Module 2: Literacy, Information Evaluation, & Digital Literacy
In this section we will examine what is generally meant by the term "literacy" and how it
relates to the online world of information.
What is normally meant by the term "literacy?" Historically, literacy has referred to the
ability to read and to write the language of one's culture or country of origin. This term
has been in a state of flux for some time, however, as the importance of literacy
increases along with the complexity of society and the development of information
technologies. "Literacy" now includes the concepts of numeracy, cultural literacy, and
increasingly, digital literacy. This module will briefly examine each.
Historically, literacy was not always considered vital to everyday life. In most of Europe
and Asia, the ability to read and write was confined to a small number of scholars and
scribes, whose abilities were available for hire for those who did not possess that level
of education. It is only comparatively recently (post-Gutenberg) that individual literacy
has been deemed of enough importance to warrant free or low-cost public education for
private citizens. Rates of literacy vary worldwide, and unsurprisingly, higher levels of
income correlate with increased public literacy.
Literacy as the ability to read and comprehend the written language of one's native
language has expanded in the so-called "information age." In addition to basic reading
and writing skills, literacy has now come to include the ability to locate sources of
needed information, critically evaluate these sources, and to apply found information to
situations in daily life.
Worldwide, many adults cannot write a cohesive paragraph or interpret a public
transportation map. A lack of literacy can significantly undermine an individual's ability to
find employment or to earn a living wage. This disadvantage becomes more
pronounced in societies that rely less on manual labor and manufacturing than on
technology-related professions. In countries that are not economically dependent on
manufacturing and agriculture, illiteracy often equates to poverty.
If literacy is the ability to functionally read and write, numeracy is the ability to
competently use basic mathematics in everyday life. Examples include making correct
change while shopping, budgeting money for regular bills, and balancing a checkbook.
As e-commerce becomes more widespread, innumeracy becomes a greater area of
concern. Innumerate Internet users are at a disadvantage in using online financial
services such as shopping and banking, and they are more susceptible to online fraud.
Innumeracy begins at the public school level and progresses throughout all stages of