Ever since Mark Prensky coined the terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant, the world of academia has been seemingly confused. A Digital Native is someone that has grown up in the digital world of the internet, smartphones, personal computers, gaming devices, and a much more. A Digital Immigrant is someone that was not born in the era of digital innovation, and came to use the technology either willingly or by necessity.
The distinctions between natives and immigrants have been often misleading. Many schools and businesses have incorrectly assumed that because natives have grown up with technology, they understand how to use it effectively. This is a dangerously incorrect assumption. Research from Change the Equation showed that american millennials are in fact not tech savvy, and many possess very low technology skills. According to Linda Rosen of Change the Equation, “being tech savvy is not simply the ability to text, tweet, or take a selfie, but rather being able to use the technology to solve problems.” There is a significant amount of corroborating research about the non tech savvy population of millennials to justify serious concern. Here is another interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the myth of the Digital Native.
The cornerstone of digital literacy lies in recognizing the importance of a formalized curriculum and instruction. To draw an analogy, previous generations grew up in the age of automobiles. Yet, no one assumed anyone knew how to drive because of growing up in the era of automobiles. Simply growing up around digital devices in no way prepares students to use technology. Knowing how to use a game console or a smartphone offers few if any readily transferable skills to use personal computers and other devices to solve problems. While some millennials don’t fear technology, they surely don’t know how to use it effectively or efficiently. In a research project with subjects ranging from 16-34 years old, Change the Equation found that 58% have low technology skills. This finding is generalizable to the greater population, and must be addressed by schools.
The fallacy that students will just pick up the technology is unfounded, and a limiting perspective. Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants alike need to be taught how to use applications effectively, how to manage computer systems and files, internet search strategies, ethics, security to protect ones data, the importance of ones online persona, and on and on. All of these important elements of digital competency are not obvious. Simply put, millennials don’t know what they don’t know, and to compound the problem, many think they know. Sadly, many educators don’t know either.
If a school or organization does not have the resources to address the problem, there are many providers that can assist. However, the first place one can look is locally. Many colleges offer courses in this area. Some high schools offer a basic level of digital literacy instruction, but obviously, based on the finding of Change the Equation, far too few.
There are certification programs that can be completed, which offer superb preparation for students and professionals. Check out IC3 from Certiport, and the International Computer Driver Licence (ICDL).
Perhaps most importantly, we cannot ever assume that digital literacy is obtained through some mysterious osmotic process. Because of the ever changing technology landscape, digital education must continue as a dynamic subject matter. Digital literacy is sometimes referred to as “the Fourth Literacy”, and for good reason. Effective digital skills are a must have in today’s world.