At this point, it’s almost become cliché: with the rapid adoption of new technologies, the way we work and engage with one another is changing. But it is true that the changes caused by technological trends have given rise to real and pressing concerns. How can we equip Canadians to cope with the changing nature of work, fully engage in digital life, and be active digital citizens? What does it mean to have a digitally literate workforce, and how fast can we make it happen? Where does coding come into play? In 50 years, will everyone be coding for Google?
We know now that digital goes beyond what we’ve traditionally understood as the information and communications technology sector; today, job roles across sectors increasingly require some level of digital literacy. A recent national survey by ICTC found that 84 percent of Canadian companies consider the use of a computer and basic technical competencies to be essential to their operations.1 Equipping Canadians with a broad range of digital skills will be critical both to ensure a robust talent pipeline for employers, and to support the development of an inclusive economy.


With the release of Digital Literacy in a Digital Age we aim to define digital literacy and give an overview of the main issues that are shaping conversations on digital literacy in Canada, including those focusing on talent gaps and digital divides, to set the foundation for further research. This discussion paper will mark the first of a series of papers that will examine The State of Digital Literacy in Canada (which is, uncoincidentally, the title of our recent literature review).

But first, what is digital literacy?

At this stage of our work, we’ve proposed a framework for understanding the full spectrum of digital skills that could be relevant to the current and future labour market. This includes basic skills such as the ability to find information online or use software like Microsoft Word to complete tasks, and more advanced skills involved in the creation of new digital tools (like some forms of coding). However, digital literacy goes far beyond coding; it also goes deeper than using technology. Digital literacy implies having the understanding to actively and creatively use digital skills to solve problems.

Our working definition of digital literacy:
The ability to use technological tools to solve problems, underpinned by the ability to critically understand digital content and tools.

So many activities are influenced by technology that before we ask whether everybody needs to become a coder, we should take a closer look at the basic concepts that underpin the digital skills and competencies required to make informed daily decisions and be effective in the workplace. For instance, does your job involve email? How much do you need to know about email to do a job adequately, and how is that different from what you need to do a job well? How are articles like this one created, and how can they be shared and manipulated? Is this fake news? In the same way that you need some science knowledge to inform your understanding of your environment, or some understanding of social issues to take a political position, people need to understand the processes behind creating, consuming, and sharing digital content to be informed and active users.

What comes next?

Image Credit: Annalise Huynh

Building on this discussion paper, targeted expert feedback, and your feedback, we aim to continue this work on Canadian digital literacy to:

  • Map digital literacy-focused programs and policies that currently exist in Canada, along with Canadian and international case study research to extract lessons for inclusive digital talent development.
  • Look into data related to the supply of and demand for digital skills across different Canadian occupations and industries. This could include research aimed at quantifying existing digital divides in the labour market, and will be based on existing data sources and potentially on new survey data.
  • Develop actionable recommendations for government as well as private and nonprofit actors to address existing gaps and barriers to digital literacy in Canada.

Does this definition of digital literacy make sense? Have we missed anything? Tweet us @BrookfieldIIE or email [email protected] and [email protected].

Join the conversation on Twitter

Mark your calendars! On September 8, join Annalise and Andrew, the authors of our first digital literacy discussion paper, on Twitter to discuss what it means to be digitally literate, why it matters, and what we need to know about it in the Canadian context.

Date: Friday, September 8, 2017
Time: 1-2 p.m. EST

Follow along with #biiechat!