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  • Writer's pictureRon Budd

What Does It Mean to Be 21st Century Literate?

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

"The definition of literacy has truly evolved. It is no longer accurate to say that being able to read and write defines an individual as being literate. Instead, it is more accurate to look at the bigger picture. Competency and experience in different environments will allow people to become considered literate in today’s standards" (Oxford, 2018). It's necessary that educators teach their students a new definition of what it exactly means to be 21-centry literate and “to try new things, and work with students to find where learning is most comfortable for them to succeed” (Lynch, 2018).

So, in the past a there were two essential skills a person needed in order to be considered literate; those essential skills were the skills of reading and writing. Conversely, in 2021 a new definition of literacy and the essential skills associated with it has emerged. Modern literacy or 21st Century Literacy is a new definition of literacy for a new century. Since the advent of the digital age, technology and, more importantly, informational technology has gone through rapid development. People today receive information from a variety of sources and in a variety of mediums. A person must be able to decode all this data in order to effectively participate in our digital age. People need an additional skill set above and beyond reading and writing. That new skill set can best be described as 21st Century Literacy skills. With this new definition of literacy and the associated skills, several questions arise.

So what are the essential 21st Century Literacy skills? 21st Century Literacy skills can be defined as “literacy skills (that) increasingly reflect technology use and the abilities necessary to problem-solve, collaborate, and present information through multimedia” (Pilgrim, Jodi; Martinez, Elda E.p.60 ,2013). As you might have been able to surmise, the new literacy is heavily dependent upon a person’s ability to decode, assimilate and distribute new information effectively. A big part of these new literacy skills depends upon a person demonstrating informational literacy.

I’m sure the next question on your mind might be, ‘what is informational literacy?’ “Informational literacy has been historically used to reference the literacy skills needed for information access and problem-solving. (Pilgrim, Jodi; Martinez, Elda E.p.60 ,2013).” To put it succinctly, 21st-Century Literacy is the ability to utilize information regardless of its source. A 21st-Century Literate individual is fully integrated and empowered to maximize the data around them no matter where or how it arrives.

Finally, the last question is, “how does a person gain these new literacy skills?” That’s where the teachers come in. Their role is to provide students with the 21st-century skill set. They do this by adapting their classroom and teaching methodologies to reflect the needs of our century. This is something that can only be done through design implementation, which is the idea of building the classroom to fit the student, not building the student to fit the classroom. This can only be effectively done when the classroom is designed to impart 21st-Century Literacy, which can only be done with the right tools. Students need access to technology within the classroom so they can grow into it. Once this has been accomplished, the student is prepared to participate in their environment. References:

Defining Literacy in the 21st Century: A Guide to Terminology and Skills

Pilgrim, Jodi; Martinez, Elda E. Texas Journal of Literacy Education. Sam Houston State University, 1908 Bobby Marks Drive Box 2119, Huntsville, TX 77341. Web site:

Lynch, E. (2018, July 18). Elements of a Literacy-Rich 21st Century Classroom. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from

Oxford, B. (2018, September 23). Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century. Lynch, E. (2018, July 18). Elements of a Literacy-Rich 21st Century Classroom. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from

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