Technological vs Digital Literacy

Ubiquitous access to learning material and information has changed how students learn in today’s schools. This access to new material and information has created a need for students and educators to adapt their literacy skills to accommodate not only the increased amount of information, but also account for determining and sorting relevant from irrelevant information (Mabrito & Medley, 2008, Para. 2).

Literacy is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as:

“The quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write. Also: the extent of this in a given community, region, period, etc.” (Literacy, OED, 2012)

This may be extended to include a definition spanning specific types of literacy to be:

“In extended use (usually with modifying word). The ability to ‘read’ a specified subject or medium; competence or knowledge in a particular area.” (Literacy, OED, 2012).

This supports the idea that students must currently master the digital medium to be considered digitally literate. This digital literacy is what will be needed by current students to be successful in the twenty first century.  

Mabrito and Medley (2008) describe how the new generation of learner has a different style of learning as a result of being raised with ubiquitous access to information and technology (para 2), they also found this technology immersion resulted in there being major differences in the manner in which younger students learn when compared to their instructors (para. 5). Mabrito and Medley (2008) go on to define this generation as the “Net Generation” (para. 1), and explain that these students are “a fundamentally different type of learner” (para. 1), and those in charge of their education must understand how to accommodate for this difference (para. 13). This means that as students become more digitally literate, educators must move to include digital literacy skills into both their teaching practices and classrooms to increase students’ success in the twenty-first century workplace.

To create a distinction between technologically literate and digital literacy, let us consider an example from Mabrito and Medley (2008).

“While many faculty members are technologically literate, routinely using computer resources in research and teacher, most did not grow up in the digital culture common to many of ther N-Gen Students. As a result, while N-Gens interact with the world through multimedia, online social networking, and routine multitasking, their professors tend to approach learning linearly, one task at a time and as an individual activity that is centred largely around printed text (Harman, Dzubian, and Brophy-Ellison 2007).” (para.4)

This distinction is a good example of the difference between someone being technologically literate (i.e. those that have appropriate skills and competence with using technology) and those that are digitally literate (i.e. those that can communicate, manipulate and function comfortably in an immersed digital environment).

Dobson and Willinsky (2009), address what it means to be digitally literate when they describe the use of the term digital as representing what is delivered through a literal digital environment as described and delivered as “binary strings of one and zeros” (para. 1). This includes anything through computer or internet devices that allow one to access digital resources.

Building on Bolter’s (2001) concept of remediation from print (p. 45) and applying it to technology, we can see that technological literacy has been remediated by societal pressures into what is now considered digital literacy. In other words, it is no longer suitable for one to simply be technologically literate to be successful; we must now move beyond and be digitally literate to interact within current society. Digital literacy requires that learners must become fluent in digital communication, understanding, filtering and manipulation to become successful in the future.

The introduction of technology in society and schools has helped to change learning from a highly individualized task to a collaborative endeavour. This can be seen from the introduction of the printing press, all the way to the introduction of the tablet computer and personal wireless devices. As learning environments have changed to include a large amount of technology, we have seen the physical environment change. Computers sit on desks that once held papers and textbooks, projectors hang from the ceilings and some classrooms have interactive whiteboards that allows the instructors and students to manipulate the computer it is connected to. These technological advances have remediated the learning environment by instituting items and procedures that closely shadow societal norms, that is, one that is technology filled and comfortable for students and educators. However; does the inclusion of these devices ensure that students and instructors are developing digital literacy?

Digital technologies, a subset of all technologies, deal with specific digital inputs and outputs (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, para. 1). These digital technologies help to represent how older technology has been remediated, as described by Bolter (2001), by societal demands (p. 24). This remediation of technologies has led to the development and integration of digital technologies such as smartphones, MP3s, mass digital storage devices as well as digital media players. These items have quickly become the societal, and therefore the educational, norm for students. This has led to a change from an environment simply rich in technology to an environment suited for digital engagement and immersion. A truly digital learning environment, in contrast to simply a technological one, offers students the opportunity to learn in a manner best suited to their current needs (Mabrito & Medley, 2008, para. 17).

Returning to Mabrito and Medley (2008), we can see that digital media immersion is developing young people’s social identity (para. 7). As the demand for students to be digitally literate in methods of interacting, communicating and learning online becomes more desired in regular society, students will need to continue to develop this digital literacy. Digital literacy goes much further beyond simple technological literacy. It includes how one interacts in an environment saturated with media and technology, as well as the societal and social contexts created by this technological and digital immersion.  




Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Dobson, T. & Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital literacy. The Cambridge Handbook on Literacy.

Literacy, n. (2012) OED Online. Oxford University Press. 10 November 2012 <>.

Mabrito, M. & Medley, R. (2008). Why professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the net generation texts. Innovate 4(6).


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3 Responses to Technological vs Digital Literacy

  1. troos says:


    Great job in emphasizing that the changes occurring in classrooms with increased technology must go in parallel with in increased emphasis on digital literacy. It is not enough to simply know how to use the tools in a technical sense but to realize that the effects of many of the tools go far beyond the technical and physical. As you implied, what we and our students do with our technological tools significantly defines who we are as people and how we relate to other people. These ideas link closely with what I am working on for my last commentary: how we integrate digital literacies into our classroom practice.


  2. Sheila says:

    Kenton – your analysis is a clear look at these applications in the field of learning. It certainly connects with some research for my Commentary 3 regarding exactly how digital media affects social relations and images of self. I think it is clear, as you point out, that there are many changes in approaches to learning, information access, and the physical environment flowing from the immersion in digital literacy in the learning environment.

  3. Deborah S says:

    Hi Kenton,
    I believe there is a link between our commentaries, as I, too, looked at the importance of acquiring digital literacy skills in my third commentary. I also discussed the need for students to develop better technical skills to successfully identify credible sources of information obtained via the Internet in my first commentary.


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