Education / Literacy

New literacies: What is it?

The topic and concept of literacy is ever complex and challenging to classify. Traditionally, literacy has been defined as, the ability to read and write, the possession of education or in relation to education, a person’s knowledge or expertise of a particular field, and the appropriate set of skills to function, achieve and perform in the world. Houtoman (2013), states that it can be ‘conceived as the cognitive process that takes place within an individual, as a set of autonomous skills’.

It is apparent that these definitions are either vague or quite limited, and as a result, has seen the concept of ‘what literacy is’, readdressed by various theorists, educators and other academics. Research on the idea of literacy links it, in large part, to the understanding of language in many contexts, and how it is used it to communicate and negotiate meaning. A process that that is always evolving, changing and developing.

The conception of ‘New literacies’, refers to the many multiple ways we now use language to communicate in the world, encompassing ‘all communication types across time and culture from primitive cave paintings to digital technology. At it’s core, it is the ‘unifying perspective of what it means to be literate in the 21st century” (Thomas et al, 2007 cited in Houtoman). It is used to describe the ever-changing modes of how we communicate, and the skills we need, to encrypt and make meaning of what is being ‘communicated’. The term ‘New literacies’, has largely been associated with digital technology but because literacy is continually transforming, it embraces types beyond just digital forms, including multi-modes.

In regards to the world of education, it is important that teachers embrace the concept of literacy comprises of a great many things, and as a consequence, enable their students with skills to understand, evaluate and create language, in it’s continually morphing form.


Houtman, E. (2013). New literacies, learning, and libraries: How can frameworks from other fields help us think about the issues? In the Library with the Lead Pipe.  Retrieved from Accessed March 17th, 2014.


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