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Digital competence and digital literacy in higher education research: Systematic review of concept use

Journal article
Authors Maria Spante
Sylvana Sofkova Hashemi
Mona Lundin
Anne Algers
Published in Cogent Education
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 1-21
Publication year 2018
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies
Pages 1-21
Language en
Keywords digital literacy, digital competence, higher education, systematic literature review
Subject categories Information Systems, Social aspects, Educational Sciences


Digital competence and digital literacy are concepts that are increasingly used in public discourse. However, how the concepts are used and how they are defined remains unclear. This paper presents a systematic review of research where these concepts are used in higher education research. The aim is to establish an understanding of referencing strategy to digital literacy and digital competence over time, disciplines, countries, methods and level of analysis. Three databases were used in the systematic literature review: Web of Science, Scopus and Education Resources Information Centre. We delimited the search to title, abstract and keywords in the databases. Inclusion criteria were peer-reviewed publications written in English. Initially 107 publications between 1997 and 2017 were found, with 28 addressing digital competence and 79 digital literacy. Our review demonstrates that there is a range of definitions used in higher education research. They vary depending on if the concepts are defined by policy, research or both and whether they focus on technical skills or social practices. This review indicates directions for further research in higher education i) do more research based on critical perspectives to avoid commonsensical use of the concepts, ii) take the development of definitions of these concepts seriously iii) avoid cross-referencing incompatibilities and finally iv) engage in critical investigations regarding the legitimacy of policy over research in the domain of higher education research.

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