Becoming digitally competent: A task for the 21st-century citizen

Image: Jesus Sanz /

Work, employability, education, leisure, inclusion and participation in society... All of these and many other areas of our society are becoming increasingly “digitised”, meaning that information and also services are increasingly being made available through the Internet. Consequently, digital competence is vital for participation in today’s society and economy. As a transversal competence, digital competence also helps us master other key competences, such as communication, language skills, or basic skills in math and science.

Being digitally competent in today’s world requires not only access to and use of ICTs, but also the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes towards them. According to a 2014 survey on digital inclusion and skills in the EU, up to 47% of the EU population has insufficient digital competence, including 23% who has no digital competence at all.

Digital competence is not just about knowing how to surf the Internet, but can be broken down into a range of smaller components. The European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, also known as DIGCOMP, outlines five areas that describe what it means to be “digital savvy”: Information Processing, Communication, Content Creation, Safety and Problem Solving. EU citizens will soon benefit from an online assessment tool that will allow quick and easy access to their digital competence. As of summer 2015, job seekers can already use a digital competence assessment tool as part of the Europass Curriculum Vitae to include their levels of digital competence directly in their CV. The tool, based on the DIGCOMP framework, will be available in all EU languages.

DIGCOMP is also being used to support policy makers and educational authorities. The recently created EU-wide Digital Economy and Society Index uses the DIGCOMP framework to construct an indicator to provide country-specific information on the situation of citizens in terms of digital competence. The framework is also used to plan and design education and training offers, for example as an input to curricula review and to the development of adult education courses, and to design professional development programmes for teachers. It is also used to help define the level of digital competence required for different sectors, for example in the care sector.

As regards teachers’ digital competence, studies in the field repeatedly report a lack of available professional development, particularly when related to the use of ICT for pedagogical purposes. Similarly, opportunities to upskill teachers’ own competences related to the use of ICT are somewhat scarce and seizing opportunities for informal learning can therefore be beneficial for teachers. eTwinning, for example, provides a teacher network for professional collaboration that can lead to the adoption of new classroom practices with ICT and even to enhanced self-efficacy as a teacher (TALIS 2013, p. 199). The Teacher Networks publication offers views and readings on the challenges and opportunities for the teaching profession. eTwinning can similarly be used to develop pupil competences, including digital skills.

At the end of 2015 the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC-IPTS) will start working on the Digital Competence Framework for the teaching profession. Similarly, work is under way to create a Digital Competence Framework for Consumers in the European Single Digital Market.

The Digital Competence Framework was produced by JRC-IPTS in 2013 as part of a multi-year scientific project initiated by the Directorate-General for Education and Culture and implemented by the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. The project identified the key components of digital competence in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and developed descriptors on three proficiency levels. The framework was endorsed by representatives of EU Member States at the ET 2020 Thematic Working Group on ICT and Education, and the Working Group on Transversal Skills; several Member States are already testing the framework.

Dr. Riina Vuorikari works at the JRC-IPTS and contributes to research and policy support in the field of "ICT for Learning and Skilling". Her work focuses on Digital Competence for citizens and on an exploratory project of Open Science 2.0.