Digital Skills Is Not The Same As Digital Literacy

Digital skills is not the same as digital literacy.

The difference between knowing and understanding.


Digital skills is following a step by step process of creating an email account. Digital literacy is recognising spam, why it is being sent and understanding how email providers use filters to minimise potential harm.

Digital skills is knowing how to use Microsoft Word. Digital literacy is using Microsoft Word to clearly and effectively communicate all the key components of an assignment.

Digital skills is showing someone how to borrow ebooks. Digital literacy is knowing why some ebooks aren’t available in New Zealand libraries even though those same ebooks can be purchased online.


Digital skills is knowing how to use Facebook. Digital literacy is using Facebook appropriately for both personal and professional purposes.

Digital skills is showing someone how to use a database. Digital literacy is helping that person understand how to create effective searches in that database and evaluate their search results.

Library staff spend a lot of time helping their community gain digital skills but how much time do we really spend helping them become digitally literate? Does your library have the staff capabilities to help your community members become digitally literate?

And to add a layer of complexity onto that last question – when it comes to digital literacy, there is no one size fits all. Digital literacy is context dependent.

For example, not everyone who borrows ebooks needs to know why some titles aren’t available for borrowing in New Zealand. But if someone asks you why the library doesn’t have the latest Nicholas Sparks novel then it is an opportunity to help them improve their digital literacy by talking to them about some of the issues surrounding ebooks in this context.

Being digitally literate in a public library will also require different capabilities, aptitudes and attitudes to those expected in a higher education library. Just as being a children’s librarian will require an additional and different set of digital literacy capabilities to those of an interloans librarian.

“Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on why, when, who and for whom.”

It would be lovely if you shared in the comments how you help individuals in your library become more digitally literate.

This blog post has been adapted from Bali, M. (2016, February 3). Knowing the difference between digital skills and digital literacies, and teaching both [Web log message]. Retrieved from



  1. Bkpusher says:

    Digital citizenship skills is not the same as digital citizenship literacy. Thank you Sally for making me think about why elementary students in my schools need not only to know digital citizen skills, and show understandings of those skills by reading, writing, listening and speaking to show the digital literacies that they have learned. It is how they respond when placed in various situations.

    1. Sally says:

      I am glad you found it useful🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love this. I am tempted to head off on a rant about the difference between training and education, and why it is important to focus on education. Great post.

    1. Sally says:

      I’d love to see a post on the difference between training and education🙂

  3. Sally:
    Nice set of comparisons and contrasts between digital skills and digital literacy. Glad to see our conversations continuing within the context of the blog you’ve been maintaining.

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