Existing studies - LLIDA
Introduction to the study describing terminology choices and the reasons behind the study.
digital literacy, learning literacy, learning, education, digital capabilities, skills
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Existing studies

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REVEEL project

The REVEEL project was funded to consider “How compelling is the evidence for the effectiveness of Post-16 e-learning?” It concluded that ‘we are now learning in technology-rich societies and need to remodel education as lifelong learning.’ Learners therefore need to develop a ‘learning literacy’ defined as:

  • The ability to self-manage the learning process,
  • The capability of negotiating learning outcomes,
  • Time to review and reflect on the learning process whilst learning,
  • Finding and evaluating the use of a wide-range of digital and non-digital resources,
  • The ability to share and develop this learning literacy with others

Technology, and particularly engagement with social technologies for informal learning purposes, was seen as contributing to the development of this literacy.

Literacies for Learning in Further Education

Literacies for Learning in Further Education looked at the literacy practices of learners’ everyday lives, and concluded that these were generally:

  • Multi-modal. On the whole, students reading and writing combines the use of symbols, pictures, colour, music, etc.
  • Multi-media. Students’ uses of literacy combine the uses of paper-based and electronic media.
  • Shared. For example, they tend to be interactive, participatory and collaborative.
  • Non-linear. For example, different reading paths are taken through a text – dipping in to sections, flicking through, finding relevant bits – rather than following a linear route from the beginning to the end of the text.
  • Agentic. Students tend to have responsibility within these practices.
  • Purposeful to the student.
  • Have a clear sense of audience.
  • Generative – involving sense-making and creativity.
  • Self-determined in terms of activity, time and place

The strong implication was that support for the development of more formal literacies for learning should be designed along similar lines. A formal paper published from these findings (Mannion et al., 2009) concludes that: ‘contexts and their associated literacies are co-emergent and co-determined by each other, [therefore] literacy skills do not simply ‘transfer’ between contexts’. An effective, ‘critical’ literacy pedagogy should ‘pay respect to students’ everyday literacies as a valuable resource base in formal coursework’.

Next Generation User Skills: Working, Learning and Living Online in 2013

Next Generation User Skills: Working, Learning and Living Online in 2013 asked whether new ‘web 2.0’ methods of communicating, collaborating and contributing would become the core skills for 2013. Arguing that this may well be the case, the study then considered whether the current education system and its qualification frameworks were fit for purpose, assuming the purpose to be ‘harness[ing] the native ICT capabilities of young learners’ and turning these to lifelong learning and workplace skills. It concluded that this would depend on several factors:

  • Do the behaviours of digital natives fit the purposes of education and employment?
  • Are teachers and lecturers across subject areas capable of supporting and adding value to such ways of working?
  • Are they compatible with curriculum design and assessment methods?
  • Will the risks be surmountable in terms of safety, quality and other ethical issues?

This report can thus be seen as paralleling our own study process, albeit in a schools context and with a clearer commitment to employability as the main purpose of education. It usefully highlights the difficulty of anticipating future requirements, since tools and services, general (non educational) socio-technical practices, demand for different kinds of qualification, and changing social/economic values are all complex and interdependent systems.

A key challenge identified in the current situation is that qualifications and awards are almost always structured into silos, and focus on short-term, measurable outcomes. What this report calls ‘workflows’ around technology, and what we might call technical practices, are highly interdependent and may evolve over a long timeframe. So, for example, a capacity to choose between social, media and business software to solve a particular problem is a capacity that evolves with experience across multiple contexts.

OfCom’s Media Literacy Audit (2008)

OfCom’s Media Literacy Audit found that:

  • Enthusiastic take-up of new media by young people was not necessarily accompanied by an understanding of how new media content is produced, i.e. by a capacity to read it critically, or play a role in collaborative co-creation.
  • Their confidence in using the internet is similarly not complemented by critical thinking or appropriate care in use of web sites, potentially exposing them to risks relating to unsuitable material or abuse of their personal information.

This study noted an increase in use of multiple devices for accessing media content, again with young people at the forefront.

UK Government’s Draft Digital Britain Report (Jan 2009)

The UK Government’s Draft Digital Britain Report notes the contested nature of the term ‘media literacies’ but includes and values the concepts of critical ‘reading’ and creative (co) production. The report identifies a wide range of agencies with a potential role to play in fostering media literacies, of which educational institutions are only one. The media itself, the arts, libraries, museums and galleries, and local communities are also important actors in this arena.

The key elements identified by the government as fostering ‘digital engagement’ are digital inclusion, digital life skills, and digital media literacy. These are placed in a continuum with the clear implication that media literacy is a higher-level capability, built on access and skills.

Digital Literacies in the Lives of Undergraduate Students

Digital Literacies in the Lives of Undergraduate Students: Exploring Personal and Curricular Spheres of Practice working in the ‘literacies as social practice’ area of the research landscape, reports on ethnographic findings from 45 undergraduates and found:

  • A tendency to segregate personal and curricular ‘texts’ (though the separation was not absolute and students showed different personal preferences in this regard)
  • Institutions forced to forward communications from VLE (institutional, curricular technology) to personal email addresses because students did not check the former, or not frequently.
  • Wrt group work ‘participants have to engage with a range of literacy practices. Their communication can be as informal as the Instant Messenger communication suggests, but the group reports they produce have to comply with institutional and disciplinary conventions, engaging in a range of practices common to the production of academic texts. Participants described their textual activities as drafting, critiquing, developing further text, inserting diagrams and doing research’

DigEuLit project

The DigEuLit project, as summarised in Martin and Grudziecki’s paper Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development (2006) provides a useful model for thinking about levels of literacy:

  • Level one: digital competence(skills, concepts, approaches, attitudes, etc.)
  • Level two: digital usage (professional/discipline application)
  • Level three: digital transformation (innovation/creativity)

Learners’ Experiences of e-Learning programme

Working with the JISC-funded Learners’ Experiences of e-Learning programme, Beetham and Sharpe have espoused a pyramid model of developing digital competence which, like Martin and Grudziecki, builds on basic access and skills, through practices and strategies, to ‘creative appropriation’ of technologies for personal development, personal styles of participation in learning, and the achievement of personal learning goals.

This programme has just completed its second phase and reports many findings of relevance to this study, based on research among HE and FE students in the UK. Among them:

  • Technology is integral to learners’ lives: all learning is potentially supported by technology and the term e-learning means little to them
  • In their use of technology, students are led by tutor recommendations and course requirements. They expect tutors’ use of technology for learning to be pedagogically appropriate and skilful.
  • Quality academic digital content is regarded by learners as a significant benefit of F/HE: they become significantly more adept at using it as they mature in their studies
  • Learners want meaningful choices about how they learn, with and without ICT
  • Many learners use technology to multi-task while some find being online a distraction from study
  • Among novice learners at least, only a small minority actively explore and investigate the potential of software or technologies
  • (However) some learners, including many disabled learners, are agile adopters and explorers of technology
  • Learners are attached to their technologies, emotionally and in terms of personal organisation and practice: they benefit from being able to use personal technologies and access personalised services in institutional contexts
  • Learners are creating their own learning spaces, blending virtual with face-to-face, and formal with social. Informal collaboration is widespread, often facilitated by technology that is under learners’ ownership and control
  • Learners have different attitudes to learning in the public/private spaces of social networks
  • Despite their facility with personal technologies, learners often lack skills in using technology to support learning. This can be true even after considerable time at college.
  • The Internet is the first port of call for information: sites such as Google and Wikipedia are typically referred to before academically approved resources.
  • Students value ICT-based activities that support reflection, meta-learning, practice and revision
  • Learners display enormous differences in past educational experiences, needs, and motivations. These have a profound influence over their preferred strategies for using technologies
  • Many learners, particularly proficient e-learners, are used to learning and accessing knowledge via images and video.

This programme has also produced a range of more detailed findings about how learners ‘mature’ in their studies, and in particular their use of technologies for learning, and about strategies of ‘effective’ e-learners.

The JISC/British Library ‘Google Generation’ report (2008)

JISC/British Library ‘Google Generation’ report highlighted that:

  • although young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to asses the information that they find
  • research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now the norm for all age-groups

It called on the Government to urgently consider its findings: ‘well-funded information literacy programmes are needed if the UK is to remain as a leading knowledge economy with a strongly-skilled next generation of researchers.

Learning from Digital Natives

Learning from Digital Natives (Gcal) largely confirmed Bennet et al’s (2008) work in Australia and findings of the Learners’ Experience programme in its second phase, that:

  • the phrase ‘digital natives’ does not do justice to the complexity of learners’ diverse experiences with technology and study
  • different approaches and attitudes to digital research are not strongly generational but are correlated with factors such as social background and context of study
  • learners are conservative in their attitude to adoption of new technologies. They are highly influenced by their tutors and courses and expect the use of digital technologies in course contexts to have an educational rationale


Since 2007, Becta has undertaken a range of activities (research, evidence-gathering and opinion-forming) aimed at characterising the ‘e-maturity’ of individuals and organisations. A synopsis of work under the individual strand suggests that the e-mature learner demonstrates:

  • Experience: sufficient experience with effective uses of technology and with problem-solving.
  • Confidence: either faith that the technology can’t be broken (naïve) or the confidence that it can be fixed. A ‘can do’ attitude that is willing to explore what is possible, what doesn’t work and why. This confidence will be based on previous successful use of technologies to achieve their goals.
  • Self-direction: the ability to be pro-active, to use trial and error, to experiment, establishing what works and what doesn’t.
  • Creativity: the ability to imagine new, innovative and/or valuable uses for technologies.
  • Discernment: the ability to choose which technology is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to use a particular technology. Additionally an e-mature learner understands that everyone potentially has a voice, but not everyone is honest or wise. Ideally, there is also an understanding of how beliefs are forged, giving the ability to evaluate claims and attitudes.
  • Emotional maturity: for example, responsiveness to the needs of others and the ability to see the big picture.

In addition, the report characterises progression in e-maturity as the development of self-confidence, self-reliance and independence in learning. It concludes that the role of the e-mature teacher is critical in facilitating this development.

Typology of knowledge, skills and competences for use across the EU

In 2005 the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training produced a prototype . The accompanying report – credited to CEDEFOP – traces the rise in outcomes-based conceptions of learning and assessment, particularly in the vocational/work-based learning sectors but also in FE and HE, and the associated progress towards standardisation of competence definitions across the EC. In HE this has culminated in the Bologna accord, which promotes a single framework for describing higher qualifications. The focus on competence both allows transferability of credit across national boundaries, and allows individuals to integrate their formal and informal learning experiences.

This report distinguishes ‘functional’ accounts of competence, emphasising separate attributes and skills, with ‘interpretative’ accounts, emphasising how individuals understand and approach a task. It also summarises evidence that skills and competencies are not highly generalisable or transferable across contexts. In a review of policy and provision across the EU, it reports that the UK government has adopted a functional approach with a focus on individual skills/capabilities, though employers and professional bodies tend to favour a more behavioural approach, i.e. the demonstration of (a particular standard of) performance on work-based tasks.


JISC projects SPLASH and Isthmus have highlighted the value in students having access to personal and social technologies, and creating their own personal learning blends, in institutional contexts.

Project Information Literacy (US) has produced a number of research reports including Head and Eisenberg (2009) Students find academic research challenging: ‘Finding contexts for “backgrounding” topics and for figuring out how to traverse complex information landscapes may be the most difficult parts of the research process.’

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Competence frameworks