If you’re between the ages of 25 and 45, you’ve probably been using computers for most of your professional career. You know how to create a spreadsheet, you’ve signed digital PDFs, and you’re probably familiar with the basics of Google searching.
But how many times has someone asked you for help resetting a password or locating a particular website? While it seems simple to us, this lack of digital skills can hold someone back from accessing the knowledge and opportunities available online.
With more of our lives now happening virtually, digital literacy is more important than ever. Businesses and individuals navigate the internet every day, but if you’re having trouble building those digital skills, it creates a barrier between you and the rest of the online world.
What is Digital Literacy?
The definition of digital literacy depends on where you look, but according to the American Library Association, digital literacy is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
That’s the very technical definition, but in regular terms, digital literacy is the ability to navigate and understand the online and digital world.
For someone who grew up in the 90s, 2000s, or 2010s, we have a habit of taking these skills for granted, rolling our eyes at parents and grandparents who call us yet again to ask how to get to their email. But with everyone spending more time at home in 2020, being able to navigate that iPad you gave them for Christmas last year is one of the few ways you can stay connected.
We do a majority of our shopping online, so much so that malls are going out of business. And why wouldn’t we, when companies like Amazon can have items to your house the next day. But what does that mean for small businesses who never created a website for their store, who are losing their foot traffic?
Digital Literacy is more than just sending an email or responding to a Facebook message. It’s the skills, knowledge and opportunities needed to succeed.
Why Do We Need Digital Literacy?
Digital literacy is a hot topic for a few reasons. While the issues of building digital skills have been in the spotlight for a couple of years now, COVID-19 has increased the awareness and need to build these skills for personal and professional reasons.
When it’s difficult to get together with friends and family face-to-face, technology offers a way to fend off some of the feelings of isolation and loneliness, which is key to maintaining our mental health. Being able to handle a laptop or webcam can make a huge difference in maintaining relationships, but also in allowing for virtual visits with doctors or mental health professionals.
We also know that a large number of people lost their jobs this year, leaving people looking for work who may not have had to search for a job in many years. This can be especially challenging now that the majority of job searches and interviews are conducted online.
It also poses a problem for mom and pop stores that have been ordered to close their doors. Without the ability to navigate popular platforms like Facebook or even basic website creation sites like Wix to keep sales going online, they could be forced to close their doors.
Being able to navigate online job boards like Indeed and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn can play a large part in the ability to find new work in the current market. Being able to handle technology is also essential for remote positions and working from home.
On a more positive note, now is a great time for anyone looking to switch careers or just to grow their skills in their current field. If you’ve ever been interested in starting a new career in technology, now is a great time to work on those skills.
Digital Literacy Resources
If you’re interested in building your digital skills, there are resources available!
In non-COVID-19 times, local colleges and libraries often offer classes on things like Microsoft Excel, basic email and Google skills, and even Apple-specific classes. You check with your local institutions on what they may have available.
Companies like Microsoft also have programs available to help you build career-specific skills, like data analysis and IT support, or soft skills like Excel and the entire Office 365 suite. The Microsoft Global Skills Initiative offers free courses to help people affected by COVID-19 build their digital skills, but also learn new skills to help them prepare for a remote career. Their courses are available at no cost until March 31, 2021.
Digital literacy has become one of the most important issues in 2020, allowing us to stay connected even when we can’t be face to face. Take some time to check out digital literacy resources and see what skills may be useful for you!