The New Literacy

I know what you must be thinking.  Is there an old literacy?  Yes, there is.  The old literacy is the ability to read and write.  (Not too long ago, being literate meant having  the ability to sign your name.)

The New Literacy is the capacity to participate effectively in all realms of life – social, economic, and political. To do so, you need to navigate the digital world and that requires a deep understanding of media, technology, information, and text.  Things we don’t necessarily teach in our schools.

The New Literacy could be defined as the capacity to critically assess the relevance and accuracy of information as it relates to specific purposes.  At a minimum, you need to be able to access desired information and understand the  information/content presented.   Let’s break it down.

First, we know the way information or content is consumed has been changing rapidly due to technological changes.  For the last hundred years or so print-based media has been a relatively stable and included things like:

  • books
  • poems
  • letters
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • road signs
  • product labels and directions
  • comics
  • advertisements

In the last 20 years, new ways of sharing text have emerged and with them, new rules of literacy.  Here are a few examples of new digital media that did not exist when I was in school. (Although each format was developed earlier, I have included the date by which the form was in widespread use.)

  • emails (1993)
  • text messages (2000)
  • websites (1993)
  • tweets (2006)
  • snapchat (2011)

To be literate in these forms requires old literacy (the ability to read and write) but also new literacy skills that mix technological prowess and adherence to the form.  We need to make sure that we adapt our teaching and learning practices to recognize the New Literacy.