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The state of digital literacy in Canada: A literature review

The main purpose of this literature review is to bring together relevant research in order to contextualize the Brookfield Institute’s broader State of Digital Literacy in Canada study. While scoping out Canadian policy texts and existing programs, it also draws on international research, best practices, and the work of digital literacy experts globally to define digital literacy, the skills it comprises, as well as its importance. These sources have pulled mainly from educational and pedagogical research, work on technology and the economy, as well as a variety of policy papers, reports, recommendations, and studies. One of the challenges in synthesizing research on the subject of digital literacy is the sheer number of sources, as well as the fact that the concept intersects with many others, such as computational thinking, coding, e-literacy, media literacy, ICT skills, STEM, and so on. The lack of a single common definition of the concept implies that sources have varied conceptions of the term “digital literacy” itself. Much of the work cited was relatively recent, given that the concept of digital literacy has become more frequently used since approximately 2009, and that meaning of the concept has changed over time. This literature review focuses particularly on the skill sets that comprise digital literacy from a labour market perspective. Although the Government of Canada (along with provincial governments) has identified innovation and the development of local digital talent as a key priority, recommendations remain imprecise. The focus on coding as a crucial skill for the economy of the future has arguably obscured the necessity for a broader emphasis on digital literacy as such, as well as the spectrum of skills the digital economy will require by 2020. This review has found several broad themes of focus in the digital literacy: defining the term itself and what skills it comprises (Theme 1), its place in the digital economy and the changing nature of the workplace (Theme 2), how digital literacy can and should be taught from kindergarten to the workforce (Theme 3), and how digital literacy can address and exacerbate existing digital divides and exclusions (Theme 4). In Emerging Research Questions (III), we identify perceived gaps in research. Appendix A documents key research institutions and researchers on the topic of digital literacy. Appendix B contains an annotated bibliography of consulted sources