Reading and Writing

, Volume 27, Issue 9, pp 1567–1583

Knowledge and processes that predict proficiency in digital literacy

  • Monica E. Bulger
  • Richard E. Mayer
  • Miriam J. Metzger

DOI: 10.1007/s11145-014-9507-2

Cite this article as:
Bulger, M.E., Mayer, R.E. & Metzger, M.J. Read Writ (2014) 27: 1567. doi:10.1007/s11145-014-9507-2


Proficiency in digital literacy refers to the ability to read and write using online sources, and includes the ability to select sources relevant to the task, synthesize information into a coherent message, and communicate the message with an audience. The present study examines the determinants of digital literacy proficiency by asking 150 students who had 50 min of access to the Internet and a word processor to produce a research report on whether or not their college should require all students to own a laptop computer. The resulting essay received a holistic rating from 1 to 5. Concerning knowledge underlying digital literacy, the major predictors of digital literacy proficiency (as measured by essay rating) were academic experience (undergraduate versus graduate status) and domain knowledge (based on a questionnaire), rather than technical knowledge about how to use computers (based on a questionnaire). Concerning processing during the task, the major predictors of digital literacy proficiency were integrating processes (such as number of unique sources, citations, or supporting details) rather than search processes (such as number of actions, web pages, websites, links, or search terms). In short, proficiency in digital literacy depended mainly on academic experience rather than technical experience, and on how learners organize and integrate the information they find rather than on how much information they peruse. Findings from this study suggest that the basic tenets of good scholarship apply to digital media.


Digital literacy Information use New literacies Composition 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica E. Bulger
    • 1
  • Richard E. Mayer
    • 2
  • Miriam J. Metzger
    • 3
  1. 1.Oxford Internet InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of CommunicationUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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