Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning, literacy and digital literacy

Learning is a survival human skill and literacy is an activity that allows it. Learning has been equated to literacy including digital literacy thanks to a perpetuating belief that confuses learning with literacy creating a bipolar world of learners and non-learners, literate and illiterate. The formalization of the educational system has deepened the divide between these contrasting categories by ignoring those who are informal literate and informal illiterate learners. In fact learning is a natural skill of the human beings and starts from conception to death. Learning and knowledge exist well before the symbolic representation of knowledge, the invention of print and the formalization of learning through schooling. This formalization contributes to widen the gap between social and economic classes marginalizing some vast categories of people. Literacy as a subproduct of formalized learning denies the illiterate the power of learning. In fact it would be impossible for a human being to survive without the ability to learn. We are all learners whether literate or illiterate and whether as literate we learn formally or informally. Technology as a creation of the social structures that create the formalization of education has evolved to the point of breaking out the structures of formalized learning and ways of social living. The open education movement and the creation of learning materials in the web allow people to learn less formally and more informally. Web technologies allow people to communicate. share and collaborate virtually to a certain low degree. Structures of formalized learning and detrimental traditional ways of living persist through technology which is a mirror of the social structures that create it. Traditional ways of learning find their ways in the digital learnng. Consequently literacy as a way of learning find its way in the digital world as digital literacy.

Digital literacy encompasses an umbrella of literacies enabled by digital technology and called "new literacies". Digital literacy can be defined as the ability to find. use, evaluate, summarize, critique and create information. Information and communication tecknology is widely used in digital literacy. It involves the use of computers, hardware and software, the internet, web technologies and various telecommunications systems. The digitally literate is able to navigate the web, create content using digital spaces, use different web 2.0 tools to save, communicate and share information. The digitally literate uses the web for learning, innovating and different social functions. Blogging, sharing different types of information through text, photos and videos, emailing, posting information, communicating are some common actions performed by the digitally literate.

Traditional concepts of learning such as literacy, fluency, etc persist in spite of the development of digital technology.This development has the potential of providing the marginalized illiterate tools of learning that don't rely on the ability of reading and writing. Perhaps this development can eliminate the printed word and replace it with auditory, visual, kinesthesic and many other ways of learning therefore putting aside the dichotomy of literate and illiterate. The use of cognitive abilities can still be used without the existence of the printed word. The transformation of society through tools created by the dominant social structures seem to be an utopy but meanwhile technology can be used to reduce social inequalities by making its tools more affordable and useful to the majority of people. For example the cost of computers, cellphones, telephone and internet services could be reduced to facilitate access to more people. Computers and cellphones can be built with a lot of educational software allowing the user to access to information without paying for additional services. The so-called illiterate can learn without using the printed word through cheap computers and cellphones. Some educational software can be created in digital devices allowing the illiterate to read, write and learn automomously.        

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