Open Thinkering


‘Digital literacy’ in Norway?

This is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis. The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at

Norway is often held up as an example of how to integrate digital literacy into a nationwide school curriculum. A four-year programme from 2004 to 2008 was sponsored by the Norwegian government, aiming to provide ‘Digital literacy for all’ (Kunnskapsdepartementet, no date). Investment in infrastructure and a focus on using ICT in learning activities was underpinned with a mission to enable Norwegians to use ICT to be ‘wealth creators’. Norway’s focus on digital literacy, therefore, as with the wider EU focus, was upon inclusivity and employability.

An educational reform known as The Knowledge Promotion led to digital literacy being given ‘important and historical status’ in the Norwegian national curriculum. It became the fifth basic competence along with reading, writing, arithmetic and oral skills, being mandatory in every subject at every level of compulsory schooling. As explained in a later chapter, however, Norwegian does not use the word ‘literacy’ in the same was as it is used English. This means that competence and literacy are used almost interchangeably.

In 2007, Almås & Krumsvik found that many of the pronouncements by the Norwegian government were merely ideology and rhetoric:

“[T]here is reason to believe that despite the government’s good intentions, the ‘ICT pedagogy’ is more strongly anchored in rhetoric than in practice. Essentially, Norwegian teachers are doing what they have always done, and traditional teaching methods and technology-free learning environments are dominant.” (Almås & Krumsvik 2007, p.482)

According to the most recent bi-annual ITU Monitor survey (2009) the ‘fifth pillar’ of competence is “the ability to make use of information and communication technology” and constitutes a ‘basic skill’ (ITU 2009, p.3). The authors of the report acknowledge that “the actual basic understanding of digital skills is rather vaguely formulated in national and local curricula” (p.14). Their solution to this was to come up with a multiple-choice test the sample questions from which seem to be similar to ‘e-safety’ questionnaires in the UK.

As Hatlevik points out in an analysis of the 2009 ITU Monitor report:

“There are several important challenges in the process of identifying and describing digital analysis: 1) to have a broader perception of digital literacy, ranging from demonstrating digital skills, such as the use of a specific software, towards production, ethical judgement, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity; 2) prevent assessment-driven teaching practices, such as by emphasizing the assessment of digital literacy as a formative evaluation; and 3) to ensure that the identification and understanding of digital literacy is theory driven and not solely defined from what is possible to measure in a quantitative way.” (Hatlevik 2009, p.173)

The second and third points – that digital literacy is not a ‘fixed’ attribute, and that not everything worth measuring can be measured – are particularly important to take into account given that Norway is viewed as a world leader in the integration of digital literacy into curricula.

Discourse around digital literacy in Norway has evolved to reflect the state of play in the EC. Digital literacy and digital competence are terms that are used interchangeably, with media literacy becoming an increasingly-dominant term with reference to critical skills. This, despite the White Paper that was used to outline the Norwegian curriculum framework defining digital literacy as “the sum of simple ICT skills… and more advanced skills that makes creative and critical use of digital tools and media possible” (Erstad 2007, p.3). However, the difficulty of translating the Norwegian term ‘kompetanse’ means that the term is translated variously even in official documents. The 2005 policy document eNorway 2009: the digital leap, for example, talks of ‘digital skills’:

“Digital skills include the ability to exploit the opportunities offered by ICT, and use them critically and innovatively in education and work. Digital skills also include the ability to be critical to sources and assess content. Use of digital tools is a skill the individual must acquire, maintain and continually develop, if he or she is to be a digitally skilled and critical citizen.” (p.8)

It is clear, therefore, that however ‘digital kompentanse’ may be translated, there is a critical element at the core of the definition involving reflection upon using sources of information and digital tools effectively. However, as Erstad translates the authors of the White Paper as stating, “In total digital literacy can be seen as a very complex competence” (Erstad 2007, p.3)

In order to tease out the complexities involved in digital literacy, the quarterly Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy ( was set up in 2006. It has attracted some of the biggest names in new literacies research as contributors, accepting contributions in English as well as Norwegian. Interestingly, and rather inevitably, the journal has moved from having a narrow focus on digital literacy to a more wide-ranging focus on new literacies. There is little evidence, however, that such research is any more than a one-way process with empirical evidence coming either from the bi-annual ITU Monitor report mentioned above or from researchers’ own classroom.

One of the best-known digital literacies researcher in Norway is Ola Erstad, whose research focus seems to have followed a trajectory from mainly ICT-focused conceptions of digital literacy to those allied to media literacy. We shall explore the concept of ‘umbrella terms’ in a later chapter: in Norway (and in Europe more generally) it is media literacy that is the dominant umbrella term. Erstad explains why he prefers this term:

“There are different terms used in this field of research, such as media literacy, ICT literacy, digital literacy, information literacy and digital competence. The key term, and the one highlighted in this article, is media literacy. In a Scandinavian context the term competence is often used instead of literacy since the latter term does not translate to the languages in these countries.” (Erstad 2010, p.56)

The dichotomy, therefore, is between digital competence (or ‘basic skills’) on the one hand, and a critical, more holistic ‘media literacy’ on the other hand. Erstad believes that this focus is appropriate given “the conceptual history in this field, where media literacy has been used since the beginning of the 1980s” (Erstad 2010, p.57).

Mifsud (2006) questions what we mean by ‘digital literacy’ noting, and by doing so, reinforcing, Erstad’s point about Norwegian not using the term ‘literacy’:

“Consider digital literacy in the school context. Does being able to send text-messages from a mobile phone or playing puzzle games constitute being digitally literate? While sending SMS messages represents the height of “e-literacy” for my mother, from an educational perspective, SMS-sending, and mobile telephones in general, have so far been frowned upon by schools.” (Mifsud 2006, p.136)

Digital literacy is far from a revolutionary competence or set of skills for Mifsud. She argues that there are broadly four elements to digital literacy: (i) the manipulation of digital tools, (ii) an extension of print-based literacies, (iii) appropriate “cut-and-paste” and “copy/delete” techniques, and (iv) the “inclusion of the visual” (Mifsud 2006, p.136-9). Digital literacy, therefore, is effectively a body of basic skills in a digital world.

Korten and Svoen (2006) point out that media literacy and digital literacy are often used as near-synonyms in Norwegian, hence the confusion. Perhaps one reason for the recent shift in emphasis in Norway (and in Europe more generally) from digital literacy to media literacy is that, as Pietraß puts it, it “lead[s] to much more satisfactory conceptions… than functional approaches” (Pietraß 2009, p.132).

The history and status of digital literacy in Norway is complex. The term is presumed by English-speaking researchers and educators to mean, in a straightforward way, the same in Norwegian as it does in English. However, given the difficulty in translating words such as ‘literacy’ into Norwegian, and words such as ‘kompetanse’ from Norwegian, ‘media literacy’ is a term preferred increasingly to ‘digital literacy’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *