Cristóbal Cobo: e-competence in the European Framework: 21st century literacies

Live notes at the research seminar by Cristóbal Cobo entitled e-competence in the European Framework: 21st century literacies and based in his research Strategies to promote the development of e-competences. How to reduce the gap between the e-skilled and the non e-skilled?. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona, Spain, April 15th, 2009.

How to reduce the gap between the e-skilled and the non e-skilled?

Research questions:

  • Why does the Knowledge Society requires highly qualified labour force?
  • How effective have the IT & education initiatives been?
  • What means e-competence?
  • How should the coming labour force be trained?

Why does the Knowledge Society requires highly qualified labour force?

In the last years, complex communications and expert thinking have been increasing in the share of tasks performed by workers, while PCs increasingly do the tasks that consist of rutine.

The World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index is an appropriate framework to measure this shift towards more qualification in labour demand.

This shift has implied a huge gap between what is being taught at schools and what is being needed — and will be needed in the next generation of professionals — in the labour market.

How effective have the IT & education initiatives been?

And though there are plans (e.g. in Europe or the OECD) to foster and assess these needed skills, the implementation is not straightforward.

The European Commission has established three levels of ICT skills:

  1. Access to ICT
  2. Basic ICT Skills
  3. Advanced Use of ICT (Participation+Transaction)

But there is a physical digital divide, a growing demand of e-skills unmatched by a declining supply, a gender gap, half the population are non-users of the Internet…

Who needs digital literacy: age gap, gender gap, education gap, location gap, employment gap. Not new, but strengthened. Indeed, most non-users are due to lack of skills or e-awareness.

Still, self-learning still is the most relevant option when acquiring digital skills. Maybe policies should focus informal training instead of formal training.

Some issues in European assessments:

  • The majority of teachers in most advanced countries (Dk. Se. Fi. Ne)* use ICT in less than 5% of their classes
  • Students using PC more frequently at school do not perform better than others.Highest performances: students with a mediumlevel of computer use
  • Impact of ICT on students’ performance was highly dependent on teaching approaches
  • No correlation: ICT access & Øof teachers having used ICT in their teaching.No correlation: Levels of ICT use & levels of perceived learning gains from ICT use
  • No clear advances (last decade) that can be confidently attributed to broader access to PC.
  • Most educators use technology @ school for administrative tasks (fewer for class)
  • The positive impact of ICT use in education has not been proved

BUT, the reason could be that computers/Internet are just used in old ways of teaching, reinforcing old methodologies, instead of focusing on educative innovation and applying them in new ways of teaching.

What means e-competence?

e-competence: Capabilities and skills to manage tacit and explicit knowledge, as well as to use digital technologies in a knowledge-based economy. There are several ways in which this general concept is put into practice or defined in deeper detail: the European e-competence framework, OECD, the ECDL by the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies.

Five stages of e-competence:

  • e-Awareness: understanding the framework
  • Technological Literacy: confident and critical operation of ICT
  • Informational Literacy: read with meaning
  • Digital Literacy: integration of instrumental and strategical skills.
  • Media Literacy: understanding how traditional mass media and digital media are merging

How should the coming labour force be trained?

  • Long Term Agenda and dialogue between education and business sectors
  • e-Inclusion: forget the “ideal knowledge worker” but focus in potential excluded. Try to reach e-awareness, beyond just basic digital literacy.
  • Standardization: set standards for ICT competencies: definitions, assessment, certifications… Standardization for the mobility of the workforce.
  • e-Awareness
  • Pedagogical Shift: avoid reductionist approaches
  • e-Skills Teachers: impact of ICT on students are highly dependent on the teaching approaches, their skills and incentives
  • R&D

Q & A

Q: where do we focus in ICT training for teachers? A: Probably most innovation comes from digital literacy, from the capability to analyse, criticise and assess, which somehow requires exploration.

Q: how do we teach how to innovate? A: a pedagogical shift is required prior to engage in innovation.

Q: where do we put the threshold in what is “sufficient” e-kills? A: it depends. This is why we have to draw standards depending of economic sectors, purposes, etc.

Ismael Peña-López: there’s evidence of ICTs being not a driver of inclusion, but a driver of exclusion: the question is not whether I’ll be more employable if I got specific e-skills, but whether I’ll remain employable at all if I do not have them. On the other hand, is not about e-skills, but e-competences. Skills might vary as technology does, but competences do not (e.g. a competence is going from A to B as fast as possible; skills, which change along time, would then be riding a horse, riding a bike or driving a car).

Q: if ICT in education is useless, because teachers are not prepared or committed, why don’t focus in informal learning? is it worth it? are policies correctly addressed?

Edgar Gómez: there’s a problem of fundamental skills like reading, talking and speaking, that undermine higher level skills.

Ismael Peña-López: why focus in informal learning? why not fix what’s broken (formal education) instead of fostering a patch (informal education)? (note: I’m actually for informal learning). A: Fixing formal learning is really costly — and not only economically — and its success, when there’s some, is long term. It might be cleverer to make technology pervasive and invisible in every day life, and make using it (and learning its use) more transparent and also pervasive. It’s not about teaching, but about embedding. It’s about making irrelevant the computer by using it very much.

More information


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Cristóbal Cobo: e-competence in the European Framework: 21st century literacies” In ICTlogy, #67, April 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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