Are digital literacy skills important for all kinds and levels of work?

Hello Colleagues,

I invite your comments on this question: Are digital literacy skills important for all kinds and levels of work? What are you seeing in your community?

Here's a sobering quote from an article on the subject in Education Week,  "What is needed is broad exposure to basic office and productivity software," Muro said. "It's the difference between being able to get a job in a stable industry and make it into the middle class, or being locked into the truly bad strata of American jobs." Read about the needs and requirements for digital literacy jobs in a range of levels in the health care industry.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group





Thanks, David, for raising this question.  It is one that transcends all levels of career pathways, from K-12 Career and Technical Education (CTE), to adult and workforce development pathways.  This graphic shows digitization levels by occupation, which seems to be the heart of the ED Week article.  The trend we are seeing is that with higher paying jobs, there is a greater demand for not just digital literacy, but mastery of technical languages, and systems. 

While this becomes more clear to many, I was most impressed with the underlying argument that we need to help learners develop 'durable human qualities' as a foundational component of digital literacy.  The Brookings Institute's report, Digitalization and the American Workforce, refers to soft skills as 'durable human qualities'.  The piece goes on to say, "The need to focus on adding value beyond what computers can add makes it important for students and workers to cultivate the uniquely human interpersonal skills that machines don’t possess".  The report also highlights the belief that "training efforts will need to call forth and develop skillsets that increasingly emphasize flexibility, a passion for self-directed learning, and interpersonal skills over rote information processing or repetitive manual task completion...".  

What are the best resources for teaching 'durable human qualities', or soft skills, in connection to digital literacy?  I'd love to hear suggestions for bridging these two critical components needed for developing the type of digital literacy skills that will help learners continue to evolve as employees, along with newer technologies.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator



Fascinating point  described in the article about the need for durable human qualities in addition to digital literacy. It shows that digital literacy and durable human qualities are not at odds.   While workers need digital skills to function in many jobs, they  also need the skills of flexibility and broad base of knowledge to adapt to a changing world of work. As technology evolves the barriers to using that technology decrease (think smart phones). 



Your point about 'durable human qualities' /soft skills is an excellent one. Here's why: Artificial Intelligence(AI) will kill or replace 800 million jobs in the US by 2030; therefore, the learners/workers that will be able to compete in the job market are those who have skills that robots don't have (soft skills). 

I wonder if soft skills are getting a fair treatment in AE.  


Hi, Teddy -

Thanks for your message, and raising the question of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will impact the future workforce.  Your statement, "I wonder if soft skills are getting fair treatment in AE" is one that I think we need to discuss more as a community.  To my way of thinking, we need a mix of both, digital skills for the known technologies of today, and the 'durable human qualities' that AI and robots don't have (yet).  I'm interested in hearing how programs are balancing these two skills sets, along with all of the other academic and professional competencies that need to be considered in pathways programs.     

Thanks again for raising the need for more conversation on giving fair treatment to both digital and durable skills.


Mike Cruse


The article David shared had a few parts in it that got me thinking about the learners I have had the pleasure of working with for a number of years. At one point in the article, they were talking about the food service industry and the need for workers to be able to assess if the computer's judgement suggesting they need to buy 300 pounds of turkey tomorrow was reasonable. Perhaps the learners here in rural Maine have different cooking habits from your parts, but I wonder how many of my learners feel confident in how to cook a turkey, how to size appropriate amounts for an amount of people, and how to find and follow a recipe or instructions for cooking a turkey dinner? I am sure some are wonderful cooks and could do a great job. For many of my learners, if the food does not come out of a box, can be cooked in a sauce pan or in the microwave, and can be prepared in very little time, then that cooking experience is probably quite foreign to them. Of course, I then had a divergent thought that questioned if they were talking about 300 pounds of ground turkey or 300 pounds of whole turkeys to be processed? The details of what was intended may greatly change a person's response. Would my learners think to about asking such a clarification and would they be able to clearly communicate the question to those in charge? 

Michael also shared related articles hinting that digital literacy alone is not enough for out workers today. Learners need a number of skills to be successful, but I think one of the most important skill mentioned would be the skill to self learn. We have a population that is so dependent on others to provide answers, solutions or options. We have been trained very well to obey a prescription or plan of action, but we lack many skills to derive such a plan or to respond to variances that come up during execution. 

If someone can self learn, clearly articulate their thoughts and knowledge to others, and have a mental flexibility to respond to life's frequent changes that always seem present then than person will find success in most any endeavor. I don't see this as a digital vs non digital choice. If one possesses these three attributes, the person will survive and thrive in both digital and non digital worlds quite well. As to whether it lands them a career, I am sure those three attributes (self learning, communication, mental flexibility) , are surely valued by many employers today, but I would not say it guarantees a career.  It may land a nice paying job, but the person will still feel unfulfilled and will still struggle down the road. What is missing is the ability for us to find and utilize our individual passions. The data reports frequently being published all enforce my belief that the days of going from a successful educational experience and entering into waiting career job may not numerically be viable in the next 5 to 10 years. People are going to have to become innovators who can maximize their passions into products or services that meet the needs of individuals, communities, businesses or even nations. I am not advocating that everyone will have to do this, nor do I think that is a practical suggestion. I do think that an increasing percentage of the population may only have innovation as an option to land the career that will offer economic and personal stability in life. Our need to focus on building innovation foundations in our learners is high if we are to prepare them for success outside of the immediate 1-3 year range. 

In terms of digital literacy, I agree with the article that the ability to jump between similar applications is absolutely necessary. A word processor is a concept, the many different products available all have the same core functions and abilities. The appearance, the work flow, and obviously the prices can all vary from product to product, but the reality is that in all places where a word processor is needed, a worker needs to be able to produce a communication that can then be shared either digitally or in print with others. If a person is paralyzed because the Underline button has been moved or may not even be a button in one type of word processor, then that person will not be able to find success with anyone other than companies that have picked the same version of software the individual is comfortable using. I would say operating systems, phone systems and tablet systems are also areas where flexibility is necessary. As I provide IT support to people every day, I am constantly being asked, "Which is better?" when referring to different systems. I always need to get clarification, "Are you asking me which ones I choose for myself and why I do so or are you asking me which I think might be better for your situation?" Their response can lead me to completely different discussions about the benefits and challenges of any given system choice. If our learners are not aware of how to function at basic levels in a variety of systems, are they even able to make an informed choice about what systems they focus on or do they just stick with the system their friends and family tell them is the best? 

A digital friend just shared some resources with me that advocate that educational curricular focus should be on the science of learning. I forget the name of the resource or it's providers but I will try to look that up and share the titles when I next dive into them. The premise is that if we learn how to learn, then we can be successful in most anything we give ourselves time to grow into. There is much in the material I find myself agreeing with, but there are lingering doubts as to how the educational public would take to the idea of ditching content attainment to focus solely on learning how to learn. This though has been on my mind much lately and I need to make some time to dig in more to see just how broad a range of skills might be included in that "learning how to learn" umbrella. When you think about your abilities to learn, do set attributes, practices or abilities come to mind? Did you always have these in place or did you learn them somehow? Is there a finite set of skills one needs to be able to learn most anything we might want to explore? Perhaps the contents of the articles that David and Michael shared may be supporting the notion that learners focusing more on how to think and learn may not be a terribly novel idea? 

Hello Ed, and others,

Ed. your interest in learning to learn skills reminds me that Dr. Benjamin Bloom (of Bloom's Taxonomy fame) had developed some questions that teachers could use to teach these skills. Here's a link to an updated version

Here are few of my favorites:

  • What did you observe?
  • Describe what happens when...
  • What would happen if....?
  • What actions would you take to perform...?
  • What would the result be if...?
  • Predict the outcome if....

These elicit thinking and problem solving skills. Some of these are needed in a digital literacy problem solving context. 

Describe what happens when....

Everyone, when you have a technology problem, for example with a piece of software,  and need to describe it accurately, completely and unambiguously by email to a tech specialist who can fix it, how do you describe the problem?  Has anyone had this kind of problem recently? How did you describe it? Was your first description effective, or did you have to go back and forth several times? If so, what did you learn about describing a technology problem? What would you do differently next time?

If you are a teacher, do you teach your students these skills? Do you model them for the class? Do you ask students what their strategies are, and how effective they think they are?

David J. Rosen



I find this conversation both timely and valuable across a broad spectrum of topics. I would like to add the need for upskilling many current professionals. As we work to build digital literacy in students and provide so they can enter the workforce, but what about educators who struggle with all the 'new' technology advances? What is our role in aiding our colleagues in building their technology skills? 



Kathy, thank you for bringing up the very real need of helping teachers keep up or catch up to the ever chaning technology skills and options. I think this has been a struggle for almost everyone for some time now. Here in Maine, many staff members are part time and programs struggle to be able to get PD oportunities to their part time instructors. Even those that are full time often have PD time tied up in adjusting to admin/state/federal requirements or staff may find tech PD too infrequent to feel like there are solid connections between the tech and the work we do. 

I have had the fortune of being with a program that monthly would have paid time that sequentially built up tech skills with its full time staff. The PD was designed so that everything learned was in context of what initiatives, goals, or directives the whole program was engaging with. Sadly, it was still difficult to fully support the part time staff  completely. 

I have also been with a program that had absolutely no tech PD time at all in a full calendar year. 

So, how does a teacher possibly keep up or even be aware of what things he/she needs to keep up with? I think the LINCS discussions and the free trainings they offer is a good place to start. We have some wonderfully tallented people sharing many options with us throughout the year. Still, we all know the challenge of personally progressing when presented with some One-and-done oportunities. We are all excited in the moment of experiencing the PD only to return to our educational setting to flounder when we first have a question or challenge that pops up when we go to implement even some of the ideas we were so excited about.

I find having a social network of educators and educational support people can be very helpful in fielding questions that come up when we try stuff on our own. As with any volunteer process, you may have a friend (or be that friend) that EVERYONE ALWAYS is going to with questions and that person may start to burn out and feel less like helping over time and this can be a problem. Instead, I find that I can broadcast a question over multiple social networks much like a person fishing may cast out a large throw net in the homes of scooping up something useful. 

It may not be enough to just have a place to ask questions. We may not even know what options exist for us to try. We may have heard or seen something that looks interesting but then wondered if/how we might be able to do something like that in our setting? Getting teachers support continues to be a struggle at many levels. 

In the LINCS Digtital Toolbelt Microgroup that starts up in just a week or so, I am going to try an experiment in how the learning and discussion are done. My hope is to create small, bite-sized PD oportunities (10-15 minute). Then teachers can put a few of those bit-sized concepts into a tangible implementation and I will then give people a forum to discuss successes and challenges. If feedback is positive, then we may see more PD options that allow teachers to really focus in on either the tool being learned or the application they need help finding appropriate tools for. One thing seems certain to me, teachers need very flexible access to PD choices to allow for the variety of crazy lives we all have. 

I recently needed some help with an online service. I was experiencing difficulty with a website in that every attempt to get to some information I needed would result in me being thrown into a loop of pages that just had me going in circles. I emailed their support and I offered screen shots of each step in the journey and my frustration that the infomation links I was clicking on was not getting me where I had hoped. 

The initial response from tech was "It seems to be working on this end ... are you shure you didn't ....". Being a techie, I understood the person just did not clearly understand my situation so I tried again. This time I was sure to start from square one...."I arive at your site and see .... then I click on ... and then I ...." Even then, the person continually tried to tell me I was doing things wrong and it was my fault, until I offered a short video that illustrated the entire process. Only then, did the person start to understand the situation I was in and was able to start to see the problem for what it was. 

It turns out that my articulation of the exact sequence that I used to get to where I was at was a key element. Apparently, none of the other patrons of the site, nor any of the designers had ever thought to get into the area in the way I was approaching things. I had discoverd a design flaw in their system, simply by trying to find something in a way different than they intended people would. 

Of course, they were caught a little off guard because my discovery uncovered a whole other set of problems connected to their design structure. They ended up having to close up their site to fix things up and they were then back up and running a couple of days later. 

This got me thinking about how a non-techie might have been stuck in this situation. We all tend to start to question ourselves and our experiences when authority figures start to question that our situation could even exist. I had the confidence and the skills to feed the techie with multiple attempts and each attempt aimed at sharing a different aspect of the experience I was having. I doubt my learners would have been able to persist through this exchange. Most of us would just give up after the first or maybe second rejection and assume it was just something wrong with us. 

The ability to self advocate and to be able to clearly articulate, in many ways our stance or situation is a vitally important skill for our learners.