Reconceptualising online spaces to build digital capacity

Pick a digital tool you know well. Why do you like it? What does it do for you? Why might it frighten others off?

When we are specialists at educating people to enhance their digital capacity, we often forget that there is a massive chasm between what we see as quite natural and what others see as terrifying. People have social relationships with digital tools. Digital tools are not passive in our everyday lives.

Digital tools do different things for different people and for different reasons, depending on the backgrounds and access to technology. So before teaching someone to use a digital tool you know quite well, it is prudent to assess our own relationship with that tool before proceeding.


I like to use McLuhan’s “Laws of Media” to refresh my memory before proceeding with training people in a tool I am fluent in using. These laws help me to assess what is great about a tool, nostalgic about it (eg. Facebook connects us to family and friends), what it makes silent and what walls it erects, and what it’s potential could be (both scary and groundbreaking).

As many would realise, there really is no such thing as a digital native. Just because someone is good at email does not mean they will be good at doing something else in the digital realms. I use the word “fluent” because capacity in online spaces metaphorically links quite neatly with the idea of language. The more we practice a certain language, the more we become fluent, and the more it seems natural to us. We can think in it, dream in it. Within the fluency metaphor, we can also extend the idea to dialect.

C8tNRfIV0AA_NMJ.jpg largeEach digital space has a different dialect, some more familiar than others. When we learn to become fluent in certain dialects, we are not just using our ears and our mouths. We are using our eyes, our hands, our emotions. Understanding new digital dialects involves skills in multiple types of language and representation.

Lets look at an example of someone who is fluent in several different digital dialects.

CaptureBeyoncé Knowles and her team are not simply fluent in making music and dancing. Building the pop empire has required digital fluency in several digital dialects. She has intersected herself within a cultural online phenomenon, has established a lingo, and injected intersectional feminism with a mainstream vitality. All through the ability to manipulate several digital dialects.

So when you approach training staff in digital capacity, what are you expecting them to do? Do you want them to be like Beyoncé? Because while this is an attractive option it is not necessarily sustainable for staff not invested in the idea to begin with.

Are you using real life examples of how tools work to increase staff capacity? Are you linking into their usefulness by showing them how they can be used? Because, this, whilst more sustainable than the first, is only going to work with people who respect your model…and whether you believe it or not, not everyone likes Beyoncé.


Beyoncé’s latest work has increased public knowledge of intersectionalism in ways that would have been far more difficult without her digital fluency. Likewise, I believe, the most effective way to build staff capacity in digital technologies is to allow the technology to fade into the background and help people discover how the technology can enhance and augment what they are passionate about.No digital literacy program is going to be bought into unless it pushes some buttons that are not necessarily related to technology.

What drives the user?

This is the most important question digital literacy educators should be asking.

This is a semi-transcript from a webinar I presented for TEL edvisors ASCILITE SIG .


2 thoughts on “Reconceptualising online spaces to build digital capacity

    • I don’t think there is. It’s all the same language metaphor and the difference in nuance is like in language. For eg. We are both literate in English but I’m more likely to speak with a Queensland dialect.

      Liked by 1 person

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