Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Future of literacy and learning
- 1 What will it mean to be literate in the future?
- 2 The definitions of literacy will expand
- 3 Digital and media literacy will be needed by students and teachers in the future classroom
- 4 Individualized and tech-enabled learning will grow
- 5 Tech-enabled learning will become the norm
- 6 Questions for the Wikimedia movement
- 7 References
As part of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, the Wikimedia Foundation is working with independent research consultants to understand the key trends that will affect the future of free knowledge and share this information with the movement. This report was prepared by Dot Connector Studio is a Philadelphia-based media research and strategy firm focused on how emerging platforms can be used for social impact, and Lutman & Associates is a St. Paul-based strategy, planning, and evaluation firm focused on the intersections of culture, media, and philanthropy.
What new literacies will citizens need to master to be fluent with new forms of information? How will educators and students interact with online information and teaching tools? We take a look at new definitions of literacy, consider what will be required to be literate by 2030, and document parallel trends in learning and education.
What will it mean to be literate in the future?
Definitions of literacy are already expanding beyond the printed word and will continue to evolve over time. In the future, shared definitions of literacy are likely to include not only the ability to read text and navigate visual information but also to acquire skills for accessing, producing, interacting with and critically analyzing multiple information sources (written text, audio, data, images, virtual objects, etc.) using a wide variety of digital tools and platforms. Digital citizenship will also require the ability to distinguish and contextualize news sources, and to distinguish facts from rumors, and to identify propaganda and what has been called “fake news, ” but is actually a much more complex phenomenon. (See our brief on trends in misinformation, propaganda and fake news.)
The definitions of literacy will expand
While conceptions of literacy vary depending on the particular context, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) offers an operational definition of literacy: “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
Literacy is essential for both utilizing and contributing content across the Wikimedia projects. Traditionally “literacy” has been defined as the ability to read, write and use numbers. Using this definition, literacy rates around the world have been increasing steadily—growing from a global average literacy rate of 55.7 percent in 1950 to an average rate of 86.2 percent in 2015. However, percentages do not paint the entire picture. Due to rapid population expansion, the number of adults who are not literate around the world was 745 million in 2015, higher than it was in 1950, when it was 700 million. Globally, 103 million youth are still without basic literacy skills.
Advances in literacy rates vary across regions over the past 50 years with Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean reaching high literacy rates among youth and adults alike. Literacy rates are also growing rapidly among younger women globally and in specific areas including Western Asia and Northern Africa, and seven out of ten global regions have achieved gender parity in terms of youth literacy. Due to specific challenges, Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania are not likely to reach universal youth literacy rates by 2030 if the current trajectory holds.
Despite many advances over the past decades, global gaps in literacy as traditionally defined remain. At the same time, definitions of what it means to be literate continue to evolve. Reading—and learning more generally—is becoming more social and interactive across new platforms. New skills are needed to access, understand, evaluate and create information. Definitions of literacy are expanding beyond basic communication skills, focusing on understanding the social and cultural context that should influence the interpretation of texts. To be literate today requires “higher-order skills in manipulating, interpreting, displaying and communicating data.” UNESCO predicts that, “As digital devices become increasingly ubiquitous as learning tools, basic literacy will include how to manipulate them, now reflecting an almost universal set of skills.” This means that by 2030 new users of and contributors to Wikimedia projects will bring a range of different information access and interpretation skills, from highly digitally literate to those with minimal digital or other literacy skills.
Many educators and educational researchers also believe that the rapidly changing media landscape requires a new set of competencies that expand upon traditional conceptions of literacy. In 2003, the Center for Media Literacy wrote that in order for young people to be fully informed 21st Century citizens, “they need to be fluent in ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ the language of images and sounds just as we have always taught them to ‘read’ and ‘write’ the language of printed communications.” Today, the media landscape includes an ever-expanding range of media texts. (As the definition of literacy has expanded, so too has the definition of “text” to mean any message form passed between humans.) This new universe of media messages, platforms and technologies requires not only the ability to use the tools but also increases the need to critically analyze the content, to assess the biases and assumptions created by its format and its relationship to other forms of knowledge.
There are currently many different ways to conceptualize these competencies including media literacy, digital literacy, information and media literacy, new literacies, and more. All of these concepts emphasize the need to learn how to effectively access information in the current media landscape while using various skills for evaluating, analyzing, producing and sharing content. Certain terms and models have more prominence in specific global regions and specific professional communities.
Digital literacy is a term that is used frequently and gaining more prominence. Experts are using the term to expand traditional literacy skills to an increasingly digitized world and digital technology-mediated environments. MediaSmarts, a Canadian nonprofit dedicated to advancing digital and media literacy, notes that digital literacy skills include the ability to use (achieving technical fluency with digital tools and platforms), understand (comprehending and evaluating digital media) and create (producing content with digital media tools).
MediaSmarts describes the overlap between digital literacy and media literacy as two interconnected parts of the key literacies needed to be an effective 21st Century citizen:
- Digital literacy “encompasses the personal, technological, and intellectual skills that are needed to live in a digital world.” This includes both practical technical competencies and “the broader social, ethical, legal and economic aspects of digital use.”
- Media literacy is “critical engagement with mass media, which nowadays includes digital technologies.” As individuals are now both producers and consumers of media, “competencies for media literacy now include a variety of critical thinking, communication and information management skills that reflect the demands and reality of digital culture.”
Recent concerns about the proliferation of misinformation demonstrate that adults are also in need of digital and media literacy skills—for example, studies have shown that adults have difficulties understanding native advertising and differentiating news from opinion. Over the next 15 years, the Wikimedia movement could become an even more important player against misinformation and might also consider broader partnerships with libraries, educational institutions and other civic organizations working to combat misinformation and help citizens navigate online news and information.
Digital and media literacy will be needed by students and teachers in the future classroom
While digital and media literacy are incorporated inconsistently in formal education systems around the world today, the use of technology for educational research is growing. For example, the Pew Research Center found that teachers in the United States use Wikipedia at much higher rates than general internet users.
However, researchers found mixed results in how teachers rated students’ proficiency in online research—while most found the impact of digital technologies on student research habits “mostly positive,” teachers did not rank student research skills highly overall, indicating that students expect to find information too quickly and easily online. A majority felt that digital technologies made it more difficult for students to find credible information. Students were rated just “good” or “fair” for their ability to assess information found online and to have the patience to keep searching for difficult-to-find information. Most teachers felt that the amount of information online is overwhelming to students and that digital technologies discourage students from seeking out a wide selection of sources. The vast majority of teachers felt a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information”, a key digital and media literacy skill.
Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias were cited as the second most likely source for student research (after Google or other search engines). However, in focus groups, teachers noted that they often discouraged the use of Wikipedia due to accuracy concerns. In order for the projects to thrive in the coming years, the Wikimedia movement will need to tackle these perceptions, as it has already begun to do with The Wikimedia Library’s many projects that demystify the processes that go into developing Wikimedia content and help users gain trust in its veracity.
Currently, the Wikimedia movement is responding to educators’ concerns through the Wikimedia Foundation’s Global Education Program, the Wiki Education Foundation and the Wikipedia Library program. In these programs students write Wikipedia articles as classroom assignments, researching topics related to their courses. By building Wikipedia articles with credible, cited information and following Wikipedia’s comprehensive sourcing requirements, they help to increase the quality of information on Wikipedia while combating misinformation and increasing the students’ knowledge and skills as academic researchers. Moreover, partners like the International Federation of Library Associations have coordinated efforts to encourage participation in Wikipedia along with larger professional conversations about combating misinformation. The Wikipedia Library program has provided Wikipedia’s editors with access to scholarly sources behind paywalls, enabling Wikipedia articles to cite thousands of additional reputable sources.
The Wikimedia movement should consider building upon this existing work and expanding educational and institutional partnerships and efforts to more explicitly include digital and media literacy skills. The movement should also consider prioritizing the development of global and diverse content that will expand the richness of open source and collaboratively produced material available for classroom teaching in different global contexts, enhance students’ cross-cultural knowledge and experiences and help to foster the global citizenship of the future. Engaging teachers and students in low-awareness areas might be an important next step to increase both use and credibility given that some critics have suggested that Wikipedia content too closely reflects the relatively narrow demographics (such as Gender Bias) of its editor base.
Individualized and tech-enabled learning will grow
Students and teachers have increasing access to digital tools and content that enable them to pursue individualized or personalized learning. Independent online providers of free self-paced courses, like Khan Academy, have millions of users globally and provide access to dozens of subject areas with a mission aligned with the Wikimedia movement’s (e.g. “You can learn anything”). While 70 percent of Khan Academy users come from the U.S., its courses are available in 36 languages. Globally, Khan’s collection of courses has served up more than six billion individual exercises (such as a math problem) since 2008.
According to Class Central, an online aggregator of university-level courses, 35 million people enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in 2015 and 58 million enrolled in 2016. MOOC providers such as Coursera, Udacity and EdX have reported that a majority of users (80 percent) already have a bachelor’s degree and 60 percent live in developed countries. In late 2016 researchers reported findings showing that, in a survey of 780,000 people in 212 countries who had completed MOOCs, 87 percent of MOOC students reported a career benefit of some kind. Further, those without a college degree and those with low socioeconomic status (defined as those from countries not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - OECD) were more likely to report “tangible benefits” than respondents from developed countries.
Many education advocates and researchers believe that personalized learning will define the future of education not only for individual learners but also within the structures of traditional schools. See, for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s support for personalized learning as a key strategy for narrowing the persistent achievement gap between low-income students and students of color and their more affluent peers. Other advocates see personalized education as the best way to support in-school learning that is not only tech-infused, but also supports student agency and builds needed capacities for lifelong learning and problem solving. Reports such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education show the connection between students’ access and ability to exploit technology and their facility in moving through subject areas at their own pace. “Technology increasingly is being used to personalize learning and give students more choice over what and how they learn and at what pace, preparing them to organize and direct their own learning for the rest of their lives.”
Such developments would appear to provide substantive opportunities for the Wikimedia movement to partner even more actively with educational organizations in order to deliver tailored content for students. Collaboration to expand the availability of Open Education Resources (OER) can help educators and students reduce the costs of acquiring educational materials, and support the OER community’s international programs’ aspiration to help “alleviate the digital divide and make a contribution to the development of less advanced economies.” Further, partnerships already developing with teachers who are building instructional modules as part of Wiki MOOCs provide examples of ways to expand use of Wikimedia content and reach and serve new audiences. According to a report from Docebo, the paid global e-learning marketplace was projected to top $51.5 billion in 2016 with very rapid growth rates in Africa and in Eastern Europe. K-12 education represents about 50 percent of this commercial market.
When tied to our recent research on the global demographic trends that can drive greater Wikimedia use, educational applications seem especially important to pursue, particularly where high-growth population and high-growth educational uses of e-learning are aligned. A Brookings Institution report documents the gap in access to education between more- and less-advanced economies globally. “When it’s shown as an average number of years in school and levels of achievement, the developing world is about 100 years behind developed countries. These poorer countries still have average levels of education in the 21st century that were achieved in many western countries by the early decades of the 20th century.” Wikimedia’s commitment to free content seems particularly important in countries and among populations where dollars for education remain low and these unacceptable gaps persists.
Tech-enabled learning will become the norm
While the use of technology in education varies depending on the specific global, cultural and economic context, in the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has prioritized funding of cyberlearning projects through its Cyberlearning and Emerging Technologies Project. NSF supports projects at the intersection of advances in technology and new understandings of how people learn. Through 2014, more than $90 million was granted for a host of dynamic projects targeting pre-K through graduate levels. Among those being supported are projects that explore:
- “Increased use of games and simulations to give students the experience of working together on a project without leaving their classrooms.
- “New ways to connect physical and virtual interaction with learning technologies that bridge the tangible and the abstract.
- “Interactive three-dimensional imaging software, such as zSpace, to create potentially transformational learning experiences.
- “Augmented reality (AR) as a new way of investigating our context and history.”
These are just a few examples of many tech-enabled learning opportunities taking place around the world as learning with technology becomes a key component of literacy. Other examples are plentiful as technology is more and more prevalent in learning, with mobile devices providing learning opportunities to disadvantaged populations. At the evolving intersections of new technologies, new populations, and new understandings of learning behaviors and outcomes, the Wikimedia movement again appears to have plentiful opportunities for new alliances and partnerships.
Questions for the Wikimedia movement
- How will the definition of literacy continue to evolve over the next 15 years and how will we think about and measure whether someone is “literate”?
- To what level of “literacy” should Wikimedia aim its content? How can it better reach individuals in countries with lower levels of literacy?
- As education becomes increasingly tech-enabled and personalized, what additional strategies could the Wikimedia movement consider in order to expand the use of its content by educators and students?
- How will the rise of other modalities of learning and generating knowledge (AI, immersive, 3D printing etc.) affect the usability of Wikimedia platforms within formal and nonformal education?
- While many of the links on this page point to the English Wikipedia, the language in which this brief was originally written, similar pages and policies exist on many other Wikimedia sites. Translators are welcome to substitute links here with the equivalents on other language Wikimedia wikis.
- "How will external forces hinder or help the future of the Wikimedia movement? – Wikimedia Blog". Retrieved 2017-07-13.
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- Special:MyLanguage/Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Future technology trends that will impact the Wikimedia movement (July 2017)#Emerging platforms and content types
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- “Khan Academy is a 501(3)(c) nonprofit with the mission of providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere,” Khan Academy press release, updated February 2017, 
- “By The Numbers: MOOCS in 2016,” Class Central, December 25, 2016, 
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- “Personalized Learning: Helping Teachers Spark a Love of Learning in Every Student,” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, accessed July 26, 2017, 
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