Due to the shift towards knowledge-intensive economies, creative industries and ICT a new set of learning paradigms have evolved around the concept of incidental learning:
Embedded, problem-based and learning by doing, the main contribution of which is the acknowledgement that learning in isolation makes application in real life situations unnecessarily problematic.
Distributed cognition is the notion that human expertise manifests between- rather than in persons. Many jobs demand team work and rely on several disciplines to merge before optimal solutions can be reached.
Collaborative- and constructivist learning methods have complemented the instructional repertoire. It implies a sharper focus on learning competences rather than ‘following’ predefined curricula. The core idea in constructivist learning is that understanding and application of skills and complex conceptual domains need a highly active and individualized process or mastery. Subsequently the role of the instructor differentiates in subject matter expert, diagnostic coach and facilitator. Cognitive learning tools are indispensible in this regard.
Blended learning, based on the fact that both face-to-face and remote presence is needed in order to offer flexibility to the learner and its coach. Instead of uniform assessments the situation of blended learning will be evaluated with a learner’s unique portfolio that demonstrates all competencies required in order to function adequately in a certain professional layer.
This brings up an essential question for the debate around lifelong learning: If it is correct that incidental learning is more important than learning in more formal settings, does this imply that efforts which aim to increase adults’ participation in training courses and other structured and intentional learning activities should be abandoned, and that policy should rather concentrate on boosting chances of people to acquire knowledge through experience (such as “learning by doing” on the job)?
This perceived antagonism between working, playing and learning can only be resolved as these three become recognized as various components of the same: both the person and the group need learning in order to cope with societal changes. Strange enough ‘learning’ has conquered its relevance too far; it has become a tool for overcoming social stratification and has thus become a goal in itself.
Discussing “the right to learn” and “the duty to learn” has obscured the essence of learning. The genuine life-long learning can best be seen as the ideal way to both avoid “surviving by adapting” and “surviving by escaping”. Learning is the optimal combination of accommodation and assimilation. Its goal is to preserve the person’s identity by incorporating the essence of his/her surrounding.
Life-Long Learning addresses both formal and informal aspects of learning. Formal education has met severe problems to assimilate and exploit the added value of ICT. At the same time we have seen the relevance of the web for learning in daily life.
The question is whether lifelong learners will master these new learning skills as a large part of the older population did not learn to use ICT for learning at schools or work places. In so far as directly ICT-related skills are concerned, a distinction is being made between e-skills and digital literacy skills.
E-skills themselves can be broken down into:
ICT practitioner skills: The capabilities required for researching, developing and designing, managing, the producing, consulting, marketing and selling, the integrating, installing and administrating, the maintaining, supporting and service of ICT systems;
e-Business skills: the capabilities needed to exploit opportunities provided by ICT, notably the Internet, to ensure more efficient and effective performance of different types of organizations, to explore possibilities for new ways of conducting business and organizational processes, and to establish new businesses.
ICT user skills: the capabilities required for effective application of ICT systems and devices by the individual. ICT users apply systems as tools in support of their own work (which is, in most cases, not ICT) or private life.
In addition to these directly ICT-related skills, there are skills of a more generic nature which are required to fully participate in a society which is increasingly dominated by knowledge- and information-rich environments and technologically mediated communication. These are often subsumed under the term “digital literacy skills”. For the conceptualization of the different kind of skills which make up digital competence, the following categorization is of particular value. They differentiate between operational (instrumental) skills, informational (structural) skills and strategic skills:
Operational skills are needed to operate ICTs (computers, software, Internet connections, mobile devices);
Information skills are required to search, select and process information from computer and network files, which implies the ability to structure information according to specific requirements and preferences;
Strategic skills denote the ability to take own initiative in searching, selecting, integrating, valuing, and applying information from various sources as a strategic means to improve one’s position in society. It often implies the continuous scanning of the environment for information which might be relevant to the four spheres of life: personal life, family life, work life, and community life.
It is important to take into account that digital literacy is by no means limited to the utilization of the Internet. Any definition and operational definition of digital literacy needs to include the full spectrum of (current and future) ICTs, which include mobile applications and services which are expected to become much more dominant in the coming years.
More generally, any definition of digital literacy must be open to new technological and market developments which will become relevant in the future. Against this background, it may make sense to define as the focus of digital literacy any ICT-enabled means with which to access, manage, integrate, or evaluate information, construct new knowledge, or communicate with others.