Is my organization digitally literate?

August 21, 2017 | Activate Learning, Reskill Your Workforce | 5 min read


Does it feel a bit like suddenly everyone is talking about DL – digital literacy – and how digitally literate your workforce should be?

This got me thinking. This is really two separate issues, or questions, and should be looked at as such.

What exactly is digital literacy and how do I measure it?

For starters, let’s be clear about what digital literacy is:

It is being able to find digital information, to analyze, evaluate and create information with the help of digital tools and participate, share, and collaborate in organizations digitally.

This may seem like a lot packed into one definition, so here’s a short checklist to help you think about what this means and where you need to focus your digital literacy assessment.

  • Is your workforce fluent in digital concepts such as platforms, cloud computing and cybersecurity? The majority of employees don’t need to be experts in these areas, but some baseline knowledge can help build a good foundation for understanding how today’s digital tools work, in general, and (particularly in the case of cybersecurity) how to be safe and secure when using technology.
  • What digital tools/technologies are used (or will be used!) by your organization? Are the productivity tools you use cloud-based or installed locally on your own computer hardware? Are there specific tools or systems used by your organization, like accounting software or business intelligence software? Does your workforce have a basic understanding of how to use these applications on the specific devices (i.e., laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones) provided to them?
  • Do you use social technology platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Jive or Yammer? Are your employees able to use these technologies efficiently and effectively? Do they know how to represent your organization’s interests effectively on publicly-facing platforms? Do they know the rights and responsibilities of being a good digital citizen, both inside your organization and out?
  • Is your workforce able to find and evaluate digital information for accuracy, currency and reliability? With the amount of information available, it can be challenging to determine what data is factual and can be relied upon. (Georgetown University Library has an excellent resource for evaluating internet resources.)

In many ways, this is the easy part – figuring out what areas you should assess. The hard part comes next: not just determining how to measure these areas, but importantly, determining how you will use the data you collect.

To help with this, start with the end. First think about how you’re planning to use the data. For example:

  • If your company is in the process of transitioning to cloud-based technologies like Office 365 or Google Suite, develop questions that assess the baseline understanding of how cloud technologies work. This will help you better identify subsequent training when you roll that technology out.
  • If you’re hoping to move your distributed organization to more video-based communication tools like Skype or Hangouts, you may want to focus on determining staff comfort with those tools as well as the engagement and social protocols that go along with it. Not only will this help you identify the level of training needed, but it will also help you understand what organizational supports will need to be put in place for adoption to be truly successful.
  • If cybersecurity issues surrounding the adoption of cloud-based technologies and platforms and/or mobile devices are top of mind, make sure your assessment covers issues like phishing, hacking and best practices for connecting securely to your organization’s network.
  • If you’d like to use the data to help define proficiency levels within your organization, make sure you have a variety of questions at those different levels so that subsequent categorization is straight-forward. Knowing employee proficiency levels ahead of a technology introduction can help you customize training plans. You can also use those proficiency levels as a basis for introducing digital literacy badging and/or a mentoring program.

The development of the questions themselves is the next step. Get inspiration from online resources – don’t feel you need to recreate the wheel. Example basic digital literacy tests provided by the National Association of Workforce Boards can get you started; there are similar online quizzes about cloud computing, computer security and other topics that are easily searched for. Be sure to leverage trusted resources (e.g., internal experts, your IT department) to verify the accuracy of your digital literacy questions.

As you’re creating your assessment, remember your audience! No one likes to take a test, so try to make it interesting by varying the question type. Multiple choice questions are certainly easy to create; matching, ranking and rating questions can introduce enough variety to keep things interesting. Scenario-based questions are great for helping to assess the softer-side, yes there is one, of digital literacy – judgement, norms, ethics and so forth. Adding images and videos to your questions can put it over the top on the engagement scale. In a similar vein, keep the overall assessment concise to maximize the number of respondents who will complete it.

Once the assessment is complete, I’ve found it best to test it on a sample cohort which will help you work any bugs out, get an estimate of how long it will take to complete, and ensure that your questions are clear and meeting your intent. Then roll out your assessment and see the results come in! Finally, don’t let all that hard work go to waste – use those results to design and create your organization’s digital literacy strategy.

Have more questions? I highly recommend checking out Courtney Hunt & John T Miller’s framework on assessing digital literacy.

Emily Wiese is the VP of Digital Skills for Skillsoft.