Digital literacy: A must in age of digital transformation, cyberattacks

It’s about learning how to appropriately access, evaluate and use information

Digital literacy: A must in age of digital transformation, cyberattacks
Using digital tools effectively enables better collaboration and agility both within an organization and with clients. Credit: Graphic farm (Shutterstock)

In an age of digital transformation, the digital universe is ballooning in size due to people and organizations’ online interactions and the growth of the “Internet of Things” — smart devices connected to the internet.

As of the first quarter of 2018, Android users were able to choose among 3.8 million apps, according to Statista. And the average smartphone user is checking his phone many times each day.

As a result, becoming digitally literate is essential for all employees, in any role, from entry level to CEO. Digital literacy is much more than technical proficiency with a program or technological device. It encompasses the ability to appropriately access, evaluate and use information, create content and communicate with others.

It also includes social and ethical considerations such as privacy and copyright. As an example, an employee who uses a search engine shows technical digital skills; however, the critical thinking involved in evaluating the search results and the credibility of the source is a key part of effective digital literacy. 

Digital literacy is not necessarily determined by age or generation. Although millennials are considered “digital natives,” having grown up in a digital world, their familiarity with a technology doesn’t automatically mean they have the critical thinking or other skills to understand the social implications or risks associated with its use.

Using digital tools effectively enables better collaboration and agility both within an organization and with clients. Consumers are becoming increasingly digitally literate and empowered. To serve clients well, staying one step ahead and having the proficiency in the appropriate technologies is a necessity for employers. 

Digital literacy is key to both corporate and employee security online. Given the proliferation of data breaches and cyberattacks, employees place their organizations and themselves at severe risk if they do not know how to recognize and withstand such intrusions. Employees may make poor decisions if they do not have the ability to assess the information they find online, or may jeopardize their own or their employer’s reputation if they share information inappropriately.

Becoming digitally literate

Pursuing digital literacy will represent a major multi-year undertaking for many organizations, requiring careful change management. Here are tips to consider:

Establish a baseline: Assess employees’ current competencies and prioritize your efforts. A company-wide digital literacy assessment covering a range of topics — from basic technical proficiency to critical thinking — can be useful to establish corporate and individual learning priorities.

Ensure senior leadership is fully and visibly engaged: Appoint an executive sponsor and require senior leadership participation in all assessments and applicable learning opportunities. Executives can be very influential by modelling the effective use of digital tools.

Create a cross-functional team to develop the plan: The field of digital literacy is broad, and a comprehensive approach requires input from subject matter experts in risk, learning, technology, communications and other areas.

Demonstrate what’s in it for employees: Employee buy-in is essential, so help employees understand how a strong digital workplace supports the organization’s strategy. Communicate overall results of digital literacy initiatives and celebrate progress. Look for quick wins such as improving proficiency with digital communication tools that will improve productivity and make employees’ lives easier at work or at home. Educating employees on the consequences of not being digitally literate can be equally effective; for example, the potentially crippling costs of a successful cyberattack, or the implications of having their personal data compromised. 

Make digital literacy a core competency for all employees: Detailing specific behaviours, categorized by function or job level, provide visibility and clarity of expectations, particularly for employees who may believe digital literacy does not apply to their job. A self-assessment tool and learning road map connected to resources can help employees identify and address specific areas of weakness. Ensure you continually raise the level of digital literacy in the organization by incorporating digital literacy into recruiting with interview questions or other tools to assess indicators of digital savviness such as problem-solving, decision-making and resourcefulness. 

Engage digital ambassadors and create a safe and supportive environment for learning: Employees may be intimidated by technology or lack confidence in their digital abilities. Employee digital ambassadors can be very influential in overcoming their co-workers’ potential reluctance to change. Digital ambassadors are digitally savvy peer trainers who embrace technology and who are on the front lines in the implementation of technology and digital tools. They act as peer coaches and trainers, answer their colleagues’ questions and facilitate ongoing two-way communication.

Provide opportunities for practice: It’s about an environment where employees can make mistakes and learn from them. Employees may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of required learning, so present it in manageable chunks; for example, short videos on specific topics such as understanding privacy settings in social media. Gamification can also help to take away the fear factor while instilling key knowledge.  

Be patient as employees adopt new behaviours: As with any major change, there will be a learning curve. As employees pay more attention to identifying suspicious emails, their productivity may decline until the knowledge and behaviours become ingrained.

Recognize that digital literacy is part of doing business: And development must be ongoing, not a one-time event. Technology is ever-changing and regular reinforcement through assessments and practice drills can help ensure employees’ development keeps pace.

Today, employee digital literacy is a requirement, not an option, for both corporate and personal success. It is in organizations’ best interests to invest in developing this critical employee competency.

Marni Johnson is senior vice–president of human resources and corporate affairs at BlueShore Financial in Vancouver. For more information, visit

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