What’s the Difference: Information Literacy, Digital Literacy, Web Literacy?

What is the difference between the terms information, digital, and Web literacy? If one peruses the literature, it’s easy to see that these terms are often used interchangeably, but I found it helpful to make some distinctions, so teachers can zero in on the specific skills and strategies students need to know.

Information Literacy

According to the American Library Association, an information literate person must “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”. Information may take many forms, including a print or digital book, magazine, or newspaper, a video or podcast, or primary source artifacts, such as letters and photographs. Having the ability to access and make sense of the information we need, then to use that information to solve a problem or to convey an idea is at the heart of teaching, learning, working, and communicating. It’s easy to see why information literacy skills are critical to students’ future success.

Digital literacy, as defined by Dustin Summey in the book “Developing Digital Literacies”, focuses on the skills of:

  • Locating & filtering
  • Sharing & collaborating
  • Organizing & curating
  • Creating & generating
  • Reusing & repurposing

These skills are seen as the foundation for managing information and communicating with others in the digital world of school, home, and work. Other definitions of digital literacy can be found, but I like this one because of the active language. For the classroom, it’s not just about using technology – it’s about using technology to serve a purpose. For example, websites such as Zotero, Live Binders, or Diigo are for collecting and organizing resources.

Web literacy is a more specific set of skills needed to find, evaluate, understand, and use information found on the Web. A skilled Web reader also recognizing the ways information is produced, the influences of commercialism, the degrees of bias in online information, and the importance of Internet safety. One model I like for explaining Web literacies is the Web Literacy Map. Doug Belshaw has led the development of this model, along with the help of many others, with the purpose of clarifying the “skills and competencies needed for reading, writing, and participating on the Web.

While each of these terms has its own distinction, overlap exists. Let’s join these forces to focus on what readers need to do to be successful with meeting their information needs now and in their future.

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