Integrating Digital Literacy into Family Literacy Programming

Editor’s note: In celebration of National Family Literacy Month®, NCFL Director of Family Literacy, Dr. Anna Kaiper-Marquez, joined with World Education Director of Digital Learning and Research, Dr. Jen Vanek, to consider the crucial need to include digital literacy learning opportunities as part of family literacy programming.

The pace of digital innovation has been on a fast track for decades, and is putting ever more pressure on adult workers, learners, and parents to develop skills to keep up (Digital Resilience in the American Workforce [DRAW], 2022; Kulkarni et al., 2017). The need is great. An estimated 32 million Americans struggle to use a computer, and half of all Americans say they are not confident using technology to learn (Pawlowski & and Mamedova, 2018). This challenge has become even more imperative since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when adults needed to draw on digital skills to stay connected to families, succeed at schooling and work, and accomplish tasks that had previously been done in person.

Adult education and family literacy providers stepped up in many ways to ensure that individual and family educational success did not get neglected (Belzer et al., 2022; Smith & Teater, 2022; Clymer et al., 2022; Vanek & Goumas, 2021). However, the continually changing role of technology in the lives of learners and families highlighted the importance of considering digital literacy as a key component within a range of literacies needed to support individual and social equity. As providers, we cannot say we are supporting the development of literacy for families’ improved educational, economic, and individual well-being without also integrating digital literacy into our programming. This post explores this view by highlighting emerging work on supporting “multiple literacies” for adult and family literacy. It also ties this innovative perspective to the digital and family literacy work that both World Education (WE) and the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) are doing to support the needs of adults, children, and families.

Multiple Literacies

Recognition that digital literacy skill-building is an essential element of any learning experience today was highlighted in the recently published White Paper on Multiple Literacies for Individual and Collective Empowerment by The Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN). Both NCFL and WE are proud partners in this network which, among other things, champions an approach to adult and family learning that fosters growth in “multiple literacies.” These literacies represent the multitude of skills needed to engage in information-oriented tasks in diverse and often digital contexts, including civics literacy; health literacy; financial literacy; information literacy; and of course, digital literacy (Cacacio et al., 2023). A view of literacies beyond print reading and writing provides context for understanding how to support learners with future literacy needs—needs which include the “means of identifying, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast changing world” (UNESCO, 2023). It also highlights an asset-based approach to literacies that recognizes the various home literacies playing a role in knowledge production (e.g., Liu & Chung, 2022).

The key to all this work is the need to foster the digital resilience of adult learners and families.

Digital Resilience

Digital resilience, “the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands” (Digital US, 2020), is vital in supporting the multiple literacy needs of children and families. The Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) initiative helps adult education providers and practitioners better support learners who struggle to succeed with digital tasks to achieve digital resilience. This Office for Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) funded initiative, led by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and WE, offers professional development resources that help educators design and implement learner-focused digital skills instruction and support services by offering flexible, evidence-based, and piloted strategies and materials to support the development of digital resilience of adult learners.

The DRAW initiative began with a landscape scan that unearthed findings on which the PD resources are built. These findings include the need to integrate digital skills instruction into academic learning; the imperative to support access to digital devices and internet access; the provision of digital skills instruction through relevant contexts, strengths-based approaches, and a variety of instructional modes; and the importance of leveraging digital skills frameworks and assessment to identify prioritized skills and learner progress (DRAW, 2022).

The full suite of PD resources will soon be available on the LINCS DRAW site.  Currently, anyone can access several of them, including:

  • The Digital Skills Library. The Digital Skills Library is an open repository of free learning resources designed to help all adult learners develop the digital skills needed to achieve their personal, civic, educational, and career goals. The free resources were curated and evaluated by teachers working together in a service-learning experience called the Edtech Maker Space. Resources are available in five languages.
  • The Digital Skills Glossary. Teachers can draw on this set of open vocabulary-based resources to help learners develop the language skills needed to ask questions and follow instructions in support of digital skill building. The Glossary was created through an Edtech Maker Space where adult education teachers gathered to identify relevant vocabulary needed to communicate about digital skills, and then worked together to create customizable Google Slides organized using the Frayer Model and design activities for building vocabulary.
  • Preview Draft: A Playbook for Fostering Digital Resilience in Adult Education. The scenarios shared in this short publication illustrate how teachers can integrate digital skills instruction into highly relevant academic content, specifically: workforce preparation, health literacy, financial literacy, and civics. Each scenario describes a lesson that integrates digital literacy instruction with a “resilience” approach by including an example of an “edtech routine”, an instructional routine that promotes proficiency of a digital technology or digital skill through relevant and repeated practice.

Linking Digital Resilience and Family Literacy

Digital resilience, self-efficacy, and social empowerment go together. One way to foster forms of empowerment for adults and families is through NCFL’s four-component model of family literacy. In alignment with federal law, NCFL defines family literacy as a continuum of services that address the multigenerational nature of literacy. Family literacy programming integrates (1) interactive literacy activities between parents and children; (2) support in parenting activities; (3) parent or family adult education and literacy activities that lead to readiness for postsecondary education or training, career advancement, economic self-sufficiency, and personal goal attainment; and (4) age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences (NCFL, 2023). This model of intergenerational programming has been found to lead to increased parent involvement in at-home family literacy behaviors, increased parent engagement in their children’s schools, and improved student attendance. It has also led to feelings of self-efficacy and social empowerment for adults/parents (Cramer, 2016).  However, with technology becoming increasingly integrated into schools, jobs, and life, family efficacy and empowerment will only continue to develop by infusing digital literacy skills into all family and adult learning. By integrating these skills into family literacy programs, we can foreseeably build digital resilience for adults, parents, and families thereby increasing individual empowerment and social equity for this population of learners.

Moving Forward Together

The ongoing work of NCFL and WE to ensure all families have access to digital literacy skills highlights the vital connections between family literacy and digital literacy. It also reveals how integrating a focus on digital resilience into family literacy programming makes empowerment possible in the digital age.

We invite you to partner with NCFL and World Education to take part in emerging conversations on adult education, family literacy, and digital resilience and discuss ways that we can comprehensively integrate notions of multiple literacies into all adult and family literacy initiatives moving forward. Contact Dr. Jen Vanek ( and Dr. Anna Kaiper Marquez ( for more information on the intersections of these initiatives.


Dr. Jen Vanek is a researcher, teacher educator, and professional learning facilitator who focuses on digital literacy, online learning, classroom technology integration, and English literacy and language learning. She directs communities of practice that support adult education researchers, practitioners, and administrators as they develop educational opportunities for adult learners. Jen has collaborated in research and technical assistance projects with a diverse range of scholars and policy leaders. She is co-principal investigator on US Department of Education/Institute for Education Sciences research projects exploring technology use in adult education and a long-time partner of the Literacy, and Technology Research Group at Portland State University, exploring characteristics of effective 21C workplace learning.


Dr. Anna Kaiper-Marquez is the Director of Family Literacy at NCFL. Her professional and research interests include adult and family language and literacy research and practice, English language learning and literacy in international contexts, and language practices and methodologies in the Global South. Anna received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology-Based Human Relations at Connecticut College, CT; her master’s degree in Urban and Special Education at Mercy College, NY; and her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Development Education at University of Minnesota, MN. Anna is a former middle school special education teacher as well as an adult high school equivalency and English language instructor. In her spare time, Anna loves karaoke, traveling nationally and internationally, trying new foods, and having dance parties with her family.



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