Skip main navigation

The need for professional digital networks

Watch Dr Lisa Harris, Nic Fair & Sarah Hewitt discuss the need for professional digital networks & the importance of digital literacies in this.

In this short video, Dr Lisa Harris and PhD students Nic Fair and Sarah Hewitt discuss the need for professional digital networks and the importance of digital literacy skills in doing this well.

Our Personal Learning Networks

Social media have made us more connected to each other, and to information, than ever before. We have become ‘Networked Individuals’ living, working and learning in a ‘Networked Society’.

Throughout our lives we continuously make connections to people, organisations and information sources, some of which we maintain and others we don’t. When we need to accomplish a task we often call on those connections, be they strong or weak, to help us.

Living in a networked society means that those connections are no longer just in the physical world, but also in the digital space – we have connections not just to people or organisations, but to devices, software and web pages. In short, we sit at the centre of a complex network of on and offline relationships – our Personal Learning Network. It is therefore vital that we are able to ‘Grow’, ‘Manage’ and ‘Activate’ our networks effectively if we want to maximise our potential in both our personal and professional lives. Our networks matter – a lot!

What do we mean by a ‘Digital Footprint’?

We use our social networks in all sorts of different, positive ways. Through them we:

  • reach out to and share with others
  • find jobs
  • brand ourselves or our companies
  • raise money for charity
  • attract customers
  • promote social justice or human rights
  • warn about disasters or dramatic events
  • form concerned, supportive communities

All by making the best use of our digital networks.

We need to be proactive in building and managing our digital presence. Active participation in online networks not only boosts our reputation, it gives us new digital skills in communication, information management, and multimedia creativity. It requires a long term strategy firstly to discover a ‘voice’, then develop a digital ‘footprint’ which demonstrates our skills and then to build an appropriate network to support it.

It also includes more proactive activities such as blogging. This can develop new skills in sharing, innovation, creativity and reflective thinking. Powerful blogs on issues such as gender, race, women’s rights, or free speech, when done effectively, help to establish the reputations of the bloggers on the wider stage, for example #BlackLivesMatter and #EverydaySexism.

This also holds true for vloggers (video bloggers) and YouTubers who, through providing high-value content, can build up many hundreds or thousands of followers and create an international reputation for themselves. For example, data from this BBC article about Tubular Labs from October 2015 suggests that there are 147 UK vloggers with over a million followers . These reputations can then turn into job or career opportunities in some cases and show the value of ‘paying it forward’ – or giving before you receive (there’s more on this in the next Step).

What are digital literacies?

Digital literacies are ALL the skills we need to take full advantage of the digital world. IT proficiency is just the starting point – we do need to know how to use a computer, navigate the Web, use software packages, operate a smartphone or tablet, use apps … and so on. But we also need:

  • Browsing to know how to effectively search for information, media, products or jobs….and then how to filter and store the results.
  • Discerning critical reading skills and the ability to evaluate the reliability of online information.
  • Presenting to use editing, media-capture, communication and presentation tools.
  • Collaborating to collaborate and help others online and know how to participate effectively in online communities.
  • Networking the ability to grow, manage and activate our networks effectively and reflect on our development or progress.
  • Safeguarding to know how to present an appropriate online image and stay safe while doing so.
  • Creating the ability to remix or repurpose digital material, or create and upload original material – such as by blogging or vlogging.
  • Copyrighting to understand and respect the intellectual property rights of one’s and others’ creative work

Digital literacies diagram

In summary, building our personal and professional learning networks, and developing a reputation as a trusted source, takes a lot of work but can reap future benefits in many positive or unexpected ways.

This article is from the free online

The Power of Social Media

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now