For more than 20 years, the International Literacy Association has published their “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey findings as a part of their effort to record the changing trends from year to year. This year’s top-ranked hot topic is digital literacy.

While the word “literacy” alone generally refers to reading and writing skills, the term “digital literacy” encompasses much more. According to the American Library Association, “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” The world has become increasingly reliant on technology; nearly every industry has been revitalized and restructured in an effort to utilize technology as a foundation.

The educational system is no outlier in that trend. Digital literacy is already a well-established entity in schools across the nation. The U.S. Department of Education notes, “Technology ushers in fundamental structural changes that can be integral to achieving significant improvements in productivity.” Starting as early as in a child’s middle school years, science, technology, and mathematics are introduced as the most pivotal subjects pertaining to their future. Shortly thereafter, students in high schools across the country are able to enroll in STEM programs which further solidify the idea that these subjects are of the utmost importance.

Over time, technology’s presence has been established in virtually every possible corner of the educational system. With online learning, for example, students are given opportunities that previous generations were never awarded. The Department of Education highlights these benefits by stating, “Online learning opportunities and the use of open educational resources and other technologies can increase educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning; reducing costs associated with instructional materials or program delivery; and better utilizing teacher time.” Through the integration of technology into the learning experience, students are able to digest information through several different mediums, allowing a better opportunity for that information to be retained.

The term “digital literacy” sounds new, but in point of fact, the principles behind it have been in place for years. As technology has become the backbone of virtually every industry – as modeled in this post by the educational sector – the skills encompassed in digital literacy will only become more necessary as time goes by. Therefore, the question shifts from “What is digital literacy?” to “Am I digitally literate? If not, how can I be?” For those who are not as digitally literate as they wish to be, there are courses in schools across the country that are devoted solely to establishing and building skills in digital literacy. Stevenson University Online itself has a course in digital literacy and a certificate program in Literacy Education.

While digital literacy has increasingly grown into a necessary skill, it is also a large selling-point among prospective employers. As technology continues to emerge as the dominant force in business, healthcare, education and beyond, it is easy to understand how digital literacy is seen as the hottest topic of the year by the ILA.