The Digital Skills Component of 21st Century Literacy

The Digital Skills Component of 21st Century Literacy

When you think of literacy, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of one of your favorite books, or a piece of notebook paper waiting to be covered in neat rows of writing. Maybe you think of your email inbox, full of unread emails needing to be answered. Or your Facebook account, filled with posts by friends and families, and articles from the news sites you follow.

When we think of literacy in the 21st century, it is difficult to take digital out of the picture. We are in a society that sends and receives information electronically. We expect the convenience of online banking and health portals. We don’t think twice about electronic-only job applications. And we might be (literally) lost without our devices that talk to us as we navigate. Digital literacy is something that has long been a convenience, but has lately become more of a necessity if we are to take full advantage of everything our society offers.

At Literacy KC, we recognize that literacy is a multifaceted issue. Reading and comprehending hardcover books, using pen and paper to develop writing skills, and teaching the importance of grammar and mechanics are all essential parts of what we do in the classroom. But when we consider the skills our students need to compete in our 21st-century society, digital literacy is as essential. It must be part of what we teach in the classroom.

 I discovered the importance of bringing computers to our students when we offered computer classes, but hardly anyone was attending them. As I talked to students I realized there was often one of two issues: they were scared of the device, or they could not understand the relevance of computers to their life. In order to get our students to stop being scared and to understand the relevance of computers, I had to bring digital to them.

 I decided to make computers a part of our classroom instruction through digital push-in lessons. These lessons are short, 30-40 minutes, and focus on a relevant, tangible skill or activity for students. Over the course of a term, students set up and sent an email to their instructor, practiced typing, and learned how to do a reliable search online. The lessons were part of their class time, but they also fit into the instructor’s broader lesson plans. By making digital one component of literacy instruction, our students were able to understand its relevance. By working with computers multiple times throughout a term, students became less scared about using the device and wanted to learn more about computers.

 As we continue our digital push-in lessons, we also provide assisted lab hours and computer classes for students so they can continue to build their skills and get the individualized help they need. Want to get involved with digital literacy at Literacy KC? Call 816-333-9332 or email Sarah Bell ( for more information.

By Sarah Bell, Literacy KC Digital Inclusion Fellow

By | 2016-12-22T20:44:28+00:00 December 8th, 2016|About Literacy KC, Digital Literacy, Programs & Services, Understanding Adult Literacy|Comments Off on The Digital Skills Component of 21st Century Literacy

About the Author:

Literacy KC is a nonprofit organization that helps adults in the Kansas City metropolitan area improve their reading, writing, math & digital skills.