What Is Digital Literacy?

Computer-based learning in an elementary school

There is no question that we live in a digital world. The successful navigation of a digital world is predicated upon up-to-date digital literacy skills. 

What is digital literacy? Digital literacy is a broad concept that refers to a basic level of competency in understanding and using digital tools.1 Here, you can learn more about the digital literacy definition, the types of digital literacy skills that many employers may be looking for and ways of enhancing your digital abilities.

What Is Digital Literacy?

So, what is digital literacy, exactly? There isn’t any one universal digital literacy definition. In fact, this term resists a strict definition because it is such a broad concept that encompasses a range of abilities and skills.

One way to think of digital literacy is the ability to navigate an environment that has been integrated with a variety of different technologies. It includes both technical skills (e.g. knowing how to use a smartphone) and non-technical skills (e.g. knowing how to evaluate whether a particular website is reputable and whether certain information available in digital formats is trustworthy). An important component of digital literacy is communication, as digital tools often involve the sharing and seeking of information.

The American Library Association (ALA) offers this digital literacy definition: Digital literacy is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”1 In other words, being digitally literate doesn’t require that you know how to use computer programming languages to create an app or that you can fix a malfunctioning server. Rather, it refers to a basic level of competency that enables you to use digital tools in your daily life and perhaps to continually build upon your digital skills. 

Why Are Digital Literacy Skills Important?

Digital literacy skills are important for just about everyone. Since so much of modern life is conducted online, it’s likely that you’ll need digital skills to handle routine tasks like the following:

  • Renew your driver’s license
  • Find the results of a lab test in your patient portal
  • Set up coffee dates with friends
  • Sign up for a gym membership

In short, digital literacy facilitates modern life. These skills are particularly important for college students. During college, you’ll likely need digital skills to set up and view your class schedule, find course materials, locate library books and view a campus map (not to mention complete class assignments). As you look toward graduation, you’ll find that your digital literacy skills will help you:

  • Create a visually appealing resume
  • Find internship and job opportunities
  • Look for an apartment and explore your new town if you relocate for work

Of course, digital skills are also essential for many types of employment. Even if you plan on becoming a forest ranger with hopes of working in remote areas, you’ll need to communicate on a smartphone and you’ll likely need to use software to document your work. Digital literacy is so important that employers may expect that job candidates will possess a basic framework of digital skills so they can execute their job responsibilities properly.

Digital Literacy Examples and Specific Skills

There are many specific digital literacy skills that you could learn. The ones that you should learn depends on your path in life. For example, if you intend on becoming a librarian, you’ll need to be an exemplary digital researcher. If you intend on becoming a graphic designer, you’ll need to know how to navigate the most widely used graphic design software.

Digital literacy isn’t necessarily about knowing how to use every advanced feature of every digital tool you might need throughout your life. Rather, it’s about:

  • Knowing how to navigate technologies.
  • Knowing how to use tech for communication and collaboration.
  • Being able to apply digital tools to manage school or work responsibilities.
  • Being able to assess the trustworthiness of information found in digital spaces.
  • Being able and willing to commit to lifelong learning, as technologies continually evolve.

Digital literacy is often thought of as a soft skill, even though it relates to technical abilities. This is because it doesn’t involve proficiency with any one tool or technology. Rather, it encompasses one’s capacity to adapt to various technologies.

Here’s a look at some digital literacy examples. These are some general skills that many employers might expect their job candidates to possess:

  • Understanding of common digital platforms and lingo: When the internet, email and later, Wi-Fi first emerged, they were brand new concepts. People weren’t generally expected to know how to use them. Now, it’s widely expected that people know how to read a text message, send an email, use word processing software and download an attachment.
  • Ability to conduct research: The internet is filled with websites both trustworthy and not-so-trustworthy. A basic digital literacy competency is being able to conduct independent research. Knowing how to search for the information you need and being able to judge its authenticity and veracity is crucial.
  • A welcoming attitude toward innovation: Nothing remains static in the tech world. To remain competent in the digital world, it’s necessary to have an open mind toward emerging technologies and the willingness to learn how to use them.
  • Capability to teach others: Throughout your life, there will likely be times when you need to ask others for help learning a digital skill and times when others will turn to you for guidance. Digital literacy involves being able to help others learn how to use the digital tools that you’ve mastered.

How to Improve Your Digital Literacy Skills 

No matter how computer savvy you may or may not be, you can always take steps to improve your digital literacy skills. If you’re a high school or college student, one great way to start is by looking for resources that your school offers. You might have access to tutorials or online courses, for example.

Next, look for ways to facilitate collaboration and productivity with digital tools. For instance, you could learn how to use digital scheduling and organizing tools to manage your coursework. Other digital literacy examples include using digital tools to collaborate with your peers, such as cloud storage for sharing and collaborating on documents or online discussion boards for communication.

Here are a few other ideas:

  • Set up a social media profile dedicated to showcasing your work in your field to establish a professional brand/platform.
  • Learn to use Google Scholar for school projects. 
  • Download a wellness app and use it to meet your personal health goals.
  • Download free graphic design software and learn how to create your own designs.
  • Use tutorials to learn the advanced features of spreadsheet software.

Remember that digital literacy is about more than knowing how to do “fuzzy matching” in Microsoft Excel or how to share permission to access a document in cloud storage. It’s also about knowing how to keep yourself safe online, such as by being aware of the red flags of scams and knowing how to identify whether the source of information is reputable or not.

Lastly, digital literacy is a journey — not an end point. Technologies will always evolve and new ones will continue to emerge for as long as human civilization exists. To remain competitive in the job marketplace and to facilitate your own personal tasks, it’s a good idea to stay aware of the latest tech trends and tools.

Grand Canyon University provides a wide range of programs and student support services intended to enrich our students’ education and enhance campus life. Our Student Success Center team offers academic resources, including tutorials for developing computer skills, study skills and more. Fill out the form on this page to learn about joining our student community. 


1 American Library Association. (n.d.). Digital literacy. ALA Literacy Clearinghouse. Retrieved July 19, 2023.

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Aug. 14, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.