What are basic digital skills?
Digital skills have been broadly defined by UNESCO as those needed to “use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information.” This will cover a huge range and variety of skills. There are different tiers of digital skills. At the bottom, we have what the UK Department for Education (DfE) calls “digital foundation skills”. These are the basic digital skills that might be second nature to Millennials and Generation Z digital natives, though which may have to be learned by older generations.
A framework written up by the DfE alongside Accenture and other organisations outlines these basic digital skills under six areas. These are then subdivided into skills for life and additional skills for work.
- Digital foundation skills – the fundamentals of being able to use digital technologies, such as using a browser, connecting to the internet, and keeping passwords secure.
- Communicating – sending emails securely, using attachments, and participating on social media.
- Handling information and content – using search engines, being aware that not all online content is reliable, accessing content across devices.
- Transacting – setting up accounts to use or purchase goods/services online, using different secure payment methods, filling in online forms.
- Problem-solving – finding solutions to problems using FAQs/tutorials/chat, presenting solutions through software, and improving productivity.
- Being safe and legal online – understanding best practice in data storage/sharing, updating and keeping passwords secure, and taking precautions against viruses.
These are defined as the basic digital skills needed in a day-to-day professional or personal context. They will be enough for many working in traditional workplaces which have adopted digital systems to improve efficiency, security, and connectivity.
What are examples of digital skills?
Entry-level digital skills can include:
- Computer literacy
- Data entry
- Social media
- Web-based communications and research
- Word processing
- Email and chat
- Secure information processing
Advanced digital skills can include:
- Programming, web, and app development
- Digital business analysis
- Digital marketing and content creation
- Digital design and data visualisation
- Digital product management
- Data science
- User experience design
Are there Major Digital Skills to Focus on?
Quite simply, yes.
There are the advanced digital skills listed above, but they can be grouped into the following topics that I will explain a little about what they are and how they work as a digital skill. Many of the advancd digital skills listed above will come under these topics in different ways, so to learn more about them, I would advise searching for the ‘umbrella’ title rather than the specific term. If you are interested in an online course about this topic, then you can check the syllabus and whether it covers that specific area.
The internet has completely changed how companies advertise to their customers, bringing a level of precision and scale that was unknown in the pre-digital age. Specialised digital skills are required in order to navigate this new terrain, with expert practitioners often focusing on one specific discipline. These will include areas like pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimisation, email marketing, as well as the strategy skills to bring them together.
Digital marketing is the use of digital technologies, such as the internet, social media, mobile devices, and search engines, to promote products or services. Digital marketing involves a range of techniques and strategies to reach and engage with customers online. Here are some ways that digital marketing works as a digital skill:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): SEO is the process of optimising a website to improve its ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). This involves researching keywords, creating high-quality content, and building links to the website to increase its visibility online.
- Content Marketing: Content marketing involves creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and engaging content to attract and retain a target audience. This includes blog posts, videos, infographics, e-books, and social media posts.
- Social Media Marketing: Social media marketing involves using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, to promote products or services. This includes creating profiles, sharing content, and engaging with followers to build brand awareness and loyalty.
- Email Marketing: Email marketing involves sending targeted messages to a list of subscribers to promote products or services. This includes creating newsletters, promotional emails, and automated campaigns to nurture leads and convert them into customers.
- Pay-per-click (PPC) Advertising: PPC advertising involves placing ads on search engines and social media platforms to drive traffic to a website. This includes researching keywords, creating ad copy, and setting budgets to target specific audiences.
Overall, digital marketing involves using a range of digital skills and tools to reach and engage with customers online. By understanding the target audience, developing a clear message, and using digital marketing techniques effectively, businesses can increase their online presence, attract more customers, and drive revenue.
Social media digital skills are crucial to the digital marketing mix, but are worth pulling out as social media has come to play such a significant role in our day-to-day as well as professional lives. Social media management tools, performance measurement, new channel research, brand presence/voice, influencer marketing, and paid vs organic all play a part in connecting with prospective and current users.
Social media is a powerful digital tool that can be used to communicate, share information, and build relationships with others online. As a digital skill, social media involves the ability to use various social media platforms effectively to achieve personal or professional goals.
Some ways that social media works as a digital skill include:
- Communication: Social media allows individuals and organisations to communicate and interact with others in real-time. As a digital skill, social media involves knowing how to use various social media platforms to communicate effectively with different audiences.
- Content Creation: Social media requires individuals to create content such as posts, videos, images, and blogs to engage with others. As a digital skill, social media involves knowing how to create and publish content that is compelling and relevant to specific audiences.
- Audience Analysis: Social media requires individuals to understand their audience and tailor their content and messaging accordingly. As a digital skill, social media involves analysing audience demographics, behavior, and preferences to create content that resonates with them.
- Monitoring and Analytics: Social media allows individuals to track the success of their content and campaigns through metrics such as likes, shares, and engagement rates. As a digital skill, social media involves knowing how to use analytics tools to track and analyse social media performance.
- Networking and Relationship Building: Social media enables individuals to build and maintain relationships with others online, including friends, colleagues, and potential clients. As a digital skill, social media involves knowing how to use social media platforms to network and build relationships effectively.
Overall, social media is a valuable digital skill that can be used to achieve personal or professional goals. By mastering the skills involved in social media, individuals can enhance their online presence, build relationships, and achieve success in their endeavors.
Part of what makes the digital age distinct from before is precision. We can clearly understand the behaviour patterns of those using digital platforms. For businesses, this also means being able to quantifiably track the successes and failures of their digital initiatives. The digital skillset involved in collating and making sense of this data is web analytics. Things like benchmarking, audience segmentation, and measurement all fall under the remit of web analytics.
Web analytics is a digital skill that involves the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of web data to understand and optimise website performance. Web analytics is a crucial component of digital marketing and is used by businesses and organizations to improve website traffic, user engagement, and conversion rates.
Here’s how web analytics works as a digital skill:
- Data Collection: The first step in web analytics is to collect data. Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, track website traffic, user behaviour, and other metrics using various tracking technologies, such as cookies.
- Data Analysis: Once the data is collected, it needs to be analysed to gain insights. Web analysts use various analytical techniques and tools to identify trends, patterns, and opportunities in the data.
- Performance Metrics: Web analysts use performance metrics to measure website performance. These metrics may include page views, bounce rates, conversion rates, and user engagement metrics such as time on site, click-through rates, and session duration.
- Reporting: Web analytics involves creating reports that provide a clear picture of website performance. These reports can be used by business owners and digital marketers to make data-driven decisions about website optimisation.
- Optimisation: The final step in web analytics is to optimize the website based on the insights gained from data analysis. This involves making changes to the website to improve user experience, increase engagement, and drive conversions.
Overall, web analytics is a valuable digital skill that enables businesses and organisations to optimise website performance and improve online marketing efforts. By mastering web analytics, individuals can gain valuable insights into website performance and make data-driven decisions to drive business growth.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence may still have something of a science fiction ring to it (until Chat GPT hit the headlines recently), even compared with the aforementioned digital skills. Nonetheless, artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role in modern businesses. Rather than the sentient robots we would see in the cinema, AI is about teaching machines to do jobs, predict, and make decisions based on detailed computation of past examples.
Think of the automation of tasks to improve efficiency, by no means limited only to manual work, with business process automation playing an increasing role in modern workplaces (not even medicine or law are exempt). Machine learning from big data in order to make better strategic decisions or to predict how people will act in a given context is also set to be key.
These represent only a handful of advanced digital skills. Other examples include data visualisation, web and app development, CRM software, video production, and search engine marketing (SEM).
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a digital skill that involves the ability to develop and use computer algorithms to simulate human intelligence and decision-making processes. AI can be applied to a wide range of tasks, including natural language processing, image recognition, speech recognition, and decision-making.
Here’s how AI works as a digital skill:
- Data Collection: AI algorithms require large amounts of data to learn and improve. Data is collected from various sources, including social media, sensors, and other digital devices.
- Data Preprocessing: Before the data can be used, it needs to be preprocessed to ensure that it is clean, consistent, and in a format that can be used by the AI algorithms.
- Training: AI algorithms are trained using machine learning techniques. Machine learning involves using statistical models and algorithms to enable computers to learn from data and improve their performance over time.
- Testing: Once the AI algorithm is trained, it needs to be tested to ensure that it can accurately perform the task it was designed for. Testing involves using a validation set of data to test the accuracy and effectiveness of the algorithm.
- Deployment: Once the AI algorithm has been trained and tested, it can be deployed in production environments, where it can be used to perform the intended task.
Overall, AI is a valuable digital skill that enables individuals to develop and use algorithms to simulate human intelligence and decision-making processes. By mastering AI, individuals can develop applications that can learn and improve over time, automate repetitive tasks, and make more accurate predictions and decisions based on data. AI has the potential to transform various industries, including healthcare, finance, and transportation, among others.
Data analysis is a digital skill that involves the ability to collect, process, and interpret large amounts of data to gain insights and make informed decisions. Data analysis is essential for various industries, including finance, healthcare, marketing, and research.
Here’s how data analysis works as a digital skill:
- Data Collection: The first step in data analysis is to collect data. Data can come from various sources, including databases, surveys, sensors, social media, and other digital devices.
- Data Cleaning and Preparation: Before data can be analysed, it needs to be cleaned and prepared. Data cleaning involves removing errors, inconsistencies, and irrelevant information. Data preparation involves transforming data into a format that can be analysed, such as tables, charts, or graphs.
- Data Analysis Techniques: There are various data analysis techniques that can be used, including statistical analysis, data mining, machine learning, and predictive analytics. The choice of analysis technique depends on the type of data and the research question.
- Data Visualisation: Data visualisation involves creating visual representations of data to make it easier to understand and interpret. Data visualisation techniques include charts, graphs, and maps.
- Interpretation and Communication: Once the data has been analysed, the findings need to be interpreted and communicated effectively. This involves identifying key insights and presenting them in a clear and concise manner to stakeholders.
Overall, data analysis is a valuable digital skill that enables individuals to collect, process, and interpret large amounts of data to gain insights and make informed decisions. By mastering data analysis, individuals can identify patterns and trends, make data-driven decisions, and improve business outcomes.
Cybersecurity is a digital skill that involves the protection of digital systems, networks, and data from unauthorised access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction. Cybersecurity is crucial for businesses, governments, and individuals to protect their sensitive information and assets from cyber threats.
Here’s how cybersecurity works as a digital skill:
- Risk Assessment: The first step in cybersecurity is to assess the risks that a system or network faces. This involves identifying potential vulnerabilities, threats, and their impact on the system or network.
- Security Measures: Once the risks have been identified, security measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate them. Security measures can include access controls, encryption, firewalls, intrusion detection, and antivirus software.
- Incident Response: Despite implementing security measures, cyber incidents can still occur. Incident response involves having a plan in place to respond to cyber incidents effectively. This includes identifying the incident, containing it, investigating it, and reporting it.
- Compliance: Compliance involves ensuring that the system or network meets legal, regulatory, and industry standards for security and privacy. Compliance requirements can vary depending on the industry and jurisdiction.
- Continuous Improvement: Cybersecurity is an ongoing process, and it requires continuous improvement to stay ahead of evolving threats. This involves regularly reviewing and updating security measures, training employees on security best practices, and staying up-to-date on emerging threats and trends.
Overall, cybersecurity is a valuable digital skill that enables individuals to protect digital systems, networks, and data from cyber threats. By mastering cybersecurity, individuals can help organisations to prevent data breaches, protect sensitive information, and maintain the trust of their customers and stakeholders.
Cloud computing is a digital skill that involves the use of remote servers and computing resources over the internet to store, manage, and process data. Cloud computing provides a flexible and cost-effective way to access and use computing resources without the need for on-premises hardware or infrastructure.
Here’s how cloud computing works as a digital skill:
- Cloud Services: Cloud services are provided by cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). These providers offer a range of services, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS).
- Cloud Infrastructure: Cloud infrastructure includes servers, storage, networking, and security resources that are provided by cloud service providers. Users can access these resources over the internet and pay only for what they use.
- Cloud Applications: Cloud applications are software applications that are hosted and run on cloud infrastructure. Users can access these applications over the internet from any device, anywhere in the world.
- Cloud Deployment: Cloud deployment involves deploying and managing applications on cloud infrastructure. This can be done using tools and services provided by cloud service providers, such as AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Microsoft Azure App Service, and GCP App Engine.
- Cloud Security: Cloud security involves securing data and applications that are stored and processed on cloud infrastructure. This includes implementing access controls, encryption, firewalls, and other security measures to protect against cyber threats.
Overall, cloud computing is a valuable digital skill that enables individuals to access and use computing resources over the internet. By mastering cloud computing, individuals can develop and deploy applications, manage data and infrastructure, and leverage the benefits of scalable, flexible, and cost-effective cloud services.
Mobile App Development
Mobile app development is a digital skill that involves the creation of software applications for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile app development enables individuals to design and build mobile apps for various purposes, including business, entertainment, education, and healthcare.
Here’s how mobile app development works as a digital skill:
- Platform Selection: The first step in mobile app development is to choose a mobile platform such as Android, iOS, or cross-platform. This choice will depend on factors such as the target audience, budget, and development requirements.
- App Design: Once the platform has been selected, app design involves creating the visual and functional elements of the app. This includes designing the user interface (UI), user experience (UX), and wireframes.
- App Development: App development involves writing the code and building the app. This includes programming languages such as Java, Kotlin, Swift, or React Native, depending on the platform and development approach.
- App Testing: App testing involves identifying and fixing any issues with the app, such as bugs, errors, and crashes. This includes testing the app on various devices and platforms, including emulators and simulators.
- App Deployment: App deployment involves submitting the app to the relevant app stores, such as Google Play or the App Store, and making it available for download. This includes complying with app store guidelines, such as content policies and user data privacy.
Overall, mobile app development is a valuable digital skill that enables individuals to create mobile apps for various purposes. By mastering mobile app development, individuals can design and build high-quality, engaging, and functional mobile apps that can help businesses to connect with their customers, improve productivity, and enhance user experiences.
Developing digital skills for the future
Developing digital skills for the future is essential in schools as it prepares students to succeed in the 21st century workplace. Here are some ways to develop digital skills for the future in schools:
- Curriculum Design: Schools should incorporate digital skills into their curriculum design, ensuring that students have access to technology and digital resources that promote learning. Digital skills should be integrated into existing curriculum subjects.
- Teacher Training: Teachers should receive training on the latest digital tools and technologies to effectively teach digital skills to students. Professional development opportunities, such as online courses and workshops, can provide teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to teach digital skills effectively.
- Project-Based Learning: Project-based learning involves engaging students in hands-on projects that require the use of digital skills. This approach can help students to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills while learning about digital technologies.
- Coding and Robotics: Coding and robotics are valuable digital skills that can help students to develop computational thinking and problem-solving skills. Schools can provide coding and robotics classes or clubs to introduce students to these skills.
- Digital Citizenship: Digital citizenship involves teaching students how to use digital technologies responsibly and safely. This includes topics such as online privacy, cyberbullying, and digital ethics.
Overall, developing digital skills for the future in schools requires a comprehensive approach that includes curriculum design, teacher training, project-based learning, coding and robotics, and digital citizenship. By providing students with the skills they need to succeed in the digital age, schools can help to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the future. There is much work for us to do to keep preparing our pupils for the world the will enter as an employee and to help them be employable, useful and a benefit to have in the workplace!