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. Instead of seeing digital competencies, as is often the case, only in terms of technological aspects or as media competencies, it is appropriate to take a broader perspective.

Transformative Competences

Observing the current development of digitalisation in Europe and the myriad demands that education must prepare the citizens for the digital age, it is becoming evident that critically assessing digital transformation (critical thinking), understanding of the positive and negative impacts of it (systemic thinking) and the ability to co-create transformation (participation) are needed.

“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 learning to learn, proactivity, or other social abilities such as problem-solving, conflict resolution and reconciliation skills. Digital competences, then, should be considered as transformative competences; the challenge is to overcome an overly-close association with computer literacy or digital literacy as a mere development of traditional literacy (OECD, 2019). Other aspects must be included in education promoting digital competence, 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”. Communication and living together in our society are affected by the generation of data that is increasingly diverse, on information extraction from this data by algorithms, and on the application of this information via machine-mediated assistance (OECD, 2019).

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

DigComp Framework 2.2


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”


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, looking 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. In this perspective, learning about the digital transformation and its social, economic and cultural foundations and effects is gaining importance.

A new perspective: Digital Citizenship Education

Digital Citizenship

"Digital citizenship essentially means learning to live as a citizen in today’s highly digitised society."
Council of Europe

Digital citizenship education

"Empowerment of learners of all ages through education or the acquisition of competences for learning and active participation in digital society to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities online, and to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in cyberspace."
Council of Europe CM/Rec(2019)10.

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, how the Council of Europe's considerations regarding Digital Citizenship illustrate:

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.

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

More: Conceptual model

New Aspects: Toward a Systemic Democratic Perspective

People are in different roles affected by digitalisation, e.g., as users, learners, trainers, employees and active citizens. This multitude of roles that each person takes on demands an approach using themes and varied tools for framing and understanding the digital transformation.

We propose teaching and learning paths for thematic deepening and competence development that integrate these aspects in training projects and the topics educators intend to address in a cross-cutting way.

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: non-functioning 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, it is necessary to look at aspects of inclusivity, non-discrimination, freedom from norms, surveillance, inclusivity, access, freedom of speech/expression, autonomy, integrity (of services and devices), property (not only copyrights but also individual property rights related to data), or customer rights.

UN on Rights in the Digital Age:

"The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online".

United Nations Human Rights Council resolution, The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, 2021


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 and in public. We identify a digital self-competence, the ability to control and create the individual representation in the digital sphere.

Understand the technical concepts

Here, the methodology behind the aforementioned aspects gains relevance – knowledge about artificial intelligence or Big Data competence is becoming obligatory for all, not only IT experts.

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 networkcultures since these are social and cultural constructions).

Global and environmental interdependencies

Global interdependencies play a crucial role – raw materials, value chains of hardware and software, energy needs, digital access and exclusion, and data colonialism are keywords that may garner more attention. The environmental impact of digitalisation also needs to be further explored– the individual footprint and also the systemic contribution of the digitalisation to more sustainability on local, national and global levels.

Participation and inclusion

Digitalisation has changed the way people participate in society. It affects all domains of participation from information to consultation, self-organisation and common decision-making. Education might support citizens to make best use of available data, digital platforms, and opportunities to digitally facilitated communication, advocacy and collaboration. Especially EDC/HRE adds a human rights and democratic perspective regarding the way we organise inclusively and democratically, and also in regards to the choice of digital tools and strategies.


New “instant” communication habits, social media, digital empowerment, new information opportunities and information disorder have changed and continue to change the way people communicate and relate to each other. Prompting reflection on various tools of communication and its contents lead to better understanding of the opportunities and risks of an overabundance of messages and information exchange.

Digital self, physical and psychological impact

Digitalisation impacts individual and social identity. It offers potential for representation and has consequences for each individual. The physical and psychological impact of digitalisation, the question of how digitalisation can lower social divides or how it enables humans to manage work and activities more easily and capably should be explored in a constructive and critical way. This includes also the fact that digitalisation might build new barriers, foster addiction or act as an instrument of control as opposed to supporting human autonomy, freedom and participation.

Inspiring Handbooks and Sources by Others


Council of Europe (2022). Digital Citizenship Education Handbook. Being online. Well-being online. Rights online. Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg.

Council of Europe (2019). Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)10 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on developing and promoting digital citizenship education. (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 21 November 2019 at the 1361st (Budget) meeting of the Ministers' Deputies).

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop 2017). Briefing note – People, machines, robots and skills. Briefing note–9121EN.

OECD (2018). The Future of Education and Skills 2030. Position Paper (05.04.2018).

OECD (2019). Future of Education and Skills 2030 – OECD Learning Compass 2030. A Series of Concept Notes.

Redecker, C. (DigCompEdu 2017). European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators: DigCompEdu.Punie, Y. (ed). EUR 28775 EN. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2017, ISBN 978-92-79-73494-6,, JRC10

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. He writes and works on the topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Coordinator of European projects, in example DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship, DARE network.

Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience.