The term digital skills describes an essential set of skills in our connected world. These are the skills that you need to use computers and other digital devices to access and manage information. Basic digital skills are increasingly seen as being as important as basic literacy and numeracy skills, because they underpin so much communication and interaction in today’s world.
This section of SkillsYouNeed provides information about several areas of digital skills, including searching for information, online shopping, banking and payments, and keeping yourself safe in the digital world. It is designed to improve basic digital skills, but even those with considerable knowledge may also find useful reminders and tips.
Understanding Digital Skills
There are several different definitions of digital skills (see box). However, they are all very similar.
Definitions of digital skills
“Digital skills are defined as a range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information.”
“Digital skills are the skills you need to study and work in our fast-evolving digital world.”
University of Bath, 2021
Digital skills therefore include a wide range of skills, including but not limited to skills to get you online and using hardware and software, being able to ‘do stuff’ online, including shopping, working, and socialising, and staying safe.
Why Digital Skills Matter
Studies show that 82% of all vacancies advertised online now specifically require digital skills.
In fact, you could argue that this is an underestimate, because anything advertised online requires you to be online to see it—and therefore needs some level of digital skill. The number of jobs requiring digital skills has also been growing much faster than other jobs.
What’s more, those with digital skills can command higher salaries. Jobs needing higher level digital skills, such as programming, have on average a salary that is 36% higher than those that do not need these skills.
Developing Digital Skills
The main areas of digital skills are:
Skills to enable you to use digital devices (such as computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets)
This includes being able to use applications, software and systems, and get online.
These skills may seem very basic to those who have grown up in a digital world. However, many people, especially older people, find this a considerable challenge. In a world where more and more services are now provided online-only, this really matters. It is, in fact, creating a ‘digital divide’ between those who have online access and those who do not.
There is more about these skills in our pages on Apps, Websites and Widgets, and Getting Online. You may also find our Digital Glossary useful as an introduction to some of the concepts around digital skills.
The ability to find, explore, organise and share data and information appropriately
The first step here is to be able to find the information you need. The best option for this is using the right search engine, and choosing your search terms carefully.
There is more about this in our page of Online Search Tips.
You then need to assess the information that you have obtained—and our pages on Critical Reading and Critical Thinking and Fake News may be helpful here. These pages are not necessarily specifically about online information, but the skills are important for both online and real-world information.
Finally, you need to be able to store information safely. For a while, your device may seem to provide enough storage and security. However, you may eventually have too much information, or feel that you need more back-up than this offers.
Our page on Back-Up and Storage Solutions provides more information about the options available to manage this.
The ability to keep yourself safe in the digital world
Most people have probably heard of computer viruses—and know that you need protection against those.
However, there are many other ways in which you may be insecure while using a computer, especially if you connect to the internet. For example, your computer may contain significant amounts of personal information, such as your bank account details, your address, and information about family birthdays. Much of this information may seem trivial, but in the wrong hands, it can be a goldmine for identity theft or password hacking.
For more about these issues, and how to keep yourself safe, see our page on Protecting Yourself in the Digital World.
The ability to communicate and collaborate with other people online or remotely
One of the great strengths of the digital world is that it enables you to communicate and collaborate with people remotely.
You can email in real time with someone on the other side of the world. You can both work on the same document, at the time, and discuss it as you go. You can have discussions on video or in chat apps about anything you like: work, hobbies, people, or politics, for example. There are increasing numbers of apps designed to support collaboration, from video tools like Skype and Zoom through to information sharing and discussion tools like Slack.
There are, however, some challenges to manage. It is harder to build relationships remotely, so you have to put in more effort.
There is more about this in our page on Working with Others Remotely: Building and Maintaining Relationships
Second, there are issues around managing socialising online. For example, it is harder to say no to an invitation if you are going to be at home anyway. There are also security issues, such as ensuring that your meeting or collaboration cannot be gate-crashed.
The ability to use digital resources for particular purposes, such as learning, shopping, banking or even working
The digital world includes numerous apps and resources with various functions. You can now shop, learn or study, bank and work online. You can buy holidays, books, experiences and even cars online. Most people now browse property websites before ever contacting an estate agent if they are interested in buying a house.
This move has made finding information about almost anything, and getting hold of what you want, much easier. However, it has also brought its own problems and challenges. We have a number of pages that are designed to help you to solve these challenges. They include pages on:
Online Shopping and Payments, which explains different types of payment systems, and how to recognise which websites to trust and which to avoid.
Online Banking and Other Financial Services, which explains about some of the issues involved in managing your money online, and how regulators have established systems to protect consumers.
Travel and Buying Holidays Online, a specific form of buying online, which comes with its own very particular set of problems. This page explains the problems, and how to avoid them.
Your Online Presence
The final area of digital skills is being able to manage your digital footprint: your online presence. It is important to be aware of what is ‘out there’ about you, because it may influence other people, such as potential employers.
Our page on Managing Your Online Presence explains how you can do this.
A Final Thought
It is also important to think about what happens to your digital information after your death.
As we increasingly live much of our lives online, we leave more and more information there, or in the cloud. It is vital that you think about how this will be managed when you are gone. There is more about this in our page on Managing Your Digital Legacy.