Beyond competence: digital literacies as knowledge practices,
and implications for learner development

Beetham, Helen; Littlejohn, Allison and McGill, Lou (2012). Beyond competence: digital literacies as knowledge practices,
and implications for learner development.
Open University, Open University Scholarly Insight.



Our interest in studying digital literacies arises from what we perceive as a failure to develop students' capacities to learn deeply in a technology-rich environment. The trends towards networked communities and digital citizenship, as well as workplace changes including distributed/collaborative work patterns and an (arguably) higher value being placed on 'knowledge' work, all make digital capabilities central to what higher education can offer. While we see efforts being made to support learners’ ICT skills – or at least bring these up to a minimum standard of competence – these are rarely integrated with the development of other capabilities critical to higher learning.
E-learning is often celebrated for its potential to extend participation. As we are increasingly saturated in opportunities for acquiring knowledge (Downes 2005, Walton et al. 2007, Anderson 2008), informal networked learning has achieved a new prominence in educational discourse, to the extent that it has almost become the measure by which formal learning is judged. In practice, however, we see digital opportunities being disproportionately taken up, and benefited from, by those with existing educational capital (see for example NIACE 2008).
Too often, also, e-learning is used as a shorthand for the management of learning by digital means, rather than the exploration of disciplinary knowledge and knowledge practices in a new digital context.
A more competence-based curriculum is becoming the norm, a development which has arguably been accelerated by the standardisation of qualifications in a global (digital) learning market. And yet, we see evidence that effective learners in digital – as in other – contexts have not been motivated by competence-based approaches to learning.
We are excited by the current theoretical interest in digital literacies, and yet our motivation remains a pragmatic one: to investigate how learners are developing literacies for learning and meeting their learning goals, at a time when valued knowledge is predominantly communicated in digital forms. We continue to be involved in translating relevant research into effective interventions at curriculum and institutional levels.

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