Digital literacy tips: How to help everyone build new tech skills
A light, fun, and accessible way to help a community learn together.
The digital literacy gap is well-documented. 80% of companies report a need for employees with more tech skills. In the United States, 32 million adults can’t use a computer while over half of Americans are not comfortable learning online (source). Even as the pandemic (hopefully) ends soon, it’s clear that the future of work and learning (and community life) will exist, in part, online.
So how do we help our communities build new digital skills? In this post, I’ll propose a small but effective strategy for helping everyone upskill together: digital literacy tips.
What are digital literacy tips?
A digital literacy tip is a quick tutorial on how to use an app or device. Tips are most effective when they:
- Take five minutes or less to introduce, model, and discuss, and
- Enable social interaction, team engagement, and group learning.
Why short tips are the best tips
Technology is changing so quickly that we can no longer expect traditional instructional models to be as effective (e.g., long lectures and courses). For example, if we teach someone how to use Google Maps today, it’s likely the interface will change or a new feature will arrive tomorrow. There’s just too much content to cover. So we don’t have the time or capacity to continuously teach and reteach. Instead, we can model a few examples, and then introduce how to continue learning. In other words, we show what’s possible to inspire people to drive their own learning forward.
Here’s how to use a keyboard shortcut to mute and unmute your microphone on Zoom calls:
Note that in this example, we are not teaching every keyboard shortcut. Instead, we are simply showing a useful Zoom feature. In doing so, we are also introducing the idea of keyboard shortcuts which is often enough inspiration for people to continue exploring other shortcuts on their own using free tutorials on Google, YouTube, and other online resources.
As an aside, note this tip also introduces the skill of muting/unmuting and how to find Zoom settings. There are several digital skills built-in to the one tip that stems from a common problem we all experience (“Joey, you are muted”).
Why tips should enable social interaction, team engagement, and social learning
Digital literacy tips are also effective because they nurture an environment for peer-to-peer support. Learning how to use technology is less about formal professional development sessions or welcoming an expert to deliver a keynote address, and more about establishing a mindset that we are all learning, we are doing it continuously, and we are doing it together.
When done well, digital literacy tips should get people talking. I’ve introduced tips in a variety of group settings: weekly check-ins with a manager (one to one), small group meetings with my team, learning circles with strangers, classrooms with dozens of students, and in online webinars with hundreds of participants.
Regardless of the setting, they are almost always well received. And that’s likely because people like learning new things, finding novel ways to do things with technology, and sharing the experience of stumbling through new tech. Over time, staff will start to see each other as resources. So when a new kind of software is introduced, like a new database solution, colleagues can lean on each other when they get stuck, when they have questions, and when they need to learn something new to do their job.
As an example, when I introduce the mute/unmute shortcut, I then invite others to share their favorite keyboard shortcut. This gets people talking and learning together as the chat explodes with excitement as everyone adds their favorite tip or trick (like CTRL/CMD + K to insert a link). Then, people leave the meeting with at least one new skill to further explore.
In the 21st century, we all need to be continuously building new digital competencies together. So our goal should be to nurture an environment where staff are exploring technology together. Creating time and space for a peer skill share is a small yet impactful way to nurture these conversations, connections, and organizational culture.
Where to get started
Consider starting every staff meeting or class with a short tip, Once the routine is established, assign a different staff member to share their expertise at the next gathering. Then, keep that cycle going to give everyone a voice and the opportunity to be the teacher. After all, in the 21st century, we are all teachers and we are all students.
A technical tip
I find GIFs to be a fantastic method for teaching digital literacy as they offer a visual element and play on a loop so we can watch it a few times until we feel ready to try it on our own. Two of my favorite apps for creating GIFs are:
- Screencastify, a free browser extension that includes an option to export recordings as a GIF, and
- Camtasia, a more powerful app that isn’t free but includes advanced editing features (titles, animations, zoom/pan).
However, what’s less important is how to make GIFs and/or which app to use (GIFs aren’t even necessary for the tips routine to succeed). What’s more relevant is the strategies being used to create a culture where teams are building new digital skills together. How are we helping our colleagues to think flexibly, to know where to get help when needed, and to persist when stuck?
In short, how are we helping people learn how to learn in the 21st century? Digital literacy tips could be a small yet impactful way to nurture a social learning environment and encourage staff as lifelong learners.
P.S. Did you know you can quickly create any Google Drive file with this shortcut?