Digital Competences

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Digital competencies understood as key competencies describe a broad range between specific abilities to deal with (new) technology to the broad abilities to apply technology and digital forms of collaboration and information in classical professional, social or cultural activities.

Since ubiquitous computing, data and platforms became a matter of course, digital competence is becoming either. From an active citizenship education perspective it is supporting the fundamental aims of participation and co-creation of our society by individual citizens and also to contribute to their freedom and autonomy. Under this perspective acquiring digital competence is as important as the ability to involve in social processes and decision-making, the ability to act pro-actively and to show initiative. It is as important as other key competences. Unlike the digital competencies are often discussed under the focus of technological aspects of media, we should take this bigger perspective.

Transformative Competences

ICT competences are increasingly perceived by European policymakers as part of basic skills, backed by research: “Evidence shows that to keep up with digital developments, simply improving digital literacy is not enough. The ESJ survey data show adults in jobs requiring at least moderate-level ICT skills also require a strong level of complementary skills, such as foundation skills (literacy, numeracy), soft skills (planning and organisation) and behavioural skills (communication and teamwork)” (Cedefop, 2017, p. 3). Such a concept goes beyond a media- or information competence and links strongly to other competences such as self-competence/learning to learn competence, proactivity or social abilities.

OECD Transformative Competences

OECD uses the term 21st century skills in educational debates on the digital transformation. Grounding the work in key competencies that lead to the foundations of the PISA studies, the OECD is providing in “Future of Education and Skills 2030” the term as a meta-category of competences. These support the learners in taking action, reflecting and anticipating. The three transformative competencies are

  • Reconciling tensions and dilemmas;
  • Creating new value;
  • Taking responsibility.

When digital competences should become suitable as a transformative competence, the challenge is to overcome a too-close association with IT knowledge or of digital literacy as only a further development of traditional literacy. More: OECD Learning Compass 2030

Communication and living together in our society depend more on the generation of more data that is increasingly diverse,on information extraction from this data by algorithms, and on the application of this information via machine-mediated assistance. Other aspects must be included, for example data literacy, the crucial ability “to derive meaningful information from data, the ability to read, work with, analyse and argue with data, and understand what data mean” (OECD, 2019).

Digcomp 2.1 framework of the European Commission


In a similar way, the EU seeks to conceptualize digital competence as a key competence. The Joint Research Council developed under the roof of the commission the European Competence Framework DigComp, which aims to support citizens “learning to swim in the digital ocean” (Centeno et al., 2019).

More: DigComp Digital Competences

Upcoming Topics for Digital Competence

As the digitalisation of society progresses, it becomes clearer that not only the information sphere has undergone digitalisation. As such, lokking not from the information-technologic perspective but from the social application of the information technology, diverse other aspects are becoming necessary to include in a concept directed from digital competence toward digital transformation competence.

The Perspective of Civic Education

In this perspective, learning about the digital transformation and its social, economic and cultural foundations and effects is gaining importance. Education for Democratic Citizenship with its unique focus on rights, participation, power structures, democracy critical thinking, and regulations has a potential to fill these gaps and extend digital competence.

Council of Europe: Digital Citizenship Competence

With foundations in the Council of Europe's Competences for a Democratic Culture, Digital Citizenship is extending digital competence further on the domain of Education for Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights Education. Digital citizenship includes engagement with digital technologies, participation through and lifelong learning with digital technology under democratic premises. More: Conceptual model

Being Online

  • Access and Inclusion
  • Learning and Creativity
  • Media and Information Literacy

Wellbeing Online

  • Ethics and Empathy
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • ePresence and Communications

Rights Online

  • Active Participation
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Privacy and Security
  • Consumer Awareness

Toward a Systemic Democratic Perspective

If consiering that people are in different roles affected by digitalisation, for instance, as users, learners, employees, or active citizens, it is evident, that also the ability to create the framing conditions for the digital trransformation needs to be focused more. In this sense, participation is not only a question of rights, but also of regulatory issues, co-creation of digital processes and infrastructures. In particular digital transformation competence should include also aspects such as:


Platforms shifted the way work and services are organised or infrastructures are managed.A more systematic and critical understanding of platforms, platform power and platformisation impact could help lifelong learners in their choices.


Measuring, data flows and tracking are playing an increasingly important role in all areas of life, starting with one's own body, in one's own four walls, at work or in public. We might speak from a digital-self competence, the ability to control and create the indiciual representation in the digital sphere.

Learn to understand the technical concepts

Regarding the methodology behind these aspects gains relevance - knowledge about artificial intelligence or big data competence is not becoming obligatory only for IT experts.

Digital Rights as Extension of Offline Rights

Many discussions revolve around legal issues and efforts to extend fundamental rights and democratic principles to the digital sphere (or to consistently enforce them in this sphere). This is a different approach to defining "online rights". For instance: Not proper working prosthetics, robots or restricted access to a public space through a biometric system are quite "analogue" rights violations - but with a strong digital component. Both dimensions are relevant.

Also we need to look at aspects of inclusivity, non-discrimination, freedom from norms, surveillance, inclusivity, access, freedom of speech, autonomy, integrity (of services and devices), property (not only copyrights but also individual property rights related to data), or customer rights.

Data-Economic and Network-Cultural Knowledge

Under the heading of platform regulation, there is a debate on competition and technology policy about which form of digital economy is socially desirable and how the future internet should be structured and developed (data-economic knowledge, ability to co-creating network-cultures since these are social and cultural constructions.

Global Competence

Global interdependcies play a crucial role - raw materials, value chains, energy needs, access, data colonialism.

Inspiring Handbooks and Sources by Others

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Secretary of the DARE network.