Living in in a digital world means you need digital skills

Exploring the futures of rural

Student, Woman, Startup, Business

By: Wayne Kelly

The world is now a digital one. People spend hours on smartphones and computers with more devices and more online activities being developed every day. Many people use digital technologies for work, school, entertainment, and communication. This means that most of us are on digital devices all day. The ability to use digital tools and software to create and share digital content is now essential in many workplaces and will be even more important in the future. These skills are also necessary to access government services, to use digital entertainment and for keeping in touch with friends and family.

Researchers have identified that digital skills are essential not just in the future but now, and are the foundation for what some are calling “21st-century skills”, the skills needed to thrive within today’s workplace and digital society.

These 21st-century skills include:

  • Information management – the use of digital technologies to search, select and organize information
  • Communication – using digital technologies to share information with others, ensuring that it is communicated in ways that make sense to the reader
  • Collaboration – using digital technologies to develop a network or team who will work together regardless of location or devices
  • Critical thinking – using digital technologies to make informed judgments and choices regarding online information and communication
  • Creativity – using digital technologies to generate and share new ideas or to change existing concepts in new ways. Creating content is an essential part of creativity and includes the ability to create new content or expand on previous content
  • Problem Solving – using digital technologies to analyze problems, to find knowledge or ideas for a solution and to collaborate with others as needed when developing the solution 

Building and harnessing these skills is essential for individuals, organizations, governments and businesses to fully participate within today’s knowledge society. However, people’s skills are not keeping pace with the growth of digital technologies or with the changing workplace.

Developing or teaching digital skills can be a challenge as the technology changes quicker than the curriculum in school systems can. There is also a need to foster innovative and creative skills in the 21st-century skills and that traditionally has not been a focus of our school systems. Navigating these complex challenges will be essential for our formal education as it adapts for future learners.

Getting access to training outside of the formal education system is a different challenge.  On the one hand, the Internet provides a seemingly unending supply of YouTube how-to videos or online course offerings. However, knowing which courses to take or how to combine how-to videos to create a specific learning outcome is daunting. In-person classes and training do exist; however, they are primarily located in cities and typically cost money, sometimes substantial amounts.

In rural communities, it can be challenging to find available digital skill training. A recent digital skills review across Canada by the Brooking Institute found that for some Canadians there are substantial obstacles to developing digital skills, and in particular “access to digital education and training remains a barrier, particularly outside of major urban centres.

Living in this digital world makes it is essential for rural residents and communities to have access to digital skill training; the alternative is to fall further behind urban centres in digital technology skills and use. As always with rural, one solution will not work for all of rural so communities and regions will need to identify or develop solutions that work best for them and their residents so that they too can participate effectively in our digital society not just in the future but today too.

Huynh, A, M., N. (2018). Levelling Up: The Quest for Digital Literacy. Retrieved from Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship website:

Van Laar, E., Van Deursen, A. J., Van Dijk, J. A., & De Haan, J. (2017). The relation between 21st-century skills and digital skills: A systematic literature review. Computers in human behavior72, 577-588.

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