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Digital Literacy: It’s True Meaning

 Reading is fundamental.  I’ve heard this mantra time and time again as a youngster.  The term highlighted the importance of literacy.  Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write.  Traditional literacy is the ability to communicate through ones own language like English, Spanish or French to name a few.  Digital Literacy is a different animal.  Digital literacy is the ability to communicate “digitally”.  Our world is becoming increasingly data driven.  In the following text, I will highlight some components of digital literacy.


Know the Data

The first element of digital literacy is to “know the data”.  An understanding of the data is a sense of what the data should be saying.  When a child is taught to read, he/she often learns phonetics first.  Children learn the sound of each letter in order to be able to sound out whole words.  They’ve learned the rules and how sounds work together.  The same thing is needed with data.  For example, Let’s say on average the subscription sale for an online product is $5K per month.  The following month a sales associate brings a summary report that states sales last month were $15K.  That should automatically raise eyebrows.  It should raise eyebrows because “you know the data”.  A firm grasp of historical data is an area of data knowledge.  Another area of data knowledge is the trajectory or trend:  the manner in which the data has progressed over the span of days, months, years or decades.  An underlying perspective of the data gives a since of perspective.  In today’s environment perspective can change quickly.  This condition emphasizes the need to be constantly in-tune with the digital environment.


Know How to Get Data

One of the main components to digital literacy is knowing how to get data.  Knowing how to get data is the equivalent to researching information for a paper or book.  One has to know where to get a bit of information in order to compile a story.  Perhaps Googling books or articles on the topic.


Digital literacy involves the ability to locate and synethize data.  For example if someone asks what is the run rate for expenditures.  You would first need to know where to get historical expenditure information, how to pull the data and finally how to calculate the run rate.  In this case one could download monthly expenditure totals into a spreadsheet.  Then, the grand total could be divided by the number of months.  That would reveal the run rate or average spending per month.  In other cases, an easy download is not capable.  In many cases, the data available may be too expansive for a traditional spreadsheet.  In these cases, more sophisticated techniques are needed.   Programming languages, like SQL, Phyton and VBA are tools that can improve the digital literacy of a person.  Also, knowing one programming language makes it easier to pick-up a second or third one easier.


Know How to Use Data

The primary purpose of collecting data is to be able to draw conclusions about our surrounding environment.  The first step as an Analyst is to explore the data.  That step involves searching the data available and noting the fields that are available for use, it’s frequency, similar or complementary data sets available and data validation.   That stage is important.  Often at this stage the end format of the analysis takes shape.


Know How to Visualize

The next step would be to properly communicate findings of data exploration into visualization.  Visualization is the medium used to communicate the analyzed data.  These can be tables, charts and graphs.  The visualization used is dependent on a few items.  In a nutshell the visualization that clearly articulates the findings should be used.

Know How to Verbalize

The final largely overlooked area of digital literacy is knowing how to orally  communicate findings.  I find that many Analysts tend to go into too much detail during conversations.   The best way to communicate findings is to start with answering the question.  That should be quickly followed up by a line by line discussion of each item.


The above items mentioned are different elements that describe digital literacy.  Once a purer understanding of digital literacy is available, we can pursue it more easily.

About the author



Othniel Denis is currently Principal of Excellent Ones Consulting LLC. He brings with him a background in finance, training, and information management systems. Prior to opening his own firm, Othniel spent the last 13 years in finance as an Analyst at organizations like New York University, Nassau County Government and Brookhaven National Laboratory to name a few...

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