The phrase digital literacies or literacies for a digital age expresses a tension between two points of view:
- education needs to carry on doing much what it has always done (literacy as a generic capacity for thinking, communicating ideas, and intellectual work)
- education needs to change fundamentally (digital technologies and networks as transforming what it means to work, think, communicate and learn)
This digital challenge to the educational status quo comes in the form of several profound social shifts, explored in more detail in the following section. Arguments over the definition and project of ‘digital literacy’ often revolve around which of these shifts are seen as most radical and defining of the current moment, and what degree of challenge they are perceived as presenting to current systems of education and learner support.
Without doubt, today’s learners, and their educators need to respond to changes in:
- the nature of work
- the nature of learning for work, and learning in work
- (arguably) the nature of cognition or knowledge processing
- the nature of useful knowledge in society
- the nature of social life and citizenship
- communications media
- other technologies and technical capabilities
- the experience and expectations of learners themselves, as a consequence of the above
Against this background of change, the practices of colleges and universities, and the capabilities of their graduates are under critical review. It seems likely that the challenges outlined above can be met by changes in:
- The kinds of capabilities valued, taught (for) and assessed by colleges and universities
- The ways in which learners’ capabilities are supported and assessed
- (Arguably) the value colleges and universities place on ‘literacies of the digital’ and the investment they make in staff and student skills
However, some evidence we review in this study suggests that a more radical challenge to educational institutions and their practices is underway.
In this study, we review the evidence of change in the contexts of learning, likely future scenarios, and current responses (Section 2). We analyse frameworks of competence and capability that have been developed to help institutions understand and respond to the literacies agenda (Section 3). We go on to describe our findings from a study of current practice in literacies provision in UK FE and HE (Section 4), including evidence from 15 audited institutions and over 40 examples of forward thinking practice. Finally, in Section 5, we offer some conclusions and recommendations.