woman with a marker standing at a whiteboard
PHOTO: rawpixel

When a workforce has better digital skills, it make organizations more productive and competitive. Yet organizations’ digital literacy initiatives are — in many cases — still tentative, piecemeal and unfocused.

If 2019 is the year your organization is going to get serious about ensuring your workforce is ready to work digitally, take the time to think about the essential elements that will help make the program a success. Here are four to get you off to a good start: from defining digital literacy and thinking about a holistic approach, through to catering to different learning styles and measuring and evolving the program over time.

1. Underpin With a Broad Definition That Goes Beyond Technical Competency

What do we mean when we talk about digital literacy? While I don’t believe in getting hung up on definitions, it’s important to know what the term means in the context of your organization. In fact, working out the definition can be a good opportunity to raise awareness among stakeholders and get them on board with your digital literacy initiatives.

Aim to make the definition broad and ambitious. By broad I mean that it encompasses a wide range of skills such as using tools, finding information, staying safe, and communicating and collaborating successfully. By ambitious I mean you need to think of the levels of digital competency through which employees can progress, from basic competencies through to mastery. By doing so you’ll help to ensure your digital literacy initiatives can evolve over time as your digital workplace does.

Here’s a definition I came up with recently, by way of a starting point:

Digital literacy in the workplace is the awareness, mind-set and ability of individuals to confidently use digital workplace tools responsibly and effectively in order to solve problems, be productive, support well-being and thrive at work by processing and applying information and data, creating content, connecting and collaborating with other people, and reflecting on and adapting one’s digital practices.

As we see in this definition, it’s not just about being competent with the tools, it’s also about feeling confident: meaning greater resilience and preparedness as new tools and practices come along.

Also worth noting is that "digital literacy" isn’t the only term in use to refer to the digital capability of the workforce. Organizations are also using: digital dexterity, digital skills, information literacy, digital competence and e-literacy. Again, see which term resonates best and has the right emphasis for what your organization is trying to achieve. For instance, "digital literacy" emphasizes the cognitive abilities used to understand and interpret digital technologies, while "digital dexterity" suggests a more physical engagement with digital tools and how they are embedded into our working lives.

Related Article: The Digital Workforce Isn't Going to Disrupt Itself

2. Go Beyond One-Off Initiatives Around Specific Technologies to a More Holistic Approach

A clear definition will help focus your digital literacy efforts. However, it’s not enough to simply do one-off or ad-hoc initiatives aimed at raising digital skills. In the Digital Workplace Group’s latest member survey, it asked organizations what they are doing in this area. Perhaps the most surprising finding was that around six in 10 organizations said they have no overarching digital skills program.

As this finding indicates, many organizations currently take an ad-hoc approach to digital skills, perhaps running an initiative around the launch of a particular technology or to respond to a particular need such as better email or instant messaging practices. While this is a starting point, a much more holistic approach is needed in order to raise the overall digital capability of the workforce and continue to evolve it over time to meet new needs. For instance, traditional classroom or online training might be complemented by a resource area, drop-in sessions and gamification elements.

3. Blend Formal and Informal Approaches to Meet Different Learning Styles

In thinking through the mix of digital skills interventions that make up your program, consider how you can cater to different learning styles. One framework to help us think about different approaches comes from the work of Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, who proposed The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner’s theory suggests that different people exhibit eight different types of intelligence, which in turn effect how they best learn:

  1. Visual-spatial
  2. Linguistic-verbal
  3. Interpersonal
  4. Intrapersonal
  5. Logical-Mathematical
  6. Musical
  7. Bodily-kinesthetic
  8. Naturalistic

It’s immediately apparent from this list that someone who is strong in linguistic-verbal or logical-mathematical may benefit more from a structured e-learning course, while someone strong on bodily-kinesthetic will want to get hands-on with the technology, and an interpersonal learner will want to dive into a community to interact with others.

In practice, we’re all a mixture of these intelligences and learning styles, but thinking them through can help create a holistic program that blends both formal and informal approaches (although admittedly, addressing the musical and naturalistic styles could be tricky!). As well as formal methods such as online or classroom training and resource areas, you might also consider mentoring via champion programs, drop-in sessions, online communities or a speaker series.

Related Article: Poor Digital Skills Hinder Digital Workplace Progress

4. Measure and Evolve the Program to Support Ongoing Digital Learning and Dexterity

I need a new blind for my kitchen. So naturally, I measured the French doors to make sure I didn't waste my money buying a blind that doesn’t fit. Likewise, measuring the digital capability of the workforce before you embark on your program means you can tailor it to the right fit. 

All-too-often digital skills initiatives are designed in the absence of any real understanding of the current capabilities, strengths and gaps of specific areas of the workforce. There may be a vague notion that something is wrong: perhaps people blame the technology even though it’s been greatly improved already, or there’s resistance to adopting new tools or using them in an optimal way.

Digging a bit deeper can furnish the digital workplace and learning teams with actionable insights on the current digital readiness of the workforce. This in turn enables them to understand where best to focus investment in digital skills initiatives to achieve the greatest impact and most beneficial outcomes. This baseline measure of current digital skills can also be used to track progress of digital initiatives, as well as enabling recognition and certification. The free Digital Workplace Skills Framework provides a starting point for developing such measurement.