Digital Literacy: Its Importance and Impact on Your Life and Your Career

June 21, 2017 Richard Justenhoven

Look back only 50 years and no one could have imagined a world in which a computer would sit in, or be part of, every workplace.

Now it’s impossible to imagine a life without digital media. Whether it’s using your smartphone to send an e-mail to a friend or business colleague, accessing spreadsheets to calculate finances or giving a presentation using a smartboard, digital media is found everywhere and is an important tool for professional success.

However, to get the most from these tools, we must learn and practice new skills. Programs such as Microsoft’s Word or Excel, SAP or SPSS enter our everyday working life and are meant to speed up processes and make it easier to achieve goals. But the use of these tools is not intuitive. The different options, technical terms and designs can make it hard to retain an overall view and use the tools in the most effective way. Furthermore, communication about and via IT programs is essential to the exchange of important information with colleagues, managers and external stakeholders.

The concept of digital literacy was introduced by Paul Gilster in 1997, defining it very broadly as the ability to understand and use information from a variety of digital technologies. He states that you not only must “acquire the skill of finding things, you must also acquire the ability to use the things in your life” (pp. 1-2). So, if we look at, for example, the use of Microsoft Word, we need to know what options are available; different types of font, italics, layouts, graphics, etc. The list is long and juggling all these options is hard.

Newer research (Bawden, 2008) criticises that there are still too many different terms referring to similar constructs, such as e-literacy, computer literacy, or information fluency. Also, it is still not clear what the core elements of digital literacy really are and how it can be measured.

Nevertheless, being digital literate is a mandatory competence nowadays. Dr. Doug Belshaw gave an interesting presentation on this topic in which he gives good examples of what it means to be digital literate in your everyday life, by involving the phenomena of so called ‘memes’. His definition of using memes includes “Idea + Tools + Communication”. He has created an 8-factor model of essential elements of digital literacies including “Cognitive, Constructive, Communicative, Civic, Critical, Creative, Confident, and Cultural”. These elements can be combined in different ways in order to understand and use information of our media-focused generation.

See the whole TEDx talk here.

So what does this mean for society and organisations?

To keep up with the wide range of new IT tools and media, it’s essential that we constantly develop IT literacies. Classes to train students in these areas are already set into the school system. But employers also employers need to keep track of new inventions and developments and train their staff accordingly. And this may be especially with older generations who may be struggling to adapt to the new tools in the workplace.


Bawden, D. (2008). Origins and concepts of digital literacy. Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices, 30, 17-32.

Gilster, P., & Glister, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York: Wiley Computer Pub.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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