The digital literacy sweet spot: what do you need to flourish?

Your digital literacy sweet spot helps you get maximum return for your digital literacy efforts. Do you have the right combination of these 4 factors?
Mar 19
Title: The digital literacy sweet spot: what do you need to flourish?

Many library staff are being silently left behind without being noticed.

They stay away from using new digital tools.

They don’t understand the buzzwords spoken by their peers.

And they don’t ask questions as peer pressure makes them think that they are the only ones who are not ‘in the know’1.

They know digital literacy isn't optional.

But they opt out.

In my experience people opt out for 3 reasons - too busy, too hard and don’t care.

I get it. I do.

But that doesn’t mean I have to accept it. (I like challenges, okay? 🙂 )

So I have been mulling over how to make digital literacy less time consuming, easier, and something to care about.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I think I have a piece that will help.

The digital literacy sweet spot

You know that feeling when time seems to fly because you're so engaged in what you're doing?

When everything flows.

That moment when there is no internal or external resistance and you get maximum return for your efforts.

When the task equals your abilities.

That is the sweet spot.

Is there such a thing as a digital literacy sweet spot?

That's the question I've been mulling over (has anyone else been doing this too?)

And after interviewing 6 digital literacy experts last year I had a breakthrough.


I reckon the digital literacy sweet spot is found at the intersection of 4 factors:

  • 1
    Active experience
  • 2
  • 3
    Deliberate practice
  • 4
    Social negotiation
A venn diagram of the digital literacy sweet spot.

Active experience

Active experience refers to what you are actively involved in, right now. It is current, hands-on experience.

It is not what you have done in the past. Because past performance isn't a reliable guide to future success when it comes to digital literacy.

And active experience also isn't the kind of knowing that comes from reading or observing. Because knowing something isn't the same as doing something.

You may think this is obvious. I agree. But valuing active experience isn't as common as you might expect.

Take these 3 examples for instance.

  • 1
    A colleague insists the library takes a new approach to social media. And refuses to listen when the social media coordinator explains why that approach won't achieve the expected results.
  • 2
    A team member agrees to use Trello to help keep the project team on track. But won't use Trello themselves.
  • 3
    A colleague doesn’t recommend citation tools to research students because they tried one 2 years ago and it was too complicated.

Sure, you can learn lots from case studies and observation. But that sweet spot? You will only find that with active experience.


Motivation is the driving force behind all of our actions.

It energises, directs and sustains our behaviour; including learning.

Your motivation to learn increases when you have the freedom to choose in some way. The freedom to choose what, how, when, where and with whom you learn is highly motivating.

And more effective.

Because when you have a choice, you have a greater commitment to get your learning 'just right'.

When you are motivated to learn, your digital literacy will flourish.

Deliberate practice

No matter which way you look at it, practicing your digital skills is time consuming. And sometimes you've barely grasped one tool before another one comes along.

So how do you fit it all in? How do you rapidly learn new tools when they each take time to learn?

This is where deliberate practice comes in.

Deliberate practice doesn't reduce the time you spend practicing but it will make sure you are practicing in areas that matter.

Deliberate practice is practicing with the purpose to improve.

Imagine you spend 10 minutes practicing all the steps you need to follow to use your open repository.

Now imagine you spend 10 minutes with one academic practicing uploading an item to your open repository.

Which would be more effective? Which would you learn more from?

Deliberate practice will get you closer to the digital literacy sweet spot.2

Social negotiation

The last part of the sweet spot is social negotiation.

Embracing things digital isn't a solo act.

Your digital literacy flourishes when you interact with others.

When you share your ideas.

When you place your perspective alongside others and come to a new understanding as a result.

The digital literacy sweet spot is at the intersection of active experience, motivation, deliberate practice and social negotiation. #TheLibraryBoss

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What now?

As you have no doubt realised, the digital literacy sweet spot is different for each of us.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. And that can be overwhelming.

But if you start with these 4 questions, you’ll be on the right track. You can see what answers I came up with below.

  • 1
    What are you doing when everything flows, when everything is just right?
  • 2
    Now spend a few moments thinking about what you are doing when everything feels too hard. When it feels like you’re failing or not good enough?
  • 3
    What hands-on activities are you doing right now, this week?
  • 4
    From the activities above which ONE do you want to improve the most?

My answers to the questions

Everything flows when:

  • I am in the right headspace, usually between 10am-3:30pm.
  • I have made a list of things to do for the day.
  • unplanned ‘surprises’ can be easily managed.
  • I have at least a vague idea of what I want the outcome to look like.

When something is too hard it is because:

  • there are too many things I want to do right now and I can’t fit them all in.
  • I don’t have the knowledge to figure out why something isn’t working the way I want it to.
  • a support desk is closed or takes forever to respond to a support ticket.
  • I am tired.

My hands-on activities all revolve around The Library Boss.

  • Writing blog posts
  • Layout and design
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Email marketing
  • Promotion
  • Community building

The activity I want to improve the most is the readability of my blog posts. I am deliberately practicing this by using the Flesch Reading Ease in the Yoast plugin. A score of 60-70 is considered acceptable for a general audience (this post scores 68.4). 

It will take a bit of time and experimentation to maintain. But I really think it is worth doing because when you get the balance right you’ll get the maximum return for your effort.

What are you doing when you’re in your digital literacy sweet spot?

Let me know in the comments.

Spark Notes

  • I want librarians to be less frustrated with things digital. I want you to be able to make better decisions with your community. And finding your digital literacy sweet spot is one way I can help.
  • Download the "Immerse Yourself" Cheat Sheet for background, benefits and additional resources. You don't need to signup or register.
  • I adapted the introduction from Aaron Kim's post on digital learning and the invisible digital divide.
  • Deliberate practice is tricky to get right on your own. I highly recommend you save time and effort by talking with a colleague or someone whose skills you want to model.
  • Image by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash.