There is a core set of skills needed to learn and thrive in a 21st Century world (Eisenberg, 2008), regardless of the technology, language or culture you are functioning within. These skills, when combined, can be effectively labelled Information Literacy. The American Library Association (2017) suggests that;
“To be information literate, a person must be able to recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”
This is just one definition (and there are many!), but I believe that it’s a good one by which to break down the necessary knowledge and skills that fall under this umbrella term. One obvious omission from this definition, in my opinion, is the reflective element necessary for learning and improving on strategies. In the Arthur Holt Library (and in library and teaching circles generally), we are fond of the term lifelong learners. Reflecting on any process, with a view to improving your strategies for future attempts, naturally leads to the need to learn new skills. Consistent reflection therefore leads to constant learning; a practice that is not only recommended but is vital in this age of constantly evolving tools and technology.
I like to use the analogy of the information landscape when referring to the skills and knowledge required to navigate the vast amount of information available to us on the web. If we consider the world wide web as the landscape then the technology by which we traverse this landscape could be considered the vehicle. By technology I mean devices, programs (whether installed or web-based), audio-visual tools, virtual reality hardware, etc. Any means by which we access the web could be thought of as our vehicle, and that vehicle will need to change depending of which part of the landscape you’re traversing. You can’t cross an ocean in a car – you’ll need to switch to a boat or a plane / helicopter / glider. Similarly, you can’t create an Infographic using Google Sheets – you need to switch to Piktochart / Canva / Visme.
The skills and knowledge that we need to effectively and efficiently use all of these different technologies could be considered as the skills and strategies that we learn the to drive all of these different vehicles. You can’t expect to jump into a helicopter and fly safely without first learning the new skills, and the same could be said of a program or device you’ve never used before (although the consequences of your failure would be far less extreme).
Learning, therefore, in the 21st Century Age of Information is a necessary and never-ending process if you want to be able to explore the whole landscape and not just your own backyard.