Digital competences: Knowledge, skills and attitudes for the Network Society

The reflection around digital competences that I drafted in Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills has evolved into the course Competencias digitales: conocimientos, habilidades y actitudes para la Sociedad Red (Digital competences: Knowledge, skills and attitudes for the Network Society), a joint project with RocaSalvatella — especially with Olga Herrero and Genís Roca — who are doing an most valuable work in raising awareness and building capacity in the private and public sectors on e-competences.

The general idea of the course is as follows:

The Information Society implies numerous changes at all levels in our daily life: how we access and exchange information, how we work and stablish cooperation relationships, or how we communicate and interact with individuals and institutions.

These changes have as a consequence new demands for the individual: learning, being a professional or being a citizen in the XXIst century requires some competences qualitatively different from the ones taken for granted just a decade ago. The Information Society requires new knowledge, new skills and, especially, new attitudes that can be grouped under the denomination of digital competence.

“Digital competences. Knowledge, skills and attitudes for the Network Society” will bring access to the most recent approaches to the concept of digital competence according to different social dimensions, including a set of practical experiences of development, application and evaluation of these competences in several spheres of society.

Putting together the course has been an incredible effort because we really wanted to place it in between “Using MS Word to write a job application” and “New competences for the upcoming millennium in a post-structural and post-modern world under the light of the approach of the Habermasian interpretation of McLuhan”.

That said, we convinced — our sincerest gratitude — Cristóbal Cobo, Boris Mir, José Manuel Pérez Tornero, Ismael Peña-López (this one was easy to convince), Howard Rheingold, Joan Torrent, Telefónica I+D (speaker TBC), Laura Rosillo and Gerard Vélez to speak theory and practice of digital literacy from several points of view: education, government, enterprise and civic action.

The aim of the course is to reflect about digital skills and competences, but also to be able to apply that reflection in our daily lives, be it at the personal or at the professional level.

More information

Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills

Digital literacy (or digital literacies), e-skills, e-competences, skills for the Information Society, etc. There is plenty of literature about digital literacy in a broad sense. And there are even as many names as works to describe concepts, similar one to each other, but with shades and subtleties that make them have yet different meanings.

In my opinion, two problems are both the cause and the consequence of this lack of understanding, closely bound one to the other one.

The first one is that, most usually, digital skills are looked at at a very micro level. For instance, the most instrumental digital literacy (i.e. technological literacy) can be described without taking into account informational literacy, personal knowledge management, the sociocultural framework and so.

The second one is that, almost always, digital skills are not taken dynamically, but as a pretty static, closed black box. Take media literacy as an example, where a (for me) necessary corollary to the acquisition and mastering of instrumental multimedia skills should be followed by reflections on the change of the Fourth Estate, the rise of the Fifth Estate and so.

Actually, it is especially this last part, the dynamics of digital literacy and its actual application to everyday life — education, work, leisure, politics, social engagement — the most interesting to me and, to my knowledge, the most unattended one.

Had I to picture such dynamics, I would do it this way:

Where concepts are:

  • Technological Literacy: the skills to interact with hardware and software
  • Informational Literacy: the competences to deal with information, normally by means of ICTs (applying Technological Literacy). We could draw here two stages: a more instrumental one, related on how to get (relevant) information, and a more strategic one related to how to manage that information (or knowledge, if we speak of personal knowledge management)
  • Media Literacy: skills and competences to deal with several media, make them interact and integrate them in a single output. I believe we could also draw a lower level, multimedia, where interaction would be more mechanical, and a higher one, crossmedia, where interaction and integration respond not to technical possibilities but to a strategic design, building an ecosystem of different media (and not a simple multimedia output)
  • Digital Presence: Is centred in the person. These are the digital skills to monitor and establish a digital identity, and the skills to actively define it and use it for networking or interacting with other people digitally
  • e-Awareness: the most strategic (even philosophical) stage is the one related with being aware on how the world and our position — as a person, group, firm, institution — varies because of digital technologies

These concepts can be rephrased as:

  • Technological Literacy: HOW
  • Informational Literacy: WHAT
  • Media Literacy: WHERE
  • Digital Presence: WHO
  • e-Awareness: WHY

Some examples on what these digital skills and competences mean in everyday life are as follows:

The approach above is completely exploratory and fails to be complete. It is, though, a reflection of what I sense is happening at the applied level, when sometimes too much conceptual figures have to be put to work at home, in the school, at work or social and political engagement. In other words, how do we put the tools — and problems, and questions — of the Information Society in the hands of leaders, decision-takers and policy-makers.

We need not static frames, but dynamic paths. From 0 to 100. From the simplest needs to the deepest understanding. And build bridges amongst them stages.

Update:

This theoretical framework has been later on developed in Peña-López, I. (2010). From laptops to competences: bridging the digital divide in higher education. In Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), Monograph: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education, 7 (1). Barcelona: UOC.