Before attempting to put meaning to the term “new literacies”, it is important we have a good understanding of the simple term “literacy” and how we can extend this form a new definition of a somewhat undefinable concept.

Literacy is a broad, conservative term that pretty much means that an individual has the skills required to use and process various forms of information in a way that is foundational to their learning. In other words, what was once labelled the ‘three R’s’, reading, writing and arithmetic. Now although in today’s day and age this idea seems a tad outdated and centralised, it does form the basis for us to think about what we should consider ‘foundational’ when defining new literacies. If years ago, to be literate meant only needing to be skilled in the above three areas, then today this definition should very much be extended to cover our dependency on technology and the world of digital media.

In a time when the world is more connected than ever before, not only digitally, but socially and culturally, why should literacy be restricted to pen, paper and words on a page? The increase of communications channels and media due to the rise of digital technologies means that what we now consider as ‘text’ has extended to cover modes such as visual, audio and linguistics. Not only this, but the way we are required to make meaning of these texts is dependent on an everchanging variety of social and cultural contexts.

What does this mean for 21st century, tech savvy students?

It means that the ‘new literacies’ are playing an ever increasing role in the education they are partaking it, not only as mediums but as content. What this means is that for our definition of new literacies we must not limit it to simply how we process these new forms of information, but also a knowledge of how we can better make these literacies work for us. In a time of decentralisation and collaboration of ideas and knowledge, what makes us literate today may be different or in addition to what makes us literate tomorrow. So ‘new literacies’ is a dynamic term, it is not bound to what is known now, but rather is certain to extend and encompass new ways of doing and learning in the future. Students should be aware that there are certain ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to the use of new literacies. Henry Jenkins’s (2006) explains that “the new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom”.

So ‘new literacies’ are not really radical new ways of communicating that completely void the importance of the traditional modes. They are born of the old and so still require the knowledge of foundational skills to correctly navigate and understand.


Houtman, E. (2013). New literacies, learning, and libraries: How can frameworks from other fields help us think about the issues? In the Library with the Lead Pipe.  Retrieved from February 14th, 2014