In the last decade the development of competence in the use of continually evolving consumer technologies has been widely recognized as a "life skill" similar to traditional literacy and numeracy. A 2012 report from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Union, "Digital Competence in Practice: An Analysis of Frameworks" , explores how to define and think about this new basic life skill. This is a necessary first step to be able to develop meaningful learning objectives.
The author points out that a literature review of this area, frequently becomes " a jargon jungle" filled with terms such as : Digital Literacy, Digital Competence, eLiteracy, e-Skills, eCompetence, 'technology literacy', 'new literacies', 'multimodality', media and information literacy.
While each of these may help explain aspects of the phenomenon, they may be too narrow in their conceptualization because they are still relying on the analogy to the decoding and encoding associated with traditional reading and writing. The author says that Digital Competence is a "multi-faceted moving target" that takes into account some key features of the new digital arena.
"The new, added dimension that is acquired though the digital is that the decoding and encoding units of meaning is made of a mixture of letters, sounds, videos, images that are organised in a not necessarily linear way."
Some of these features include the reader becoming an author in using hypertexts and multi-modal texts.They create a new reading experience and "text", each time they make choices of what hyperlinks to follow or not. A document is not read linearly from beginning to end. But becomes whatever the user decides it to be, by his or her choices in interacting with the content.
There is also the more direct function of end user authorship provided by blogs, listservs, Facebook postings, email. Sophisticated users can also become contributors to new software by creating applications for the existing digital platforms.
In attempting to define a more inclusive idea of Digital Competence, the author provides an example for the library world. She quotes The American Library Association's 1989 definition of information literacy as "the ability to recognise when information is needed and the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information effectively".
The author see this pointing to her own definition of Digital Competence, as the set of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed today to be functional in a digital environment. She thinks that attitudes are a necessary component of the definition that has been usually neglected. The attitudes provide a pre-condition to people even considering seeking relevant knowledge and developing new skills.
Acquiring Digital Competence happens in social practice that provides "... a specific way to act and interact with technologies (and therefore it requires specific attitudes), of understanding them (and therefore holding specific knowledge), of being able to use them (and therefore having specific skills)."
The article's analysis provides a coherent, widely applicable way of understading and eventually shaping how citizens can learn and adapt to the wave of consumer technology that is sweeping over them and not be left behind.