Defining digital skills is not easy. Academics, policymakers, media outlets, and the general population often use different terms and definitions to refer to digital skills. This causes confusion and makes it hard to find a common ground.
The United Nations defines digital skills as “the ability to use ICTs in ways that help individuals to achieve beneficial, high-quality outcomes in everyday life for themselves and others” while reducing “potential harm associated with more negative aspects of digital engagement” . On its turn, the ySKILLS project defines digital skills as “a diverse set of technical/operational, information navigation, communication and interaction and content creation and production skills, which are unequally distributed and influenced by individual, social and country characteristics” .
What do we know about digital skills?
Being digital skilled is more than just possessing technical knowledge or competences. It also means being able to interact and collaborate with others through technologies, possessing sufficient critical thinking skills to, for instance, assess the veracity of online information or being able to create new content to express yourself. It also implies being able to use digital technologies safely and having the capacity to tackle online risks.
From research, we know that children’s digital skills improve with age. Children from higher socio-economic status (SES) households also have higher digital skills. As regards gender, although boys feel more confident in their technological abilities than girls, their actual digital skills are not necessarily higher than those of girls. Furthermore, earlier and wider access to digital technologies (e.g., at school, home, youth centres, etc.) seem to have a positive impact on the development of digital skills. This finding is especially relevant for schools because it shows that if ICT is available at school from an early age, this could have a positive effect on children’s’ digital skills. Other aspects that can have a positive impact on digital skills include higher levels of education, positive attitudes towards ICT and traditional competences such as reading, writing and understanding texts and data .
Research also shows that children and young people do not use technologies in a vacuum. Indeed, many co-use technology with peers and friends, while at home or at school different forms of social mediation (guidance and/or rules) may apply . In this respect, there is some evidence that co-using technologies with peers can have a positive impact on children’s technological and related social competences. Moreover, when parents and teachers support children’s agency and guide them in using internet platforms, applications, and social media for different purposes , children can acquire better digital skills. By contrast, restrictive mediation (e.g., setting rules, time limits, and bans on online activities or contents) is linked to lower digital skills .