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Masters in Educational Practice: Literacy


Literacy in a digital age


The place of traditional literacy in a multi-literacy environment

Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.

G. M. Trevelyan

This quote highlights the potential problem of teaching reading at a level which does not fully explore the extent of literacy in a multi-media age. Trevelyan does not doubt that most learners will be able to read on entering the workplace but he questions whether they will have the skills of discernment; that is the ability to judge the providence and credibility of the symbols and images that they encounter. The challenge to teachers is how to ensure that young people are equipped with the critical skills of literacy needed to make an informed judgement about what is being 'read'?

This challenge is increasingly important given the capacity of computerised communication to generate information. In short, young people are overwhelmed with a whole variety of text, symbols and images.

A significant part of developing critical readers is to identify the different skill sets needed to read different kinds of texts. In the following activity you may like to consider the types of critical skills needed when reading different kinds of text.

Activity 2.5

Choose one or two of these types of contemporary texts and list the skills you would need to enable critical reading.

  • Images (for example, advertising).
  • Text messages.
  • Social media messages including text.
  • Film.
  • A painting.
  • Graffiti.
  • A political statement.
  • A policy document.
  • Song lyrics.

Following this activity, you may like to reflect on these further points.

Activity 2.6

How would you introduce the element of discernment and making an informed judgement about credibility?

Have you listed any traditional literacy skills (for example, identifying persuasive language) which might be considered transferrable?

From this activity you can begin to 'unpick' the skill set needed to read different kinds of texts and identify some important themes.

Firstly, there are skills from traditional literacy which remain as valuable as ever and are transferrable between different text types (including speech). These key literacy skills are fundamentally associated with interpersonal communication and are independent of the specific type of text.

Secondly, there may be specific skills which are pertinent to particular texts of the twenty-first century. They are not necessarily new but require a different emphasis, for example, conducting web-based research needs an enhancement of the skills of skimming and scanning.

Finally, there may be some skills which seem intuitive and are not yet clearly defined in any sort of pedagogy. These might include the ability to follow a Twitter conversation or master a complex interactive game.

Range of literacies

In an attempt to clarify these emerging skill sets, some educationalists have suggested that there is a range of literacies needed for the twenty-first century learner.

Activity 2.7

Apart from traditional literacy, what other kinds of literacies might a learner need to be fluent in order to be successful in the digital workplace.

An example of different literacies can be found below.


Activity 2.8

Is literacy/literacies a valid term for describing these other areas?

What other term might be more appropriate?

An important consideration when preparing learners for literacy in the twenty-first century is the variety of skills now needed in the working world. Many of today's young people will have a series of different jobs during their working life, some of which will require different literacy skills to those that might be considered traditional. For example, employees may need to communicate information through graphical texts, audio files, web pages and data as well as being able to compose more traditional text-based documents.

It is therefore important to construct a model of pedagogy needed to facilitate this transformation.

Model of pedagogy for multiple literacies

This may seem a daunting task but it can be reassuring to return to the model of pedagogy outlined in  ‘2.2 The future of teaching oracy, reading and writing’.

Figure 1: Model of pedagogy for multiple literacies
Figure 1: Model of pedagogy for multiple literacies

By adopting this or a similar kind of model, a focus on the transferrable traditional skills can be maintained while the new skills can be allowed to develop. In this sense, the subject of literacy will be kept alive, vibrant and relevant.


In this subtopic you have considered the place of traditional literacy in relation to other literacies of the twenty-first century. You have thought about teaching the skills of criticality so that learners are able to make informed judgements about the credibility of what they are reading and you have revised the pedagogical model which will ensure that literacy remains a relevant subject in the digital age.

Further reading is available at: Edublogs (external link).

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