Two Digital Literacy Sites You Need to Know

Most libraries provide some sort of digital literacy training, from public computer classes to drop-in technology labs to one-on-one help. TechSoup for Libraries' March webinar was all about free digital literacy training resources and tutorials. We invited guests from two organizations that specialize in digital literacy:

  • Scott Allen, program manager for the Public Library Association (PLA) where he oversees
  • Jessica Rich, curriculum coordinator of

Online learning at the library

The most popular digital literacy activity among our webinar attendees was "technical reference questions" with "drop-in assistance" coming in second.

How DigitalLearn Works

DigitalLearn course

DigitalLearn was started in 2012 from an IMLS grant to PLA to develop and launch a digital literacy training website. In the summer of 2013, the first DigitalLearn courses launched. Since its launch, DigitalLearn is continuing to grow with new funding partners and features, which Scott covered in his presentation.

The headlining feature of DigitalLearn is its catalog of courses for learners. Each course is 6 to 22 minutes, and they are broken up into short modules. The courses are structured this way with libraries in mind: Learners don't have a lot of time to spend at a public access computer taking lessons.

The courses are written at a fourth-grade reading level, making them accessible for a wide range of learners. Adding to the accessibility, the courses are mobile-friendly, and each lesson comes with a course transcript for users who might have difficulty hearing.  (Later this year, DigitalLearn plans to add subtitles.) Scott said that they plan to translate all of the courses into Spanish; right now only two classes have been translated.

The core classes on DigitalLearn are Getting Started on the Computer and Using a PC (Windows 7) because these are entry points to digital literacy. Other courses include Intro to Microsoft Word, Online Job Searching, Intro to Email, and many others.

DigitalLearn also offers a community of practice for instructors where members can learn from one another, share upcoming technology events, provide training materials, and more. 

How Libraries Can Use DigitalLearn

Scott described a few different ways libraries can use DigitalLearn for their own technology training:

  • Link to on library computers and websites
  • Educate library staff to refer patrons to
  • Post flyers
  • Promote to other community partners to help them provide training
  • Encourage staff to join the community of practice
  • Use DigitalLearn for staff and volunteer training

Later this year, DigitalLearn will be rolling out some new customization features, such as custom course lists, content, user analytics, co-branding, and more.

How GCFLearnFree Works

GCFLearn Free

GCFLearnFree is an educational website funded by Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina. The site has over 100 tutorials with written lessons, videos, infographics, and interactives. The courses cover a range of digital literacy topics such as technology basics, living in the online world, and Microsoft Office.

Users don't have to log in if they don't have an email address, but there is an option to create an account to track progress and receive a transcript of completed tutorials. The courses are self-paced, so learners can go through them at their own pace.

In addition to courses on using software and online programs, GCFLearnFree also offers modules on device instruction, such as "How to Use an iPad" and "Mobile Device Tips." Jessica pointed out that librarians might find this useful for drop-in device assistance programs or classes. The site also has tips on using online money management services, which might support library financial literacy initiatives like Money Smart Week.

How Libraries Can Use GCFLearnFree

Jessica said that the most popular way libraries and other educational organizations use GCFLearnFree is in traditional in-person classes. She recommended using the site like a textbook or using parts of the curriculum to supplement existing coursework. While your library can link to GCFLearnFree or embed the YouTube videos on your site, you can't scrape a whole lesson and put it on your site: It is against the terms of use.

GCFLearnFree offers curriculum guides with best practices for your classes. They also provide "learning paths" to help you connect and sequence lessons. There's also a Resources and Tools section that has flyers for advertising classes, a downloadable version of GCFLearnFree (if you have spotty Internet connectivity), and links to even more free adult education resources.

Jessica pointed out that GCFLearnFree isn't just for the end user: Staff can use it for training too! You can use the GCFLearnFree tutorials to train staff when you upgrade operating systems or get a new version of software. It could also be used to train new staff on the technology your library uses.

"Technology changes quickly," Jessica said, "and even the most tech-savvy person can't know everything there is to know."

Do you use GCFLearnFree or DigitalLearn at your library? Or any other digital literacy resources? Tell us what kind of digital literacy education you do at your library.