Tutorial 1 – Defining “New Literacies”

What is “New Literacies”

With continual and rapid advances in digital technology, the term, to be ‘literate’, is constantly evolving and being re-defined. How do we define literacy? A growing dominance in multimodal texts (visual, electronic, and digital online texts) has in fact established different ways of thinking (schemata), communicating and making meaning, than was once available in traditional views of literacy, however these traditional literacy skills are still the building blocks to comprehend and process the information of “new literacies”.

The term “New literacies” can be used to encompass this transformation of the way we learn, communicate and interact in a society which is multimodal, multi-literate and increasingly in the digital domain (Houtman, 2013).

“New Literacies” build on old literacies and are continually evolving, changing and adapting to our current time and culture. Houtman (2013) comments that “new literacies is a term often used in the field of education, particularly in literacy studies, for various digital literacies practices. A key concept here is that literacy if no longer a stable entity, but something that is continuously transforming” (p.6).

 “‘New literacies’ are best understood in terms of an historical period of social, cultural, institutional, economic, and intellectual change that is likely to span many decades – some of which are already behind us” (Lankshear, C & Knobel, M, 2012, p. 45).

As society and culture changes, so will the definition of ‘literacy’. What we consider ‘new‘ at present (computer literacy) will not necessarily be regarded as ‘new’ tomorrow. In fact, most likely they will become the norm and second nature, as in the case of email and mobile text messaging, as we learn to navigate our way around their communicative demands. Whether we like it or not, we will eventually need to learn to adjust to these ever evolving changes and acquire the essential skills to use these “new literacies” effectively and to their fullest potential. This will always be a complex task but central to the future of our students in our classrooms.

“New literature” will require 21st century students in the classroom to be literate in the traditional and foundational views of literacy (reading, writing, listening, speaking and responding). They will also need to be competent and fluent in different reading and visual processes, skills and strategies (decoding, evaluating and analyzing pictures, videos and sound) across an increasingly expanding range of communicative formats (social networks, digital devices, gaming, film and television).

Our challenge as teachers is to prepare for and adequately respond “to the challenges of the 21st century learners by identifying skills, competencies, fluencies and literacies to be taught” (Houtman, E, 2013, p.1). New literacies will allow our students to create, mix, share, collaborate easily and sometimes instantaneously, opening up learning pathways to a whole new world of making meaning!


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 fromhttp://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2013/new-literacies-learning-and-libraries-how-can-frameworks-from-other-fields-help-us-think-about-the-issues/ Accessed March 17th, 2014

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2012). ‘New’ literacies: technologies and values. Teknokultura. Revista de Cultura Digital y Movimientos Sociales, 9(1), 45-71.  Retrieved from http://everydayliteracies.net/files/RemixTeknokulturaEnglish.pdf Accessed March 17th, 2014


One thought on “Tutorial 1 – Defining “New Literacies”

  1. joncallow says:

    Thanks Rhianna. Very detailed definition and discussion – Lankshear and Knobel use ‘new’ in very specific ways, which may be good to look over in the future. Great work. Jon

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