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Digital literacy: What are the barriers to developing greater digital skills?

Digital literacy is the most complex and multi-faceted of the four key themes. People’s ability to engage with digital technologies is dependent upon their skills and just as importantly their confidence with technology. We know that access to technology is not enough, people need to be able to use it proficiently to maximise its effectiveness. While the internet has the potential to be of great benefit to users, it is also has potential dangers. Internet scams and hoaxes, viruses and cyber-bullying are just some of the online threats facing users and people with few digital skills are especially vulnerable.

There has been a lot of work discussing the importance of digital literacy and the ways to improve it but little effort to measure it across large populations. An important basic issue is the relationship between literacy and digital literacy. Often online content is only available in a limited number of languages and a lot of content relevant to Australians is only available in English.

Measuring digital literacy comprehensively would require significant time and would be best achieved by actually testing people’s skills. Clearly this is impractical for our purposes so we need to develop a small number of key indicators based on respondents’ self-reporting.

In thinking about digital literacy and its measurement it may be useful to refer to work undertaken by the European Union on measuring digital skills (available here https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/default/files/lb-na-26035-enn.pdf)


In this section we would like to develop a greater understanding about the following:

  • What are the skills most critical to digital inclusion?
  • What are the barriers to developing greater digital skills?
  • What are the enablers for developing greater digital skills?

Sample indicators include:

  • Proportion of the population with basic digital skills
  • Proportion of the population who know how to install apps on a mobile device
  • Proportion of the population who know how to protect themselves online with anti-virus software


  1. On a daily basis public library staff assist people who have never needed to use a computer or the internet. People require one to one assistance to navigate myGov, including setting up their first email account. From conversations with community members it appears there is an assumption on the part of the government departments that they will just be able to do this with no problems. Public library staff are more than willing to assist. This relies on staffing availability, number of computers available and some knowledge of what we are dealing with. Consideration of public library resources and collaboration with government departments during development phases would enhance the experience for everyone. Front line government staff know we exist and refer people to us, there is a link missing at the strategic level.

    • Hi Kieran, The connection between public libraries and internet use/adoption is a very important one. The interest of public libraries in promoting digital inclusion is clear when you attend various events (eg auDA’s recent Internet Governance Forum) where libraries are always well represented. It would be worth contacting the Digital Transformation Office with your thoughts- I will be talking to them soonish and will certainly raise it with them.


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