Digital Resilience in the American Workforce Blog Series

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  1. Putting Digital Literacy and Digital Resilience into Frame Posted April 28, 2022
  2. Digital Digest: The Digital Skills LibraryPosted May 11, 2022
  3. Advancing Access and Digital Equity: Challenges and Solutions- Posted June 16, 2022
  4. Digital Digest: Selecting an Assessment for Digital Literacy- Posted June 23, 2022

Digital Digest: Selecting an Assessment for Digital Literacy

Educators rely on assessments to understand skill development needs, inform instruction, and measure learning. Meanwhile, states need data to help them understand the extent of their population’s digital skills as they plan human and workforce services. This blog explores opportunities for more strategic use of assessments to advance digital resilience.

The Types of Assessments

Learners enrolling in adult education programs come with a wide range of digital skills - they may know how to use their Android-based phones, but not an iOS-based computer; they may know how to access Facebook or WhatsApp in their native language, but not English; they may know how to use technology to communicate with friends and family, but need support when using it for online learning or communicating with their doctor or child’s teachers. Educators rely on assessments to understand skill development needs, inform instruction, and measure learning. Meanwhile, states need data to help them understand the extent of their population’s digital skills as they plan human and workforce services, including use of newly-available federal digital inclusion resources, such as the Digital Equity Act. With more clarity on existing assessments and their purposes, instructors, program leads, and policymakers can better support learners in developing digital resilience. With this need in mind, the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) landscape scan, slated to come out this summer, explored the range of assessments currently available, how practitioners and other stakeholders use assessments, and opportunities for more strategic use of assessments to advance digital resilience.

Assessments of digital literacy skills can come in various forms and serve different purposes: self-assessments and inventories; performance- or competency-based assessments; and formative, summative, or diagnostic assessments. Beyond informing instruction, assessment and associated skills validation (e.g. badges, certificates, micro-credentials, and credentials) can help learners communicate their digital skills to current and future employers, thus creating higher wages and career advancement opportunities. Instructors can also use assessments to evaluate their own digital skills. In Massachusetts, for example, teachers assess their skills on a continuum of expertise: whether they can perform a skill for themselves, show others how to perform a task using the skills, and finally, integrate that skill into instruction. The DRAW landscape scan revealed various assessments linked to different frameworks and standards, each of which can serve a different purpose. This variety creates an opportunity for strategic use of assessment but may also create confusion.

"Assessment and associated skills validation can help learners communicate their digital skills to current and future employers, thus creating higher wages and career advancement opportunities."

The DRAW landscape scan found that many instructors and other stakeholders, including employers and workforce system partners, lack clarity on which frameworks and assessments to use for which purposes. This echoes prior research on the use of assessments - for example, Digital US notes that “digital skills mean different things to different people. Skill definitions and assessments vary depending on the skills they cover, causing confusion between educators, employers, and learners.” Similarly, the Digital Blindspot report from the Rework America Business Network, found that limited use of assessments and lack of alignment in digital skills frameworks across stakeholders hinders the ability to accelerate learning and identify, share, and scale what works.

With an array of assessments to choose from and confusion about how to use them, many adult education programs rely on the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment. A program of Literacy Minnesota, Northstar defines, assesses, and teaches basic skills needed to use computers and the internet in daily life, employment, and higher education. It was found in our scan to be the most widely used assessment in adult education – it is a useful diagnostic tool to show what skills learners need to develop, it is easy to administer, and it is an assessment that teachers are comfortable using. However, like many assessments built for wide-scale use, most of the modules were not designed to measure proficiency with skills application in real contexts. Additionally, a certain level of English language proficiency and literacy is currently needed to complete the assessment, although Northstar is working to translate it into other languages.

Outside of the classroom, assessments play a role in signaling and certifying digital skills mastery. Given the importance of digital literacy for work and learning, some of the experts interviewed by the DRAW team recommended a comprehensive digital badging system that would make it easier for learners to demonstrate core digital competencies to employers and enable educational institutions to share “transferable” credentials. Northstar already integrates badges and certification, and research indicates that these signaling strategies build learner self-confidence and motivation.

Selecting an Assessment

Assessments help practitioners understand learner skill development needs and inform effective delivery of instruction. These assessments should emphasize learners’ prior knowledge and their ability to transfer that knowledge to new settings. Most adult learners, including those with emerging English or literacy skills, do have digital skills that can be built upon. Building on these skills can accelerate learning, and acknowledging what learners already know can help them feel more confident in filling in any skills gaps.

Our compilation of assessments and related research lists digital-related assessments that currently exist, but do not address these assessments' efficacy and viability since the definitions, standards, and frameworks for digital skills and resilience have not yet been determined. Our scan identified a need for guidance on determining when digital literacy assessments are “a good fit.” One valuable resource for this is the International Telecommunications Union’s comprehensive, practical guidebook and analysis of national digital skills assessments. This guidebook includes an examination of existing work and the advantages and disadvantages of digital skills assessment tools that can be employed as part of a national-level assessment. The DRAW team created a checklist to guide the selection of an assessment based on purpose and context to support educators further.

Assessment Resources

The resources below, created by the DRAW team, serve to support educators further.

  1. Checklist: Selecting an Assessment

  2. Compilation: Digital Skills Assessments

Conclusion

Assessments have the potential to be powerful tools for supporting the development of digital resilience. The DRAW scan revealed a need for better understanding of existing assessments and how to use them, as well as new, asset-based assessments that measure digital resilience. An aligned and strategic approach to assessment would allow educators, and program leadership, researchers, and policymakers to tailor instruction to learners’ needs, understand their progress, target resources where most needed, and signal mastery of skills to employers and other stakeholders.

June 23, 2022

This blog post was created by Jobs for the Future and World Education and as part of the DRAW project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, under contract GS10F0094X. The views expressed by the project do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and its contents should not be considered an endorsement by the federal government or the funding agency.

Advancing Access and Digital Equity: Challenges and Solutions for Inclusive and Equitable Digital Access 

Introduction

Digital access is key to advancing digital inclusion and equity for all learners. Persistent gaps in access to devices and connectivity, and in opportunities to develop digital skills, exacerbate existing disparities in educational attainment and income and have a disproportionate impact on Black individuals and other people of color. Around 71 percent of people who have less than a high school diploma use the internet, compared with 84 percent of high school graduates and 98 percent of those who have some college education. People with lower incomes and formal educational levels are significantly less likely to have broadband access at home and are much more likely to rely on smartphones for internet access. While a third of all American workers ages 16 to 64 have limited or no digital skills, that is true for about half of all Black and Latinx workers. Additionally, Americans with disabilities are adopting technologies at lower rates, regardless of age. Such disparities reflect long-standing inequities in American society, such as income and wealth gaps and uneven access to high-quality K-12 education.

In the national digital skills landscape scan conducted as part of the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce project, access to devices and the internet was among the most frequently mentioned challenges. This blog post will share effective models and practices revealed during the landscape scan related to addressing equity-related barriers to device and internet access and to digital skills instruction.

Access to Technology, Devices, and Internet

Devices for Learning

The Challenge: Learning on Smaller Devices

According to a 2020 ProLiteracy study, access to devices and broadband/Wi-Fi is the second-highest need of adult education learners, surpassed only by employment assistance. For those on the privileged side of the digital divide, technology feels ubiquitous, but the reality is that only about half of households earning less than $30,000 per year have a computer, compared with 94 percent of households with an annual income greater than $100,000. As a result, many adult learner-workers are learning on smaller devices, like smartphones and tablets. While responsive design allows a learner to access the same content with smartphones and tablets as they would with a computer, reading text and doing math on a small screen increases the cognitive load, thus expanding the barrier to learning and making tasks more difficult and frustrating. Access to larger-screen devices (such as tablets and laptops) is needed to effectively learn, study, and communicate online.

This need is echoed in a report from Digitunity, The Importance of Large-Screen Device Ownership, which found that relying on smartphones for internet access limits the range of one’s online activity and digital skills. According to the report, large-screen devices are particularly essential to providing equitable access for the elderly, people with health challenges, and individuals with disabilities. The report advocates for protecting and equipping shared device spaces that provide such access and also serve as secondary venues for accessing technical support, such as libraries. Such actions would help to maintain and expand equitable access for the unhoused and those without reliable in-home computers and/or internet connections.

A Solution: Providing Larger-Screen Devices

Securing funding to purchase devices is a challenge, and organizations such as National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Digitunity are working to get devices into the hands of learners in various cities through partnerships with technology refurbishers. Digitunity works with individuals and corporations to secure device donations and has helped provide adult learners with donated computers from large corporations, such as Wiley and Unisys. The city of Philadelphia also has an initiative, PHLDonateTech, for residents to donate devices to those who need them.

Device Maintenance and Technology Support

The Challenge: The Unknown

Getting devices into the hands of learners is only the first hurdle. What happens when the devices need to be updated or repaired? Adult learners who own computers and other devices often struggle to maintain them and to access tech support when they break down. Learners do not have the specialized knowledge to troubleshoot problems and repair devices; in fact, participants in learner focus groups conducted for the DRAW landscape scan expressed fears of breaking their devices. A lack of consistent, convenient access to functioning computers contributes to lower academic achievement rates for low-income college students.

A Solution: Tech Support

There is a critical need for hotlines or in-person drop-in support services to help adult learners secure, use, and maintain their devices outside of the classroom. Some adult education programs refer students to public libraries for in-person tech support when available, while others offer assistance remotely, sometimes in multiple languages. In Texas, a statewide bilingual phone hotline that was initially set up to provide remote math tutoring was repurposed and used as a technical support portal given the immense need for this service. That hotline has now expanded to serve as a Distance Education Call Center that provides technical support to practitioners and students every day of the week.

Internet

The Challenge: Disproportionate Access

Some 18 million households in the United States don’t have internet access of any type (including cellular or satellite). People of color are disproportionately affected; lack of internet access is much more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods, on tribal lands, and in households where Spanish is the primary language. Many Adult Basic Education students can’t afford the in-home broadband or Wi-Fi connections needed to participate in remote learning.

A Solution: Subsidized Offerings

Some newer initiatives that support free or reduced-cost internet access are being led by Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Google, and EveryoneOn; federal reimbursement is also available as part of the 2009 Recovery Actand the Affordable Connectivity Program. While these initiatives are helpful, adult learners need increased assistance and awareness of such opportunities so that they can access and use such resources. Organizations such as NDIA and its affiliates are working hard to facilitate the adoption of these services, but partnerships with adult education could support greater uptake. Adult education leaders can get involved through the opportunities created by the Digital Equity Act, including the state planning grant program and other forthcoming opportunities from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Adult education programs that want to get involved can review the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Digital Equity Act’s State Planning Grant. Follow the Transforming Immigrant Digital Equity project on the EdTech website to access an annotated resource that will provide clarification and guidance, especially for serving individuals with language barriers.

Recruitment and Access to Digital Skills Instruction

Instructional Opportunities

The Challenge: Static Models

Beyond access to devices and the internet, over 32 million adult learners in the United States need support with device and internet use and the development of digital skills. According to the Digital US Coalition’s 2020 report Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce, adult education programming provides less than 10 percent of the foundational digital skills instruction needed. This points to a deep need for updated models of both student recruitment and digital skills instruction to expand the reach of adult education services and support more learners. As more digital inclusion services become available, it will be critical to promote them to those individuals who are most in need of such supports.

A Solution: Flexible Engagement

The Digital US report proposes providing instruction to adult learners in different contexts and settings to meet them where they are. Diversifying the places where instruction is delivered, the devices used for instruction, the times when instruction is offered, and the people delivering the instruction can result in increased access and new community ecosystems that foster learning.

Learners who participated in the DRAW focus groups expressed a strong preference for in-person and online classes over other forms of learning, but made it clear that they benefit most from a multi-modal approach. They said they prefer the structure of an organized class but also want to be able to get individualized support from a tutor or digital navigator and to access independent study materials for practice. When a digital navigator or other staff member is available to work with individuals to answer questions and solve technical issues, it increases learners’ confidence, helping them to overcome fear, embarrassment, and nervousness.

Many adult education and digital inclusion programs use the term digital navigation services to refer to the initial onboarding and ongoing support they provide to help learner-workers access devices and the internet to utilize services and search for jobs online. Digital US first coined the term digital navigator in 2019, building on decades of work by libraries and digital inclusion programs to provide such personalized support. The organization envisioned digital navigators as trained staff members or volunteers, including education and workforce providers. Digital US provides training and extensive resources for programs to embed this service into their work, including an online Digital Navigator Playbookthat includes case studies of digital navigator services in adult education, community colleges, and library-based programs, as well as navigator resources that can be used for providing support.

NDIA also offers free resources and consulting, and training on the digital navigator model. One initiative that emerged as a result is the Cybernauts program at the Los Angeles Public Library. Cybernauts are trained computer aides who work in the library to assist individuals or facilitate small-group training on basic to advanced technology skills. Another example of digital navigation services is “push in” digital navigators who come into adult education classes, such as those at the Ronald M. Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning, at regular intervals to provide IT services, digital skills training, and other digital inclusion support.

One example of large-scale investment in embedding digital navigator services into other programming comes from California’s Department of Social Services, which purchased thousands of laptops for federal aid recipients and had them distributed by social service staffers during their home visits. The laptops came preloaded with adult learning content and licenses to Cell-Ed, a mobile learning provider that helps learners start to operate a computer through phone- and text-based instruction that doesn’t require internet access.

Digital US’s 2020 report envisioned digital navigator services being offered in diverse, nontraditional settings that learner-workers frequent, such as retail stores, coffee shops, health clinics, laundromats, community centers, and even parks. It also called for embedding basic device access and tech and digital skills support into trusted settings, including health care, employment services, housing, and food banks. The experts interviewed for the landscape scan similarly emphasized the importance of embedding support everywhere digital skills touch people's daily lives.

The Power of Ecosystem Partnerships

We have explored various solutions to address equitable-access challenges faced by diverse adult learner-workers. One through line in all of these areas is the power of partnerships. These partnerships vary based on need, location, and structure, but they are critical for the success of adult education programs and learners alike. The Digital US report illustrates a scenario in which the learner is at the center and employers, education and service providers, government and philanthropy organizations, and technology developers and companies all partner to meet the needs of diverse learner-workers (see “Ecosystem for Digital Resilience”).

Ecosystem diagram for Digital Resilience in which stakeholders invest in technology access, digital and lifelong learning skills, and pathways to digital resilience and also, government, employers, tech, and education and service providers

Source: "Building a Digitally Resilient Workforce: Creating On-Ramps to Opportunity." May 2020 Report. Produced by Digital US.

Digital inclusion researchers have identified collaboration as a feature of some of the most effective digital inclusion efforts and have called for interconnectedness, an association formed across organizations working together to forge a mutually beneficial relationship that facilitates the sharing of human, material, intellectual, and financial resources.

Partnerships with employers are particularly critical in efforts to engage workers at their worksites, often even on paid time. For this reason, Digital US is implementing an employer engagement strategy through its Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity network. The Behind Every Employer initiative led by the Coalition on Adult Basic Education and Skills USA also has an impressive list of large employer partners. It seeks to educate employers about the value of engaging with adult education workforce initiatives and programs, and is providing incentive grants to adult education organizations that can demonstrate effectiveness in connecting employers with multiple workforce and education partners.

Collaboration across adult education programs can also help to increase access. National professional organizations increasingly provide guidance on how to form such partnerships and program models, such as digital navigation services, that could be built into intervention design. Various organizations, such as World Education, NDIA, and the National Skills Coalition, are closely following new U.S. Department of Commerce infrastructure funding and other federal investments. These organizations and others are gearing up to provide capacity-building for local adult education and workforce organizations focused on learning how to engage in, inform, and partner on state spending. Investments in capacity-building efforts of this kind will help ensure the effective design of programming and partnerships that support digital inclusion.

To learn more about access, read the full Digital Resilience in the American Workforce project landscape scan, scheduled to be released in the summer of 2022.

Please follow the DRAW project page for further updates, information, professional development support, and discussion on these critical topics.

June 16, 2022

This blog post was created by Jobs for the Future and World Education and as part of the DRAW project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, under contract GS10F0094X. The views expressed by the project do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and its contents should not be considered an endorsement by the federal government or the funding agency.

Digital Digest: The Digital Skills Library

As technology rapidly evolves, there’s a corresponding need for adults to develop digital literacy and digital resilience. In response, workforce experts, adult educators, and employers across the nation have been working together with adult learner-workers to address that burgeoning need. Among them is the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) project, an initiative from JFF, World Education, and Safal Partners that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education under contract GS10F0094X.

DRAW recently conducted a national landscape scan on digital literacy in which stakeholders identified trends and gaps in instructional content and curricula, along with frameworks focused on digital skills and competencies. To make the resources we discovered more useful to instructors, the DRAW team used a co-creation model called the EdTech Maker Space to find and curate instructional content. The EdTech Center @ World Education had previously engaged practitioners in curating digital skills instructional resources in alignment with the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative’s digital skills framework to create its free, openly available Digital Skills Library. From January to March 2022, DRAW used the EdTech Maker Space’s service-learning model to build on that earlier work by diving deeper into the library’s existing content and adding resources to fill in gaps. 

The result: About 2,000 free activities for learning digital skills from roughly 20 different sources, organized into 10 domains, are now available at DigitalSkillsLibrary.org

Introducing DigitalSkillsLibrary.org

DigitalSkillsLibrary.org was created by committed practitioners from community colleges, adult education and literacy organizations, and workforce development agencies across the United States and beyond who share the vision of a supporting a digitally resilient workforce. This resource addresses two of the major needs identified through the DRAW landscape scan: better awareness and access to instructional content, and better quality and variety for diverse learners. 

Awareness and Access

As is the case in many sectors of education, the fundamental needs uncovered in the DRAW landscape scan were greater awareness around where content is located and, perhaps more pressing, how to easily access content for teaching specific skills. Instructional content needs to be streamlined so that staff members in a variety of roles and contexts can see what’s available and find what’s relevant. 

The Digital Skills Library was built to enable stakeholders in any role, from learners to state leaders, to find what they need to learn or teach digital skills. The flexible search options provide multiple points of entry to locate materials. For example, teachers and administrators can search according to the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative’s digital skills framework to align their lesson objectives or a specific curriculum sequence. Those who are less familiar with the framework might prefer the open search feature, which allows users to search based on keywords and offers filtering options to narrow results according to their format, source, and language. 

Many practitioners and experts emphasized in the landscape scan that it is important to provide openly licensed and affordable content that can be accessed and adapted for all. To address this, the license type is specified for each resource so users can quickly understand how they are allowed to use the content they find in the Digital Skills Library.

Computer display mockup of the digital skills library including the website digitalskillslibrary.org and logos for contributing partners to the digital skills library.

Quality and Variety for Diverse Learners

In addition to making the content available in a centralized, locatable format, the EdTech Maker Space project prioritized the addition of high-quality content that addresses high-priority skills and the needs of diverse learners. For this reason, the Digital Skills Library started with the best-known leaders in digital skills content, including GCFLearnFree, DigitalLearn.org, and Learn My Way. In winter 2022, the EdTech Maker Space content was honed further based on the 13 skills that the DRAW landscape scan identified as being a high priority for the workforce. Participants worked in skill groups and searched specifically for activities that support the acquisition of those 13 skills. Almost 200 additional resources were added in other languages, including Arabic, Hungarian, and Romanian, as well as the entirety of DigitalLearn.org’s Spanish content, to address the needs of linguistically diverse learners and educators.

How to Get Involved

The work of the DRAW EdTech Maker Space is undeniably impactful in light of what was learned in the landscape scan. It is an impressive accomplishment resulting from a collaboration involving about 100 educators over the span of about one year. 

The EdTech Maker Space is a unique professional development model that holds great promise for combining training with technology and creating open educational resources (OER). Depending on the project type, participants might be creating new OER, adapting existing OER to make it more user-friendly, or curating OER to make it more accessible. Anyone interested in learning more about the EdTech Maker Space model can access a free project design guide through CrowdED Learning, along with information about past and current projects. Past EdTech Maker Space participants have shared how the process has helped them create richer learning experiences for their students. 

As technology continues to become more impressive, more functional, and more complex, workforce development agencies, employers, and adult educators must collaborate to keep up the momentum of promoting equity through digital resilience. For this reason, a “Submit a Resource” button sits prominently at the top of the Digital Skills Library. Resources can be submitted on the CrowdED Learning website as well. 

To guide to those who want to get involved in this work, we have outlined a list of the types of content needed according to the landscape scan (numbered below); which resources already in the library address that need (🔍 In the Digital Skills Library); and which resources exist outside of the library that, when added, will make it a more robust tool for building digital skills and resilience (➕ What to add). The resources in the “What to add” section will be the focus of future curation efforts, but site visitors can use the Activity Submission Form to begin the curation process themselves and see the resources available in the library sooner.

Supports for Language Learning 

English language learners are often acquiring digital skills and learning a new language concurrently. For this reason, activities that incorporate language-building activities and supports or explicit technology-related language instruction are needed in the library. 

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, these sources provide vocabulary support: 

➕What to add: 

  1. Offline Access

Much of the content for teaching digital skills must be accessed online, exacerbating digital exclusion for those who don’t have reliable internet access and for adult learners in correctional settings. Content that is downloadable or printable will enable learners in those contexts to build digital skills. 

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, these resources are available in PDF format: 

  • DigitalLearn.org’s courses
  • Common Sense Education’s lesson guides and handouts

➕What to add: 

  • Learn My Way’s “Help Someone Else” resources, with PDF practice activities
  1. Available in Multiple Languages

As the American workforce becomes increasingly multilingual, learners need to be able to access digital literacy resources in other languages to acquire terminology and skills that are relevant to their workplace, and to overcome language barriers that would otherwise put their digital skills development on hold. When teaching English language learners, “multilingual students benefit from being able to use their additional language repertoires to facilitate comprehension of content materials and instructions for completing tasks and assignments.”

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, these resources are available in other languages:

  • DigitalLearn.org’s Spanish courses
  • Some of GCFLearnFree’s Arabic lessons
  • A collection of Hungarian and Romanian activities from various sources

➕What to add: 

  1. Integration With Other Content Areas

Adult educators teaching English, science, math, and other subjects might acknowledge the importance of digital literacy but struggle with the additional time required to integrate digital skills into their existing objectives and/or a lack of knowledge of digital literacy frameworks. 

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, this need was addressed, in part, by selecting a flexible, user-friendly framework (by the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative) that will take some of the guesswork out of finding ways to integrate digital skills. 

➕What to add: Aligning well-known core curricula to the library will further support efforts to integrate digital skills while increasing awareness around what these platforms offer in this area.

  1. Functional in Various Instructional Models

As educational programs and employers settle into a new world of learning and working remotely, in person, and in blended formats, digital skills content needs to be able to accommodate synchronous and asynchronous as well as teacher-facilitated and self-paced learning experiences. These complex interactions can be supported through a range of instructional strategies, including direct instruction with the opportunity to apply inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, simulations, and more. 

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, these resources work well for self-paced learning:

These support facilitated learning: 

And these accommodate both: 

➕What to add: 

  • More games, simulations, and projects that allow learners to practice skills 
  • More Google Applied Digital Skills projects 
  • Other resources for instruction, such as the I-DEA and Northstar Digital Literacy curricula
  1. Mobile-Oriented

Focusing too narrowly on desktop and wired broadband may be increasingly out of step with the growth of “deskless” jobs in which workers use mobile devices, such as phones or tablets, to complete core job responsibilities. Therefore, activities for learning digital skills should be mobile-oriented, and the content within should reflect this transition from desktop to mobile.

🔍In the Digital Skills Library, Social Media TestDrive is an example of a resource that is both mobile-friendly and includes content relevant to mobile phone use. Other great content for learning to use mobile devices can be found under the Mobile domain on the library’s home page. 

➕What to add: While many resources are mobile-friendly, resources that centralize mobile devices and are mobile-oriented are lacking. Cell-Ed is a leader in this area.

The EdTech Maker Space and resulting updates to the Digital Skills Library represent an important milestone in the DRAW initiative, as they fill a fundamental gap revealed in the landscape scan: the need to build awareness around and access to existing content for all stakeholders. The Digital Skills Library also sheds light on the high-quality content that exists for building digital resilience. Now, the collaborative effort continues as more content, with greater variety, is added to the library to better reflect the diversity of the American workforce. 

Please follow the DRAW project page for further updates, information, professional development support, and discussion on these critical topics.

May 11, 2022

This blog post was created by Jobs for the Future and World Education and as part of the DRAW project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, under contract GS10F0094X. The views expressed by the project do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and its contents should not be considered an endorsement by the federal government or the funding agency.


Putting Digital Literacy and Digital Resilience into Frame

Digital resilience refers to the ability to navigate rapid digital transformation with confidence. The increased use of ecommerce, shift to online learning, and use of telehealth services are just a few of the changes adult learners find themselves having to navigate. Meanwhile, in the workforce, increased automation and the integration of technology into many jobs mean there is an ever-growing list of platforms and processes to which workers must adapt. The specific skills required for employment, participation in education, and communication with friends and family are changing almost constantly.

With digital literacy quickly becoming essential for success in most personal, civic, educational, and career pursuits, adult educators across the country are searching for guidance on what digital skills to teach. In a national landscape scan for the Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) project, numerous stakeholders—including adult educators, employers, and workforce experts—identified a need for common definitions and frameworks for digital skills. It is important that these definitions and frameworks reflect rapid changes in technology so that instruction supports learners’ needs to navigate an increasingly digital world and prepare for employers’ current and future skill demands.

From Digital Literacy to Digital Resilience

The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provides funding for adult education and workforce development programs, has adopted the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ definition of digital literacy skills: “the skills associated with—(A) using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information; and (B) developing digital citizenship and the responsible use of technology.” This is a definition that many education, workforce, and digital inclusion efforts have adopted. What’s missing, however, is the capacity for navigating digital transformation and continuously learning new technologies – something top of mind for adult learners, educators, and program leaders, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing nature of work. Learners have noted that they need specific digital skills to use the platforms required for both formal and informal work, including entrepreneurial and gig-economy opportunities. Hence, we selected the term digital resilience as the focus for DRAW. The Digital US coalition has defined digital resilience as “having the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands. Digital resilience improves capacity to problem-solve and upskill, navigate digital transformations, and be active participants in society and the economy.”

Shifting the goal from digital literacy to digital resilience requires that adult educators and digital inclusion services shift from teaching specific digital skills to building learners’ confidence and ability to adapt to and use new technologies on their own. Professional development will be essential for making this shift, given that our national landscape scan identified a frequent misunderstanding: a belief that digital skill development happens through the purchase of software or a tool on which a learner starts to work, rather than through the development of skills that are transferable across devices or applications. Shifting the goal and instructional approach will also require new ways of assessing digital resilience and making available aligned credentials or microbadges that signal to employers that individuals have developed the competencies needed to succeed in educational and career opportunities. For these reasons, we looked to see how existing frameworks could guide a shift in instructional and assessment strategies toward digital resilience.

Graphic from Digital US report (2020). Showing that, with clear definition and alignment on competencies, three groups (educators, employers, and learner-workers) can benefit.  Educators can: assess students for digital readiness; teach in-demand skills; validate competencies via credentials; and guide students to relevant opportunities.   Employers can: define competencies they need; assess and validate competencies of employees and new hires; create clear talent pipelines and career paths; and partner with service providers.  Learner-workers can: find programs that offer the digital skills they need; develop in-demand skills; demonstrate competencies for assessment and placement; earn credentials to validate their competencies; and be “screened in” to opportunities based on skill acquisition.

List and Compilation of Digital Skill Frameworks

With digital resilience in mind, our research team scanned the country and the globe for frameworks focused on digital skills and competencies and identified more than 50. Among those that are commonly used in U.S. adult education programs are the framework presented in the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative’s Digital Skill Sets for Diverse Users report, the Maryland Digital Literacy Framework for Adult Learners, Northstar Digital Literacy, Casas’s COAAP (Civic Objectives and Additional Assessment Plans), and the International Society for Technology in Education’s standards for students and educators and new Profile of the Lifelong Learner.

Other key frameworks we identified include the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) Model; Colorado’s Digital Equity Framework; the digital literacy framework presented in Markle’s Digital Blindspot report on employability skills; and international frameworks, including the European Union’s Digital Competence Framework, the United Kingdom’s Essential Digital Skills Framework, the DQ Institute’s Digital Intelligence (DQ) framework, and Canada’s Digital Literacy Fundamentals model.

We found many common themes across the frameworks, though they vary in the intended audience and purpose, with some more geared toward employers rather than educators. For example, Markle worked with leading employers to develop the Digital Blindspot report, in which it outlines the digital skills required for modern employment and provides employers with guidance on prioritizing investments in digital training. The frameworks discussed in the report also vary in the level of skills involved, from foundational (such as using devices or accessing the internet) to more advanced, and in the granularity of skill descriptions. Most frameworks categorize types of skills into buckets, while fewer provide details on the discrete digital skills that programs can integrate into curricula, assessments, or badges.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all framework, there are many useful ones to guide educators and other stakeholders working in diverse contexts. That said, they vary in the degree to which they touch on the need to develop lifelong learning skills in order to continually learn new technologies, and the DRAW team identified a need for more detailed definitions of the skills and competencies required for demonstrating digital resilience.
The full list of digital skills frameworks found in our landscape scan is available here.
For a more detailed description of some of these frameworks and their use, the EdTech Center @ World Education provides a compilation of them in the white paper “Now More Than Ever: The Need for Digital Skills Frameworks.”

Finding Common Themes: The Seattle Digital Equity Initiative

Though there are variations across the frameworks, there are many common themes. When the Seattle Digital Equity Initiative compared international digital skills training frameworks in 2019, it identified 10 common themes and 74 distinct digital skills, which are discussed in its Digital Skill Sets for Diverse Users report. The 10 themes are:

  • Communication: Exchanging information with others on digital platforms using various strategies to collaborate, share, and communicate.
  • Creation: Engaging in digital spaces to design, create, and revise content online.
  • Device ownership: Practices that support device longevity, including physical care, protective software, and the use of technical support.
  • Gateway skills: Foundational skills required to use a device and participate online.;
  • Information skills: Skills to apply, evaluate, and manage information across digital and physical environments.
  • Lifelong learning: Engagement in self-assessment of digital skills, using self-reflection to tailor accessible digital environments and continue digital skills learning.
  • Mobile: Understanding basic functions of a mobile device to communicate and access goods and services.
  • Online life: Access to online resources that support the digitalization of daily tasks and socialization within a broader digital community.
  • Privacy and security: Maintenance of practices to secure digital identity, recognize threats, and understand the broader safety implications of working in a digital environment.
  • Workplace: Advancing workplace success and professionalism through engagement with an organization’s online tools and other supportive digital systems.

The report provides guidance on which of the 74 skills are most relevant to diverse users, such as gateway skills for beginners, skills for users focused on jobs/employment, skills for advancing one’s education, and skills for parents.
The Seattle Digital Equity Initiative framework has proved valuable to adult education providers and educators alike. For example, the EdTech Center @ World Education curated digital skills instructional resources in alignment with the framework’s skills in its free, openly available Digital Skills Library, which the DRAW project subsequently expanded through an EdTech Maker Space initiative in early 2022. Additionally, some employers in the Digital US Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity, such as Tyson Foods, are using the framework to plan training for their frontline workforce.

Skills for Employment and Lifelong Learning

As we look to equip our adult learners and communities to be more digitally resilient in the future of work, there is value in better understanding the digital skills needed for employment and lifelong learning.
Digital Skills for Employment
In our national landscape scan, we found that instructors and learners both highlighted a need for greater understanding of the skills required for employment. Many frameworks specifically call out digital skills required in the workplace. While definitions varied, these skills align with six themes:

  • Digital problem solving—the nimble use of skills, strategies, and mindsets required to navigate online and use novel resources, tools, and interfaces in efficient and flexible ways to accomplish personal and professional goals.
  • Information seeking, including locating information online and assessing its relevance and validity, which is sometimes integrated with problem solving.
  • Communication, which includes appropriate email communication and the use of digital collaboration tools, with some frameworks adding working with diverse colleagues in a digital environment and managing one’s online reputation.
  • Privacy, security, and ethics, including complying with IT policies, safeguarding sensitive information, protecting one’s personal data, and handling suspicious emails.
  • Content creation, with some frameworks calling out content creation specifically.
  • Learning and upskilling, including self-assessment of digital skills and lifelong learning.

Digital Skills for Lifelong Learning

An important contribution to shaping our understanding of how to help learners develop digital resilience is ISTE’s Profile of a Lifelong Learner framework, which the organization developed to fill a previously missing description of digital literacy—one that can link digital skills to behavior, mindset, and action. The framework consists of five learner features—Lifelong Learner, Empowered Worker, Digital Citizen, Solution Seeker, and Mindful Colleague—and builds from ISTE’s work developing the ISTE Standards for Students and ISTE Standards for Educators. Both sets of standards were developed for K-12 audiences but have been successfully adopted and used in adult education, including in state efforts to certify adult educators in Texas.

Supporting Educators to Make Use of Frameworks

Existing digital skills definitions and frameworks provide descriptions of the digital skills adults need to succeed in work and life. Our next step in the DRAW initiative is to support adult education and workforce providers in making better use of them and applying them in different contexts to shape instruction, assessment, and badging efforts. Our goal is to help programs and practitioners think strategically about which skills they teach and how, so they can increase the impact of their efforts to build the digital resilience of all adult learners.

Please follow the DRAW project page for further updates, information, professional development support, and discussion on these critical topics.

April 28, 2022

This blog post was created by Jobs for the Future and World Education and as part of the DRAW project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy, under contract GS10F0094X. The views expressed by the project do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and its contents should not be considered an endorsement by the federal government or the funding agency.