Digital & Media Literacy: A New Kind of "Sector" Strategy? (Idea #2*)

Feb 25, 2012

Photo from Howard's TED Talk in 2008

Digital literacy. We used to think this meant something akin to "the ability to use a computer to access basic information." But as the web has become increasingly central to our personal, professional, and economic lives, understanding how to interact with it requires more than just knowing the mechanics of search and the ability to use basic applications.

Howard Rheingold authored "Attention and other Social Media Literacies" in 2010, but it's still loaded with insights that have yet to find their way into the majority of approaches to digital literacy. Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs, among other groundbreaking analyses, and new media explorer extraordinaire) focuses on five literacies:

  • Attention
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Network awareness
  • Critical consumption

And he makes this critical point:

"Although I consider attention to be fundamental to all the other
literacies, the one that links together all the others, and although it is the one I will spend the most time discussing in this article, none of these literacies live in isolation. They are interconnected. You need to learn how to exercise mindful deployment of your attention online if you are going to become a critical consumer of
digital media; productive use of Twitter or YouTube requires knowledge of who your public is, how your participation meets their needs (and what you get in return), and how memes flow through networked publics. Ultimately, the most important fluency is not in mastering a particular literacy but in being able to put all five of these literacies together into a way of being in digital culture."

Is this the the way we understand digital literacy in the workforce system?

It turns out the White House thinks digital literacy is pretty important, too, and partnered with the US Department of Commerce on DigitalLiteracy.gov. In fact, this month, DigitalLiteracy.gov is highlighting its collection of resources on Job Training.

And hey, look here! the site also features the Mozilla Badges project we have cited a number of times on this blog.

So...what would it look like if the workforce champions in a community launched a major initiative around digitial literacy—engaging libraries, schools, museums, and others in raising skill-levels in the five Rheingold literacies? (There's a virtual course in how to do this on Rheingold's home- and posterous pages, with new ideas likely in his soon-to-be-published new book scheduled to arrive Spring 2012).

Or how about re-thinking sector or pathway strategies, focusing on the sectors in which these skills with be most essential? Or the sectors less likely to take up this cause? Or the demographic groups that may be in greatest need of them? Or maybe a sector strategy for workforce development professionals?

Here's a little inspiration to get you started...(this is Sean, but scroll down and you'll find a treasure trove of videos about digital literacy).


* This is part of a series of entirely subjective posts intended to inspire greatness among applicants to the Workforce Innovation Fund. The opinions and perspectives expressed here are not those of Social Policy Research, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) or anyone other than the author. Please steal the ideas you find most promising.