February 18, 2013

Why We Need a Learning Standard for Web Literacy

Category: Digital Citizenship
page covered in pink white brown dots

Mozilla is working to create a new open learning standard for Web Literacy. In this post I want to consider why we need a ‘standard’ and who might be interested in helping define one. I’ve written much more about this on my blog and you can find more about this area of work on the Mozilla wiki.


Look around you. There are many people and organisations doing amazing things all over the world, in all kinds of areas. Some of this work is highly co-ordinated but most, I would suggest, is not. It’s something frustrating in my career so far: seeing the number of times people ‘reinvent the wheel’ because they’re unaware of other people doing great things. There are so many silos of well-intentioned work that suffer from sustainability issues, replicating what has gone before, or a lack of discoverability.

When it comes to getting better at using and making the Web the current status quo is problematic for learners. Where do you go if you want to get better at your Web skills? How do you even know what’s important to learn? I would suggest that most of us who count ourselves as ‘Web Literate’ reached that level more by luck than by judgement. I certainly enjoyed the journey, but it’s been an extremely long and meandering path. I think we can do better for learners.

On the flip side, if you’re an organisation, institution or business interested in providing ways for learners to get better at their Web skills, how do you know if what you’re helping them learn is important? How do you know if you’re leaving something out? And, if you are leaving something out, what happens if you haven’t got the capacity to cover everything that’s required for learners to become proficient? The way things currently are is sub-optimal, to say the least.

Crudely speaking, there are three main environments in which people get better in using the Web. The first is through messing about, by playing with family or friends. This is the way I learned and it’s fine as far as it goes. However, it’s highly dependent upon your immediate network and tends to promote surface level, just-in-time knowledge and skills. The second type of environment is formal education. Here, understandably, the focus tends to be upon ensuring young people stay safe online and can fulfill the needs of existing curricula. Again, this work is important and necessary, but (speaking from experience) doesn’t always go as far as it could. The third kind of environment is informal education, a broad church covering everything from places to learn online like diy.org to after-school and weekend meetups such as CoderDojo and Code Club. Because of the nature of such enterprises and business, they do great work but sometimes run into sustainability and capacity issues.

We need to connect the people and organisations together who operate in these three different environments. But, I think, we need to do more than just network them. More than just being aware of each other’s existence, they need productive ways of working together towards a common goal. We need to agree about what the wider project is here, to decide on what constitutes this thing we call ‘Web Literacy’. One way of doing this, a good way we believe, is to engage people already working in this area in creating a new, open standard for Web Literacy. We should create a framework — one that can evolve along with the Web — onto which we can map existing and future work. This will lead to new pathways for learners and increased value for organisations that can situate their work within a wider, emergent ecosystem.

Happily, Mozilla has already made a start towards creating a learning standard for Web Literacy. Building on the work of others we’ve come up with a draft framework and hosted a kick-off online gathering. We’ll be repeating that meeting this Thursday at 12pm EST so do come along if you’re interested in getting involved! The recording of the last gathering can be found on the Mozilla wiki along with the slides. You should also join the Mozilla Webmaker list where discussion has already started. Let’s work together towards a new, open standard for Web Literacy! Let’s create new ways for learners to level-up across the Web! And let’s do it in a collaborative, negotiated way. Please share your work and get involved!

Banner image credit: Patrick Hoesly https://www.flickr.com/photos/zooboing/4640470055/in/faves-dougbelshaw/