The Difference Between Digital Fluency and Literacy

//The Difference Between Digital Fluency and Literacy

By: Dr. Sandy Branham and Elsa Ingwersen

When conversations arise about the skills students should have upon graduation, discussions of digital skills are unavoidable. However, these conversations often contain terms that may not be clearly defined. For instance, let’s take a look at the Digital Studio’s mission statement:

“The Digital Studio is a tutoring space located at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus that aims to expose students and faculty to various digital literacy skills through one-on-one tutoring.

By providing access to digital technology, supplemental instruction of graphic layout & design techniques, and working closely with faculty regarding visually oriented assignments in their curriculum, the Digital Studio has helped hundreds of students improve their understanding of basic digital media creation skills since it opened in Fall 2015.”

But what do these terms mean? How does digital technology differ from digital literacy? And how does that relate to the phrase “digital fluency?”

Let’s start with digital technology. Digital technology are the things — the pieces of software and hardware — that allow us to communicate in digital environments. In other words, digital technology are the tools that allow us to do and make digital things.

Digital literacy, however, is defined by the American Library Association as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” In other words, digital literacy refers to an individual’s ability to use digital technology in particular and thoughtful way. Notice the italics in the previous sentence — digital literacy doesn’t simply refer to knowing how to operate a technology. For instance, being able to send a text or turn on a computer doesn’t make someone digitally literate. Students who are digitally literate can, though, find and evaluate information online; create and critique digital, multimedia texts; and share online content in responsible and ethical ways. However, because of the connotations associated with the word “literacy,” digital literacy is often equated with possessing basic, rather than critical, digital skills.

This is where the term digital fluency comes in. Clint Lalonde explains digital fluency as “more holistic” than digital literacy, identifying digital literacy as a stop on the path to digital fluency. Jennifer Sparrow makes a comparison to learning a language, arguing that

‘In learning a foreign language, a literate person can read, speak, and listen for understanding in the new language. A fluent person can create something in the language: a story, a poem, a play, or a conversation. Similarly, digital literacy is an understanding of how to use the tools; digital fluency is the ability to create something new with those tools. Digital fluency can be viewed as an evolving collection of fluencies including, but not limited to, curiosity fluency, communication fluency, creation fluency, data fluency, and innovation fluency.’

Additionally, it’s important to dispel the myth that all college students, by virtue of growing up in a digital world, are digitally literate, because even when we conceive digital literacy as a point on the path toward digital fluency, digital literacy still requires an understanding of the technology being used. As such, college students often find themselves somewhere within the digital literacy spectrum, and many are on their way toward digital fluency.

Increasingly, employers are interested in hiring individuals who can demonstrate digital fluency and, in response to this demand, professors across the country are considering how to provide their students with practice in the creation of digital media. In fact, ERAU’s Digital Studio was created as part of a Digital Literacies Initiative in response to faculty calls for improved digital media skills from students. In conjunction with ERAU’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, the Digital Studio was able to support faculty enrolled in a grant program focused on designing course assignments that allowed students to develop digital literacies. Across our university, professors assign a variety of projects that encourage the development of digital skills, including podcasts, videos, research posters, and infographics.

Knowing how to effectively communicate information digitally is important for any job. But more than this, becoming digitally fluent allows students to learn how  to communicate and think in different ways, and students who work to become digitally fluent are often able to interpret information differently and think outside the box. Not only does developing digital literacies and digital fluency give students a skills-based advantage in the job market, the critical thinking and creativity involved in the creation of digital media also exposes students to new ways of thinking and approaching problems, making them even more prepared for the workforce.


Dr. Sandy Branham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Communication. Dr. Branham’s PhD is from the University of Central Florida in Texts and Technology, and interdisciplinary degree program that pulls from digital humanities, rhetoric and composition, professional and technical communication, writing studies, and digital media. Dr. Branham has been with ERAU since Fall 2016, and she became the Director of the Digital Studio in Fall 2017.

Elsa Ingwersen is the Digital Studio’s lead tutor, and a senior at ERAU. Elsa has a background in fine art, and she has always had an eye for design. Her interest in design led her to apply for a position with the Digital Studio, and as a tutor, she developed her expertise with various software, such as Photoshop and InDesign.

2019-10-23T09:02:09-05:00October 31st, 2019|Career Readiness Competencies|

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