Digital Literacy vs Networked Literacy

I woke up this morning to find the following Tweet from Jeremy Brueck:

This line between digital literacy and networked literacy is a fine one…but one I think for ed tech people is worth exploring.

I first started thinking about the distinction between digital literacy and networked literacy after reading the Writing in the 21st Century document produced by the National Council of Teachers of English and Kathleen Yancey.

In the document Yancey states:

First, we have moved beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development in which print literacy comes first and digital literacy comes second and networked literacy practices, if they come at all, come third and last.

Based on this reading and specifically this paragraph I created this diagram:

Model of Literacy Education Today by you.

Which Jeremy referred to in his tweet.

I wrote on this earlier when I first found the Yancey article in a post titled The Age of Composition (worth a read). Yet in that post I really did not flush out what the different between digital literacy and networked literacy were. I have shown this diagram in a few presentations and very few educators raised their hands when I asked if they were teaching digital literacy in their schools. None have ever raised their hands when I asked about network literacy.

Digital Literacy:

Wikipedia: Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology. It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology, and an understanding of how it can be used. Digitally literate people can communicate and work more efficiently, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills.

Microsoft: The goal of Digital Literacy
is to teach and assess basic computer concepts and skills so that people can use
computer technology in everyday life to develop new social and economic opportunities
for themselves, their families, and their communities.

By these definitions digital literacy looks at understanding technologies and their uses. It’s everything from understanding folder structures on a computer to being able to successfully use e-mail to communicate with others. Digital literacy focuses on the literacy needed to be literate with technology today. From copy & paste to understanding how to trouble shoot problems with an Internet connection.

Networked Literacy:

I couldn’t find a definition anywhere on the web of what networked literacy is or looks like, but I think it’s a literacy that we in the blogosphere talk about a lot. Networked literacy is what the web is about. It’s about understanding how people and communication networks work. It’s the understanding of how to find information and how to be found. It’s about how to read hyperlinked text articles, and understand the connections that are made when you become “friends” or “follow” someone on a network. It’s the understanding of how to stay safe and how to use the networked knowledge that is the World Wide Web. Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.

That’s my working definition at this time. Any thoughts?

Of course at some point we need to quit sub-dividing out these different types of literacies and it needs to just become what it means to be literate today. We’re not there yet and until we are I think understanding what these different literacy skills are that we need to be teaching is key.


  1. Assuming we’re taking networking beyond the technical minutia of things like TCP/IP or hwo to acquire a Skype account, I like to think of networking as an emphasis on technology that maximizes relationship between human beings.

    So in that sense, I appreciate this post’s picture of the school classroom running GNU/Linux – software licensed to allow collaboration and community building. Or in short, unrestricted networking both in a technical and social (connective) manner.

  2. I think your definition of Networked Literacy is exactly what people need to learn in order to operate successfully on the web. In fact, I think it subsumes digital literacy.

  3. More than just understanding but being able to use the network connections to create a PLN that works.
    A quality working PLN of course is almost a living breathing entity that grows independent of you and leads you in new directions you might not have taken.
    Or something like that. I get what is meant by Networked Literacy, the label seems to work, but I have to let the idea ferment a bit to be able to put it into words.

    • I’m in the same place. I couldn’t put it into a coherent sentence at this point, but I do think there is something there.

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about this too, yet in a different context, the adult learning environment of conferences, meetings, events and virtual events. Please indulge me as I share some of my ponderings as I’ve been “chewing the cud” about learning in today’s Web 2.0 centric world for some time now.

    I think network literacy is so important today yet no one seems to be teaching students (young and young at heart) skills needed to master it. New models of learning are taking place that include horizontal, collaborative, real-time thinking networks. We are seeing an emphasis on collective, egalitarian, collaborative, democratic learning, which requires network literacy, even though we struggle to define it. With Web 2.0, we have moved from presumed authority to collective credibility, from vertical command and control to horizontal collaborative models.

    Could networked literacy be mastering and implementing the skills of collective checking, inquisitive skepticism and group assessment? Could it include moving from a focus on information as such to learning to judge reliable information, shifting from memorizing information to finding reliable sources? In short, network literacy shifts from learning “that” to learning “how.”

    I don’t have all the answers yet. Just thinking out loud here. Thanks for the springboard and allowing me to ramble.

    • Jeff,

      I agree with much of your “cud” in the comment. The shift that we are talking about is a shift that puts more focus on the process than on the outcome. The “How” over the “That”. To me this makes sense. In today’s fast pace information world the “that” is changing at an incredible pace. If we teach students the “how” then they can find the relevant “that” when they need it. Confusing? 🙂

      The power lies in the network and understanding “how” to use the network to find, create, and inform. This is more important than the information that resides in the network itself. (From George Siemen’s Connectivism Theory)

  5. If I understand correctly, networked literacy sounds like a combination of digital literacy and interpersonal communication skills (as most classes on the latter mention online communications).

    It is definitely a fast-moving subject to keep up on. Networking on Twitter is much different than networking on Facebook. LinkedIn networks are vastly different from blog networks. Google Wave may create a whole new form of networking all together.

    I believe as long as you remain digitally literate, you will have little trouble becoming networked literate. The key is staying on top of it. If you can get certified by a company like Certiport (disclaimer: I work for a company that is affiliated with Certiport), even better. You’ll know that you’ll be ready for whatever unpredictable network opportunity comes your way, and employers will know that too.

    Just my long two cents.

  6. I just re-read this post after a number of months. Lately I’m thinking that networked literacy is the ability to know the strengths of the individuals in your PLN, or whatever @jonbecker would have you call it, and then be able to tap in to the relevant resource(s) to solve your problem. It’s knowing the human-side of the digital people you interact with. It’s making the most out of 140 characters. It’s connecting in deep and meaningful ways to construct new ideas and understandings with people you may only really know as avatars. What do you think?

  7. Thanks for linking back to this post because as I was watching your presentation with Angela, I was thinking about whether or not networked literacy is part of digital literacy or even socialization. One of the comments that sticks with me from ISTE is that we should create good citizens (by Chris Lehman) and I’m thinking that being able to effectively participate in the collective and use the power of the collective are important elements of being a good citizen. I do see your point, however, that simply using the term literate, or phrase good citizen, is insufficient at this point since we first need to flesh out the elements of literacy.


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