flu•ent for a dig’i•tal age?


capable of flowing  : capable of moving with ease and grace : capable of using a language easily and accurately : effortlessly smooth and flowing : having or showing mastery of a subject or skill

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dig’i·tal age

a cultural period marked by the prominence of a particular item : characterized by widespread use of computers

What does it mean for us?

It can be tempting to focus on the separate elements of digital fluency that are important to live, learn and work in the digital age. These do need careful consideration and are needed to form the structure of support offered to students and staff alike. These elements are

  • IT capabilities – being able to choose and use the technologies and tools available that best fit the task 
  • Information literacy“knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner” (CILIP)
  • Critical thinking – reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do
  • Online presence – selecting and using appropriate communication techniques relevant to different situations; creating and presenting an online identity that reflects who you want to be

But digital fluency is more than simply the sum of these individual parts. It recognises the inter-linked nature of the elements. They are woven together, with growth of each depending on the others and building into a fabric of digital competency and confidence within the individual.

Flowing effortless with ease and grace through technologies, resources and interactions is the aspiration of digital fluency.

This suggests that in addition to the four elements, digital fluency requires an acknowledgement that change is constant and skills need continuous development, that it isn’t solely about knowing how to do something but knowing how to learn to do something new. It’s all in the blend of capabilities and the confidence that can be drawn from it to approach future learning activities.

How does digital fluency support students to learn, progress and succeed?


By developing the capabilities and confidence inherent within digital fluency, students are equipped to take control of their learning, to become independent learners and to get the most out of the broad range of vibrant and challenging learning opportunities available.

The Horizon Report 2009  identifies the top challenge for higher education as “a growing need for formal instruction in the key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy and technological literacy”

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World  May 2009 (also know as Melville Report) suggests “the processes of engaging with Web 2.0 technologies develop a skill set that matches both to views on 21st-century learning skills and to those on 21st-century employability skills – communication, collaboration, creativity, leadership and technology proficiency”

Identifying, supporting and developing the digital fluency of our students is a complex issue. It is not appropriate to draw conclusions about capability based upon discipline, gender or age. In every cohort there will be a percentage of students who, by virtue of experience, background or ability will be coming to digital technologies will a lower level of confidence. Even for those students ‘born digital’ there is often a gulf between their apparent confidence and their actual use of digital tools and resources to support their learning. Future support needs to be sufficiently flexible, easy to access and personalisable to individual needs.

Reframing the notion of ‘graduateness’ for the 21st Century.

There is a growing consensus that the desired set of graduate skills and competencies should include higher order skills, such as intellectual flexibility, adaptability and critical awareness, coupled with the ability to deal with large amounts of information, to handle team and project work and to be an effective communicator…this range of skills are now frequently facilitated through digital technologies. During these challenging times, ensuring that our graduates have the best possible advantages in entering an increasingly shrinking and competitive job market is critical.

Digital Britain Final Report (June 2009)

digital britainThe skills needed for Digital Britain are not just another ‘vertical’ subject area. They underpin everything we do in the 21st Century. 22 million employees use technology daily in the workforce. Successful emerging economies have already embraced this message. So we need a step change in approach at all levels – in schools, vocational training, higher education and in the current workforce. pg171

It is more important than ever that HE should offer the education that will equip students for the current and future lives, to be able to respond rapidly to the changing needs in the digital sector and the wider economy.  pg 177

Universities UK/CBI Report – Future Fit: Preparing Graduates for the World of Work (March 2009) identifies a core element of employability as ‘the ability to continually adapt to a changing world’ and to enable this will require universities to support their graduates to develop information and communication literacy, creative thinking and problem solving abilities. Business are changing the way they present themselves and this will change the characteristics they seek in graduate recruits. This agency’s description indicates the sort of shifts in approach that we anticipate to become increasingly widespread.

we are a digital agency

The articulation of Sheffield Hallam graduate attributes, including those that reflect the digital fluencies we discuss here, would provide a useful focus, clarifying our ‘offer’ to prospective students and future employers and inform the learning opportunities and support activities that we can offer to help students develop those attributes.

Realising potential through professional development

The digital technologies now pervasive across academia have changed the nature of academic practice.  Technologies impact on how students learn or engage with resources,  how people communicate and socialise, and how businesses operate. They are also changing the way we collaborate with fellow researchers, engage in scholarship to keep up to date with developments in our disciplines, and design and deliver learning opportunities for students. The need to continuously update skills and competencies to make best use of digital tools and resources is an essential component of professional development for staff.


Recommendations from Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World (May 2009) suggest that institutions should

  • support staff to continue to reflect on research into learning so that they are able to make fully informed choices about their teaching and assessment methods
  • support staff to become proficient users of an appropriate range of technologies and skilled practitioners of e-pedagogy, incorporating both into initial staff training and CPD programmes
  • explore ways in which the tutor/student relationship might be developed based on the Web 2.0 skills and attitudes of students
  • provide ongoing support for staff to maintain the currency of their information literacies

What are your thoughts on digital fluency?

What is needed for students and staff to flow effortlessly with ease and grace? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? Where do you think we should focus our efforts in 09/10? How shall we measure impact?


One response to “flu•ent for a dig’i•tal age?

  1. Thank you for bringing together the findings from these reports so coherently. In many ways I feel these reports validate the work we have been involved in for the last few years, and I suppose this is to be expected given that the Digital Fluency agenda was one of the first major outputs from our work in AI.
    A related theme for some of us has been the consideration of creativity as a graduate attribute and so far we have not wished to confuse DF agenda by discussing creativity as a separate theme. Personally I believe it is important for us to talk more loudly about the development of creativity in all of our students and in the curriculum itself. The need for ‘inteelectual flexibility’, for example, explains why we need to bottom out what creativity as a graduate attribute would look like.

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