How Digital Learning Is Becoming The Fourth Literacy




Those are the big ones, right? Up until recently, a lot of people would have probably said that was correct. But since it is 2013 and so much of our lives happen online, digital literacy is being added to the list. Not that this should come as any sort of surprise to most of us, since most teachers spend vast amounts of time in classrooms surrounded by technology. Technology that both teachers and students need to be literate in.

The handy infographic below takes a look at digital learning as the ‘fourth literacy’, which I found interesting. Do you think that placing digital learning as a fourth literacy is accurate? Would it not be an inherently integral part of the three prior literacies? Even though the graphic focuses on student and parent interest in coding (and associated inability to do so), I find the question of digital literacy being its own category more interesting.

What do you think:

Is digital learning its own literacy? Or has it just become an integral piece of other literacies?



  1. Kahtlyn

    October 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    This is really an interesting question. I have to say that in someways yes and in someways no. I feel that education over the last decade has continually tried to segregate the learning areas, for example this is math time, this is reading time, this is writing time. I think that this was an error and from this point of view technology is an added as a completely separate subject area.

    I feel however the current pendulum shift is back to integration and teaching as more of a unit of study. If you are using technology in this manner it is part of the curriculum as a whole and becomes a tool used to enrich the critical thinking throughout all subject areas. I then feel that learning the “code” to be able to complete tasks and open ended projects becomes more desirable and part of the learning process not just an added curriculum.

    What do you think? Do you agree with this point of view or have a different perspective?

  2. Ed Jones

    November 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Actually, what we need is about ten ‘literacies’.

    People used to get this. Rhetoric–communicating ideas–was an important high school topic. Philosophy-which was replaced by science–was also right in there.

    The literacies I’d like to see a US citizen be familiar with?
    – finance and micro-economics (how prices are set and the time value of money)

    – rhetoric + modern communications tools
    – math as a tool for understanding the various sciences
    – world and western history. Which starts with biography because people’s brains remember stories about people. But you can’t understand Pakistan’s history if you don’t know it lies in 10,000 ft peaks between the Persians, the Hindus, and and the Russians.
    – national security studies
    – fundamentals of building things–including computers.
    – the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, and the hundreds of fields that now intertwine these.
    – human ethics and law

    In this view, English literacy is just a stepping stone. If you want to start life as a writer, barista, or foreman, then yes, read more poetry and Moby Dick. But if your aim is to start out in some public policy job, then all of the above should fill your K-12 days.

    Coding… is a funny thing. For years Carnegie-Mellon had one of the top three Computer Science depts in the world…yet they would not let undergrads major in it.

    As the world around us becomes dominated by ‘the Internet of things’, it only makes sense that all of us have some sense of how that world is controlled and can break down.

    But the kids in school today? Their world will be dominated not just by software, but by nano-machines on the loose in the world around them. Scouring landfills, for instance, and swallowing the Lithium or PVC therein.

    It makes a heckuva lot more sense to teach coding than to send a C algebra I student through a full course of Algebra II. And why wouldn’t you give every curious 5th grader a chance to control a computer or robot in the language the computer itself speaks?
    And explain to a sixth grader what a server is and how the Internet delivers data to the phone in their hand?

    If we need a department of digital literacy, it may be more for the teachers than the students–a temporary necessity as we transform from book learning to fully interactive lesson delivery.

    As we do that, though, our ability to teach all of the above frameworks will explode.

  3. guy stephens

    November 15, 2013 at 9:03 am

    The whole question about digital literacies is an interesting one. Howard Rheingold talks about five digital literacies comprising – attention, participation, collaboration, critical consumption of information, and network smarts. However you look at it, I believe that some kind of digital literacy will become increasingly important over the coming years.