Digital literacy is a vital tool for education, employment and economic participation, civic engagement, and even health and wellness. It reinforces existing inequalities based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, education, immigration status and gender.
Given the importance of digital literacy skills to under-represented populations, MediaSmarts and YWCA Canada have partnered to develop and deliver DigitalSmarts, a digital literacy skills program.
Seven YWCA Member Associations are delivering this training in their communities: Community YWCA Muskoka, YWCA Halifax, YWCA Hamilton, YWCA Lethbridge & District, YWCA Moncton, YWCA Prince Albert and YWCA Thompson.
Because both digital and media literacy are fairly new concepts, there is considerable debate amongst experts and academics around the world as to how they should be defined. It is generally agreed that skills and competencies for digital literacy and media literacy are closely related to each other and to additional “21st-century” skills that are needed for living and working in media- and information-rich societies.
For example, the key concepts for media literacy – that media is constructed; that audiences negotiate meaning; that media have commercial, social and political implications; and that each medium has a unique aesthetic form that affects how content is presented – are as equally applicable to watching TV news as to searching for health information online.
Although digital and media literacy both draw on the same core skill of critical thinking, the fact that most digital media are networked and interactive raises additional issues and requires additional habits and skills: media literacy generally focuses on teaching youth to be critically engaged consumers of media, while digital literacy is more about enabling youth to participate in digital media in wise, safe and ethical ways.
However, it is important to keep in mind that digital literacy does not replace or run parallel to media literacy but rather builds on it while incorporating new concepts that arise from the added dimension of networked interactivity. At the same time, many digital issues cannot be understood without traditional media literacy. For example, youth cannot fully understand why online services want to collect their personal information without exploring the commercial considerations of those services, a traditional concern of media literacy.
Even a highly technical subject like the role of algorithms (such as Google’s search algorithm or Facebook’s News Feed) in shaping our online experience and behaviour can really only be understood through a media literacy lens because it depends on recognizing that these were made by people and that they are not neutral tools but rather reflect the biases and assumptions of their creators.
Explore the Digital Literacy Fundamentals and Media Literacy Fundamentals sections of our website to understand more about the underlying aspects and principles for each of these skill sets.