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Learning to walk in physical and digital worlds

The Mozilla Foundation asks What are the skills, competencies and literacies necessary to read, write and participate in the Web – now and in the future?”

This question has caused me to reflect on the steps I have taken to acquire new skills and competencies in other areas in my life. In particular, I remember the day when I received this feedback, which doesn’t accurately reflect that receiving it was one of the best days of my life.

It was confirmation that I had demonstrated the ability to walk.

pass well done

Ok, so it was a bit more than that.

On 25th June 2000 I had ‘demonstrated the technical competence to lead walking parties in the mountain areas of the United Kingdom‘ by the MLTB.

To achieve that I had to learn a variety of new skills: to navigate using map and compass, read weather maps, be self-sufficient in wild mountain areas, to be able to administer first aid in wilderness areas, and more importantly to be able to do so whilst looking after groups of people.

However, simply learning a set of skills does not ensure that the user can apply those skills in a variety of situations. For instance, anybody can learn to use a compass to navigate themselves around the block (which is how I practiced when I started), but navigating across a featureless landscape in poor visibility conditions leading a group of inexperienced walkers requires technical and personal skills which can only be acquired through experience.

Not only is it necessary to perform each element in isolation, it is also vital that leaders are able to combine several skills at any one time.”

(Mountain Leader Award Handbook)

Similarly, being a competent or even an expert user of a particular tool or application does not demonstrate that someone is able to participate effectively in the online world. I believe that the advice that the MLTB give is relevant to those who want to have the skills to fully enjoy our physical planet, as well as those who want to be effective participants in the ‘web planet’,

and that takes experience, and a whole lot of time.

In order to ensure that applicants have gained the required experience, the MLTB requires candidates to go through 6 stages, and I think it is worth reflecting on how those stages are designed to ensure that both skills and experience can be demonstrated.

1. Gain personal hill walking experience.

Before registering you should have at least twelve months experience of hill walking, and have experienced at least twenty quality mountain days.

2. Register and be issued with a logbook.
Prior to attending an assessment course candidates must have experienced an absolute minimum of forty quality mountain days. This experience should should include at least eight nights camping, at least four nights of which should be wild camping.

3. Attend a training course.
The training course is for potential leaders and assumes basic competence as a hill walker. It emphasizes those skills which a candidate may have difficulty in learning without expert guidance.

4. Consolidate experience (usually at least 12 months)
During the period between training and assessment, candidates are expected to gain personal experience in mountain areas. This should preferably include some practice in leading parties in easy hill country. Prior to attending an assessment course candidates must have experienced an absolute minimum of forty quality mountain days and should include at least eight nights camping, at least four nights of which should be wild camping.

5. Assessment course.

Assessment courses should contain at least a two-night, three-day mountain journey of an absolute minimum of 48 hours duration. As well as demonstrating an ability to be self-reliant for consecutive days, the expedition places candidates in continuous contact with the mountain environment, creating numerous opportunities to explore all elements of the syllabus.

6. Continue to gain and record experience and any relevant additional training

Can you see how these stages might be mapped to the stages needed to acquire the skills and experience needed to become fluent in digital literacies?

A course like #etmooc is similar to the training course (step 3) in that some basic web skills are needed by participants (possibly evidenced by badges). The #etmooc ‘training’ course introduces new skills and ideas, offers guidance and support, which people develop over a period of time (more badges). And Step 5 could be completion of an accredited Mooc.

And so, to answer the question: “What are the skills, competencies and literacies necessary to read, write and participate in the Web – now and in the future?”

Yes, we need people with the necessary skills, but we also need people with the experience to be able to intelligently apply those skills in a wide variety of situations many of which are, as yet, unknown.

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One thought on “Learning to walk in physical and digital worlds

  1. Yes, I agree having experience is important for a lot of skills you can acquire and also for digital literacy. I am afraid that for digital literacy we have an additional problem. We are not sure yet what the whole playing field is yet in which people need to become literate. For mountain walks we have people with long experience in doing so and the tools with which we do it (the mountains, the shoes we wear and so on) are not likely to change very much over time. So there is a solid base for the skills you need to acquire to become an expert in mountain walks.
    In the digital world it is very unlikely that the tools we use now and who have only existed for a decade or so will still be the tools we use in a few years time. Even if the tools are more or less the same the way we use them might have changed a lot. So we are lacking the solid base that mountaineering has for building our literacy upon.

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