on practical skills in using software application packages, whereas digital skills refer to practical abilities in using digital devices such as laptops and smartphones. 
Digital literacy is the marrying of the two terms digital and literacy. However, there is a large significance as a result of the combination of these two terms. Digital information is a symbolic representation of data, and literacy refers to the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word.
A digitally literate individual will possess a range of digital skills, knowledge of the basic principles of computing devices, and skills in using computer networks. The individual has the ability to engage in online communities and social networks while adhering to behavioral protocols and is able to find, capture, and evaluate information. Digital literacy requires the individual to understand the societal issues raised by digital technologies and possess critical thinking skills. These skills can be developed through digital experiences that pushes individuals to think in a variety of ways through a multitude of media platforms. The evolution of digital media has quickly integrated into literacy.
Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy. Instead, it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy. Digital literacy allows individuals to communicate and learn in through a plethora of ways. Different kinds of skills ranging from social to critical thinking enable individuals to interpret the meanings of digital devices.
In addition to critical thinking skills, digital literacy involves ethical norms and standards of behavior in online environments. Every online community has its individual sets of norms and rules in regard to creating and circulating information.
Digital literacy is one of the nine core elements of digital citizenship. A digital citizen has the ability to be active citizens in online environments and possesses the technical literacy skills necessary to effectively engage with the web. The internet is accessible in their homes and individuals use the internet daily.
Other terms, such as 'Information and data literacy', are also used to encompass the same competences as in digital literacy. This term is used in the Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, a tool created by the European Commission to improve citizen's digital competence for work and employability, learning, leisure, consumption and participation in society. Version 2.0 of the framework was created in 2016 which updates the descriptors and terms used (Vuorikari et al., 2016).
Digital literacy researchers explore a wide variety of topics, including how people find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information while using digital technologies. Research also encompasses a variety of hardware platforms, such as computer hardware, cell phones, mobile devices and software or mobile applications, including web search or internet applications, more broadly. Research of digital literacy is concerned with much more than how people learn to use computers.
From a competency perspective, literacy is the lowest level in a progression that spans literacy, fluency, and mastery. From an academic perspective, digital literacy is a part of the computing subject area alongside computer science and information technology.
Digital literacy is a new literacy and can be decomposed into several sub-literacies. One such decomposition considers digital literacy as embracing computer literacy, network literacy, information literacy and social media literacy. Previous conceptualizations of digital literacy focused on the practical skills associated with using computers (now considered computer literacy). These include hardware skills, such as connecting devices, and software skills, such as using application packages. Contemporary conceptualizations of digital literacy add to these traditional skills, and embrace knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors, particularly with respect to networked devices (which include smartphones, tablets and personal computers). Digital literacy differs from computer literacy in a number of significant ways. While it embraces the practical skills that computer literacy incorporates, there is a much greater focus on sociological, political, cultural, economic and behavioral aspects of digital technologies.
As a pedagogical approach in curriculum design, the implementation of digital literacy affords far-reaching advantages. The internet is both a source of information and communication that has increased exponentially internationally. Subsequently, integrating technology into the classroom in a meaningful way, exposes students to a range of literacy practices called multi-literacies which broadens their outlook and widens vistas of information and knowledge which is highly constructive. This methodology embraces the constructivist theory of learning (Bruner, 1978) wherein learners draw from their existing knowledge in order to construct new learning.
Media literacy education began in the United Kingdom and the United States as a result of war propaganda in the 1930s and the rise of advertising in the 1960s, respectively. Manipulative messaging and the increase in various forms of media further concerned educators. Educators began to promote media literacy education in order to teach individuals how to judge and access the media messages they were receiving. The ability to critique digital and media content allows individuals to identify biases and evaluate messages independently.
Danah Boyd stresses the importance of critical media literacy, especially for teens. She advocates that critical media literacy skills are the first step in identifying biases in media content, such as online or print advertising. Technical skills and knowledge of navigating computer systems further helps individuals in evaluating information on their own. Barriers in acquiring technical skills and computer knowledge set forth a limit for individuals in fully participating in the digital world.
In order for individuals to evaluate digital and media messages independently, they must demonstrate digital and media literacy competence. Renee Hobbs, professor of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, developed a list of skills that demonstrate digital and media literacy competence. Digital and media literacy involves knowing how to retrieve, distribute, and understand information found in digital environments such as the internet. Digital and media literacy includes the ability to examine and comprehend the meaning of messages, judging credibility, and assessing the quality of the digital work. The individual is capable of analyzing digital and media messages by recognizing the author's perspective and overall purpose. A digital and media literate individual has the aptitude to create diverse forms of digital content and possesses technology skills to create digital content. The individual becomes a socially responsible member of their community by spreading awareness and helping others find digital solutions at home, work, or on a national platform.
Digital literacy requires certain skill sets that are interdisciplinary in nature. Warschauer and Matuchniak (2010) list three skill sets, or 21st century skills, that individuals need to master in order to be digitally literate: information, media, and technology; learning and innovation skills; and life and career skills. In order to achieve information, media, and technology skills, one needs to achieve competency in information literacy, media literacy and ICT (information communicative technologies). Encompassed within Learning and Innovation Skills, one must also be able to exercise their creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration skills (the "Four Cs of 21st century learning"). In order to be competent in Life and Career Skills, it is also necessary to be able to exercise flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility.
Aviram & Eshet-Alkalai contend that there are five types of literacies that are encompassed in the umbrella term that is digital literacy.
Schools are continuously updating their curriculum for digital literacy to keep up with accelerating technological developments. This often includes computers in the classroom, the use of educational software to teach curriculum, and course materials being made available to students online. Some classrooms are designed to use smartboards and audience response systems. These techniques are most effective when the teacher is digitally literate as well.
Teachers often teach digital literacy skills to students who use computers for research. Such skills include verifying credible sources online and how to cite web sites. Google and like2do.com resource are used by students "for everyday life research."
Educators are often required to be certified in digital literacy to teach certain software and, more prevalently, to prevent plagiarism amongst students.
Digital writing is a new type of composition being taught increasingly within universities. Digital writing is a pedagogy focused on technology's impact on writing environments; it is not simply using a computer to write. Rather than the traditional print perspective, digital writing enables students to explore modern technologies and learn how different writing spaces affect the meaning, audience, and readability of text. Educators in favor of digital writing argue that it is necessary because "technology fundamentally changes how writing is produced, delivered, and received." The goal of teaching digital writing is that students will increase their ability to produce a relevant, high-quality product, instead of just a standard academic paper.
One aspect of digital writing is the use of hypertext. As opposed to printed text, hypertext invites readers to explore information in a non-linear fashion. Hypertext consists of traditional text and hyperlinks that send readers to other texts. These links may refer to related terms or concepts (such is the case on Wikipedia), or they may enable readers to choose the order in which they read. The process of digital writing requires the composer to make unique "decisions regarding linking and omission." These decisions "give rise to questions about the author's responsibilities to the [text] and to objectivity."
University of Southern Mississippi professor, Dr. Suzanne Mckee-Waddell conceptualized the idea of digital composition. It is the ability to integrate multiple forms of communication technologies and research to create a better understanding of a topic. In order to reach this result, an individual must use intellectual and practical skills.
Digital technology has also impacted the way educators teach in the classroom. With the use of technology rising over the past decade, educators are enhancing traditional forms of learning with digital literacy through different platforms. . As such, several websites are assisting in these efforts such as Google Docs, which has allowed students to collaborate, Prezi, which allows individuals to use pre-made, creative presentation templates, and Easybib which allows individuals to generate citations in any given format. Additionally, educators have also turned to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo, Schoology and even Instagram to communicate and share ideas with one another. New standards have been put into place as digital technology has augmented classrooms. Digital composition keeps educators and students connected through modern teaching techniques.
Digital literacy helps people communicate and keep up with societal trends. Literacy in social network services and Web 2.0 sites helps people stay in contact with others, pass timely information and even sell goods and services. This is mostly popular among younger generations, though sites like LinkedIn have made it valuable to older professionals.
Digital literacy can also prevent people from believing hoaxes that are spread online or are the result of photo manipulation. E-mail frauds and phishing often take advantage of the digitally illiterate, costing victims money and making them vulnerable to identity theft.
Research has demonstrated that the differences in the level of digital literacy depend mainly on age and education level, while the influence of gender is decreasing (Hargittai, 2002; van Dijk, 2005; van Dijk and van Deursen, 2009). Among young people, digital literacy is high in its operational dimension. Young people rapidly move through hypertext, have a familiarity with different kinds of online resources. However, the skills to critically evaluate content found online show a deficit (Gui and Argentin, 2011).
Building on digital literacy is the concept of digital creativity which is the expression of creative skills in the digital medium. This can include programming, websites and the generation and manipulation of digital images.
With the emergence of social media, individuals who are digitally literate now have a major voice online. Websites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as personal websites and blogs, have enabled a new type of journalism that is subjective, personal, and "represents a global conversation that is connected through its community of readers." These online communities foster group interactivity among the digitally literate. Social media also help users establish a digital identity or a "symbolic digital representation of identity attributes." Without digital literacy or the assistance of someone who is digitally literate, one cannot possess a personal digital identity. This is closely allied to web literacy.
Those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure. Many jobs require a working knowledge of computers and the Internet to perform basic functions. As wireless technology improves, more jobs require proficiency with cell phones and PDAs.
White collar jobs are increasingly performed primarily on computers and portable devices. Many of these jobs require proof of digital literacy to be hired or promoted. Sometimes companies will administer their own tests to employees, or official certification will be required.
As technology has become cheaper and more readily available, more blue-collar jobs have required digital literacy as well. Manufacturers and retailers, for example, are expected to collect and analyze data about productivity and market trends to stay competitive. Construction workers often use computers to increase employee safety.
Job recruiters often use employment Web sites to find potential employees, thus magnifying the importance of digital literacy in securing a job.
The 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) defines digital literacy skills as a workforce preparation activity.
Digital literacy and digital access have become increasingly important competitive differentiators. Bridging the economic and developmental divides is in large measure a matter of increasing digital literacy and access for peoples who have been left out of the information and communications technology (ICT) revolutions.
Research published in 2012 found that the digital divide, as defined by access to information technology, does not exist amongst youth in the United States. Young people of all races and ethnicities report being connected to the internet at rates of 94-98%. There remains, however, a civic opportunity gap, where youth from poorer families and those attending lower socioeconomic status schools are less likely to encounter opportunities to apply their digital literacies toward civic ends.
Community informatics overlaps to a considerable degree with digital literacy by being concerned with ensuring the opportunity not only for ICT access at the community level, but also according to Michael Gurstein, that the means for the "effective use" of ICTs for community betterment and empowerment are available. Digital literacy is, of course, one of the significant elements in this process.
The United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) seeks to address this set of issues at an international and global level. Many organizations (e.g. Per Scholas for underserved communities in the United States and InterConnection for underserved communities around the world as well as the U.S.) focus on addressing this concern at national, local and community levels.
The digital divide was first widely discussed by journalists, academics, and governmental agencies in the 1990s. The digital divide was used to distinguish between the digital accessibility of wealthy and lower-income groups.Jessamyn C. West defines the digital divide as the gap between individuals who can and cannot easily access technology, or the haves and have-nots. The digital divide highlights the privileges individuals have in accessing technology.
Expanding on the definition of the digital divide, Howard Besser argues that the digital divide means more than technology access between the haves and have-nots. The digital divide encompasses aspects such as information literacy, appropriateness of content, and access to content. Beyond access, a digital divide exists between those who have the ability to apply critical thinking to technology. Language and English fluency creates a barrier in the digital divide as well, as most content online is written in English. The digital divide includes a gap between individuals who have the ability to create digital content or are merely consumers.
In 1994 the United States Department of Commerce began investigating the causes of the digital divide. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) conducted the survey, Falling Through the Net. The NTIA discovered that many socioeconomic factors, such as income, geographical location, age, and education were the driving forces of the digital divide. Older, less educated, and lower-income individuals were less likely to own a telephone or computer in their homes.
The NTIA conducted a second survey in 1999 and found that statistics of the digital divide improved. Computer ownership and internet access increased across every demographic group and geographic area. However, the research found that certain groups were advancing faster in regards to internet access. Those who had easy access to technology were growing more information rich than the have-not group. The research revealed that the socioeconomic factors found in the first survey are still present in growing the digital divide, although access to computers and internet use increased.
Marc Prensky invented and popularized the terms digital natives and digital immigrants. A digital native, according to Marc Prensky, is an individual born into the digital age. A digital immigrant refers to an individual who adopts technology later in life. These terms aid in understanding the issues of teaching digital literacy, however, simply being a digital native does not make one digitally literate.
Digital immigrants, although they adapt to the same technology as natives, possess a sort of accent which restricts them from communicating the way natives do. In fact, research shows that, due to the brain's malleable nature, technology has changed the way today's students read, perceive, and process information. This means that today's educators may struggle to find effective teaching methods for digital natives. Digital immigrants might resist teaching digital literacy because they themselves were not taught that way. Marc Prensky believes this is a problem because today's students speak a new language that educators do not understand.
Statistics and popular representations of the elderly portray them as digital immigrants. For example, Canada in 2010 found that 29% of its citizens 75 years of age and older, and 60% of its citizens between the ages of 65-74 had browsed the internet in the past month. Conversely, internet activity reached almost 100% among its 15 through 24-year-old citizens. Eugene Loos identifies the most common assumptions about digital technologies and the elderly, all of which contribute to portray them as digital immigrants and to perpetuate digital ageism. Senior citizens may be regarded as a homogenous group, however, this group does not want or is not able to make use of digital information sources. Eugene Loos claims this is not a problem because as time passes, these generations will be succeeded by new generations that have no problem at all with digital technologies.
Although Marc Prensky is credited as the originator of digital natives and digital immigrants because he popularized the concepts, Poet and cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff have also been cited to have coined the terms.
John Perry Barlow used the concepts in his statement entitled A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, for the 1996 World Economic Forum in Davos. John Perry Barlow's poetry showcases the generational gap that grew with the rise of technology. John Perry Barlow metaphorically suggested that children are natives in the growing digital world and parents are fearful of the growing generational gap in regard to technology. Douglas Rushkoff employed the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants in his book, Playing the Future. Douglas Rushkoff praises children's progress and growing competence with technology and labels youth as digital natives.
According to Ahn, Juyeon, & Jung, Yoonhyuka, a digital native is someone who has grown up with technologies. For example, a pager, the first cell-phone, and an oversized cube computer. They also have different understandings of digital use. While digital immigrants, who have been exposed to digital technology later in life. (Prensky, 2001) states, "digital natives" indicates the young generation born after the 1980s, "digital immigrants" designates the parent generation of DN. Because DN have been growing with diverse digital technologies, they are inclined to adopt and be favorable to emerging technologies."
In contrast to Marc Prensky, David S. White has been publicizing his concept of digital visitors and residents. Briefly, the concept is that visitors leave no online social trace whereas residents live a portion of their lives online. These are not two separate categories of people, but rather a description of a continuum of behaviors. It is probable that many individuals demonstrate both visitor and residential behaviors in different contexts. Dave White has developed a mapping tool which explores this concept.
Media theorist Henry Jenkins coined the term participation gap and distinguished the participation gap from the digital divide. According to Henry Jenkins, the participation gap describes the gap in skills that emerge when individuals have different levels of access to technology. Henry Jenkins states that students learn different sets of technology skills if they only have access to the internet in a library or school. Students who have access to the internet at home have more opportunities to develop their skills and have fewer limitations, such as computer time limits and website filters commonly used in libraries.
The effects of the participation gap were studied by Danah Boyd, who observed and conducted fieldwork on teens in the United States. Danah Boyd observed privileged and disadvantaged teens' different experiences with technology. In New York, she observed a teen girl use her Android phone for texting and using mobile applications. The teen girl was able to use technology to participate in social media, but the internet was too slow on her phone to complete homework assignments. Although the teen girl had full access to the internet, the slow internet and mobile device itself limited her experience in further improving her competence with technology. The teen girl's limited access to technology highlights the participatory gap in skills that individuals experience when they have limited access to the internet and various modes of technology.
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Government officials around the world have emphasized the importance of digital literacy for their economy. According to HotChalk, an Online resource for educators: "Nations with centralized education systems, such as China, are leading the charge and implementing digital literacy training programs faster than anyone else. For those countries, the news is good."
Many developing nations are also focusing on digital literacy education to compete globally.
Economically, socially and regionally marginalised people have benefited from the ECDL Foundation's ECDL / ICDL programme through funding and support from Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, international development agency funding and non-governmental organisations(NGO's).
The Philippines' Education Secretary Jesli Lapus has emphasized the importance of digital literacy in Filipino education. He claims a resistance to change is the main obstacle to improving the nation's education in the globalized world. In 2008, Lapus was inducted into Certiport's "Champions of Digital Literacy" Hall of Fame for his work to emphasize digital literacy.
A study done in 2011 by the Southern African Linguistics & Applied Language Studies program observed some South African university students regarding their digital literacy. It was found that while their courses did require some sort of digital literacy, very few students actually had access to a computer. Many had to pay others to type any work, as they their digital literacy was almost nonexistent. Findings show that class, ignorance, and inexperience still affect any access to learning South African university students may need (Kajee & Balfour, 2011).
In 2011, the EU Kids Online conducted a study that examined the amount of time children in Europe spent on the computer. It was found that roughly 85% of European children use a computer without the supervision of a teacher or parent, showing that these children have acquired some form of digital literacy (Matyjas, 2015).