What is network literacy?

Network Literacy August 05, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF


What is network literacy?

A decentralized, global network of interlinked computing devices, the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, teach, learn, entertain, organize, conduct research, publish, transact, and promote. Citizenship in the Internet era, as well as full participation in 21st-century economic, social, and political life, demands new forms of literacy.

Developing network literacy is a continuous process of becoming comfortable and proficient with a variety of tools to use in interactive online environments.

The skills that help develop a user’s comfort and proficiency to participate in online activities include:

Hardware and Software -

  • Basic knowledge of and familiarity with computer hardware and software that supports online activities and full participation in a network.

Online Navigation -  

  • Learning your way around the Internet and within the networks in which you choose to participate.
  • Locating specific information, individuals, groups and communities.
  • Establishing information filters – that is evaluating, assessing and interpreting the quality and meanings of the information you find.
  • Evaluating the credibility and trustworthiness of the creators of online information.
  • Allowing others to find you and your work online.

Joining Online Communities -

  • Joining online networks to become part of a conversation.
  • Knowing how to set up accounts within chosen networks.
  • Knowing how to protect your privacy within those networks.
  • Understanding network etiquette – that is acting appropriately within the online communities in which you participate.
  • Managing your online reputation.
  • Listening in, posting, commenting, and uploading information to your networks.
  • Understanding, honoring, and protecting intellectual property (e.g., copyrights).

Acquiring network literacy allows a participant:

  • To get information quickly from broad and diverse sources.
  • To ask for and get help with technical problems.
  • To join or create a variety of personal and professional networks of interest.
  • To learn and teach through a wide variety of media formats (text, visual, and audio).
  • To share, teach, learn, organize, and create in collaborative environments.
  • To evaluate the truth and credibility of online information and its creators.
  • To filter useful information from “noise” (i.e., unsubstantiated or unproven information).

Although nearly everyone begins at the same starting point, there is no standard process for achieving network literacy and no actual end point. The Internet is a rapidly and continuously changing environment, so each user’s comfort and proficiency level will always be challenged to grow.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.