Digital Literacy: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Education Technology

View all blog posts under Articles

A close-up of a woman using a silver laptop.

Technology is playing a bigger role in education, both in traditional classrooms and online, than ever before. With radical changes stemming from the internet, mobile devices, and other technological advances, there are a variety of opportunities to learn and thrive. If you’re looking into furthering your education by enrolling in an online degree program, there are many tools at your disposal.

This guide will help you learn more about digital literacy and provide you with a number of useful apps for online college students to improve your academic efforts.

Digital Literacy

The internet and modern technology have changed the way society communicates and operates. This has transformed education. By learning how to use the devices, apps, tools, and resources in this guide, you’ll be better prepared for success in your academic career.

What Is Digital Literacy?

“Digital literacy” is the ability to use technology to find information, evaluate sources, create content, and communicate with others effectively. It’s a skillset used to navigate the new technological paradigm in which society operates. In order to be an effective learner in an online environment, it’s extremely beneficial to be digitally literate.

There are a number of different skills that are part of digital literacy. Learning how to use computers and mobile devices, how to access information online, and even how to communicate with others online through social media, are all essential building blocks to a strong technological skill set.

Why Is Digital Literacy Important?

Literacy in the Classroom
When it comes to education, you can think of digital literacy in the same way as you would traditional literacy — the ability to read. You wouldn’t expect a learner to succeed in a literature course on Shakespeare if they lack the basic skills to read and truly access those texts.

Similarly, as learning environments come to integrate more sophisticated technology — especially in the case of online learning — students need to know how to access information. With digital skills, however, they can learn, keep up with peers, participate, and advance to more complex topics. They also can adapt to established social expectations of online behavior, including maintaining a professional demeanor and dealing with issues concerning cyberbullying.

Likewise, the modern workplace has seen incredible shifts due to technology. New job duties, expectations, and forms of communication are making an impact in every sector. Becoming digitally literate prepares learners for these changes and, perhaps more importantly, teaches them to become adaptable as new innovations arise.

Digital Literacy Resources

As you can see, digital literacy is crucial to academic success, particularly for first-generation college students. If you’re interested in learning more about the basics, check out the resources below:

  • The ability to navigate the internet intelligently is a necessity for the modern worker. The Digital Literacy portal is an Obama administration initiative intended to offer resources to those interested in teaching or learning about online knowledge, etiquette and safety. Topics range from basic to advanced, but the assets relating to research resources and content evaluation have particular relevance for those in academics.
  • GCF Global: GCF Global has offered free educational material for over a decade, and their offerings have only grown in those years. People seeking education and tutorials in tech-related issues — from general internet literacy to using specific types of applications — can find relevant instruction here.
  • A product of the Public Library Association, is designed to teach users how to do specific actions online, as well as computer literacy basics. It includes guidance about navigating the web, recognizing scams, applying for jobs online, and many more topics.
  • Microsoft – Digital Literacy: Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Standard Curriculum teaches core information and communications technology concepts, covering computing and internet basics, how to use productivity programs, and an overview of how new technologies are shaping the world today. You can also earn a certificate for completing the modules.
  • US Digital Literacy: Educators and students alike can find valuable resources at US Digital Literacy. For instruction on digital learning and other 21st century skills, this is a good starting place for learning key terminology and concepts.

Best Apps for College Students

Modern college students use a wide variety of apps to plan, organize, take notes, study, and research. Because mobile devices can be taken anywhere, this has allowed learners to take their education completely online. Whether you’re a high school student planning ahead or are a full-time college student, exploring the best apps for college students will help you succeed in your future online education.

Best Apps for Planning & Organization

  • G Suite: If you use Google Docs, Drive, or Calendar, you may already be familiar with some components of G Suite by Google Cloud. Each of these free, web-based tools have substantial potential when it comes to organizing and planning for academic success:
    • Google Docs: This word processor allows students to do school work and save their work on the cloud. The service includes Google Sheets and Google Slides, which can be used to create spreadsheets and slideshow presentations, respectively. These can be worked on with peers together in real time, making collaboration a breeze.
    • Google Drive: Store and synchronize files across different devices by using Google Drive. This ensures that you have access to your schoolwork when and where you need it.
    • Google Calendar: Putting important due dates and reminders on this online calendar will help you stay up to date on important assignments and prepare for upcoming tests.
  • Microsoft Office: Microsoft Office also includes a number of cloud-based, collaboration-enabled apps that can help users stay productive on practically any device. Note that, unlike G Suite, Microsoft Office has subscription fees for each service, though the tools do also have additional features:
    • Microsoft Word: This word processor is a great option for students. Like Google Docs, it allows users to share and collaborate on documents in real time. Additional features, like Resume Assistant, can even help you prepare for life after college.
    • Microsoft Excel: This spreadsheet software has advanced autofill capabilities, templates, and more advanced functionality than Google Sheets, though it does have a corresponding higher learning curve.
    • Microsoft PowerPoint: PowerPoint is to Google Slides as Excel is to Google Sheets; it offers more advanced features to users looking for an extra level of polish in their slideshow presentations.
    • Microsoft OneNote: This digital note-taking app allows users to gather and organize notes (handwritten or typed) and access them via any device. This is great for studying or simply tracking task lists.
  • MyStudyLife: MyStudyLife is a planner that helps users set up timetables, task reminders, and due dates. It supports weekly schedules or week/day rotations for classes. With cross-platform functionality and cloud storage, users can update information from any device — even when they are offline, providing they sync the data. It is free and available for most mobile devices.
  • iHomework 2: Another tool designed to help students get organized, iHomework 2 is a mobile app that works as a school organizer. You can manage courses and instructors, including even their contact information within the app, if you so choose. Not sure which project to get started on next? You can organize assignments by due dates, by the day you intend to complete them, or by their estimated difficulty. This will help you keep yourself responsible and avoid last-minute homework crunches. While the app is free, you can pay for a premium membership, which enables you to backup your information online.

Best Apps for Taking Notes

  • Evernote: Evernote enables learners to catalogue ideas, assignments, and task lists in order to keep organized and efficient. This can be a valuable tool for new college students, as it can help them acclimate to unfamiliar class schedules and track project due dates. Furthermore, students can use it to track information while doing academic research. While users can pay for a subscription to collaborate (which can be a great tool when doing projects with peers), a free basic account should suit most college students looking for help with organization.
  • MindNode: MindNode is an innovative, useful tool for organizing information. Using this application, students can create mind maps — visualizations that plainly show the relationship between different pieces of information. There are many applications for this approach: You can use it to study for tests, prepare information for a research paper, manage school-related projects and tasks, and even weigh the pros/cons of decisions in your personal or professional life.
  • TinyScan: Storing essential course-related documents and notes can be a hassle. With TinyScan, it doesn’t have to be. This app turns your iPhone into a document scanner, complete with filters and brightness adjustment. By scanning documents with your phone’s camera, you can create PDF documents which can be stored or sent as needed. With the ability to search for documents by their title and protect documents with passwords, this can help you keep things organized and secure.

Best Apps for Studying

  • Brainscape: Flashcards are one of the most tried-and-true tools for memorizing important terms and concepts. Brainscape gives learners access to many different sets of flashcards that have been curated by publishers and top educators across practically any college subject you could think of, as well as different vocational fields. Students can create and save their own sets of flashcards for free, though access to the site’s “premium classes” cost a subscription fee.
  • Chegg: If you need help with homework or studying, Chegg has some tools worth looking into. This platform offers several apps that can help students in many different disciplines:
    • Chegg Study ($14.95/month): A membership for this feature enables you to get assistance for problems in over 22,000 commonly used textbooks on college campuses. You also get access to Chegg’s experts and study community, should you have more in-depth questions.
    • Chegg Math Solver ($3.14/month): Learners in math and science-related majors can benefit from this helpful tool. Using the Math Solver, students can scan a math problem with their smartphone’s camera in order to get a detailed explanation of how to solve it, including step-by-step instructions.
    • Flashcards+ (free): This app allows students to create and save decks of flashcards to study key terms and concepts. You can also download flashcard decks made by peers online in order to share and learn together.
  • MyScript Calculator 2: Typing in calculations in your smartphone’s native calculator app can be annoying, if not useless, depending on the math problem you’re working on. MyScript Calculator 2 allows you to use a stylus or your finger to write out calculations as you would on paper. You can edit your calculation, easily erasing and modifying elements with ease. The result, which is automatically calculated, will update appropriately. With support for a wide range of operators, and at only $3, this is a useful app for students in most math courses.
  • ( OFFTIME ): Though technology can help us be more organized and efficient, it can also make us extremely inefficient, as anyone who has binged on YouTube videos can attest to. ( OFFTIME ) lets you unplug from technology and truly focus on the assignment at hand. You can set up the app to monitor device usage and block access to distracting apps or calls (while providing auto answers for the latter) during critical times of study or work.
  • Quizlet: Need help studying for the next big test? Quizlet has nearly 300 million study sets on an incredibly diverse range of subjects. These incorporate flashcards, games, and more. While many resources can be accessed for free, a premium membership is available that gives users access to expert-created guides.

Best Apps for Writing & Research

  • EasyBib: EasyBib can help students correctly cite sources for free, with support of a number of different style formats. All users have to do is enter information about each of their sources and EasyBib will automatically generate a bibliography for your research project. With a paid premium membership, users can have their work scanned to check for instances of grammatical and spelling errors, as well as unintentional plagiarism.
  • Grammarly: All writers — from chemistry majors reporting research findings to english majors writing dissertations on Shakespeare — have their own quirks. Sometimes, in the rush to meet project deadlines, their work is less than grammatically correct. If you’ve found yourself losing points on grammatical mistakes, you can rely on Grammarly to help you produce more consistently polished work. A free account will help you catch most basic errors, though you can pay for a subscription for access to more in-depth feedback.
  • iTunes U: Additional educational resources can be found on iTunes U, an app designed to provide learners with access to free lectures, books, videos, and more from top educators around the globe. If any of your instructors opt to use it in their classes, you’ll be able to submit assignments, track due dates, and check off completed work as it’s completed.
  • ThingLink: Sometimes, all you need to retain information more effectively is a bit of context. ThingLink allows subscribers to do that by linking images or video to additional sources of information. Educators can use it to provide students with contextual information, while students can use it while studying or collaborating.

Best Online Learning Tools & Resources

There are many unique digital resources and online learning tools that both students and teachers can use. Learning more about these can prepare you to meet academic expectations and learn more about topics in your major.

  • Blackboard: One of the most popular platforms for course management at universities today, it pays to get familiar with the features and functions of Blackboard. Depending on your school’s and instructors’ expectations, you may need to sign up for courses, check your course schedule, and/or submit coursework via this online portal.
  • Coursera: Partnering with top universities and organizations, Coursera provides users access to a wide number of online educational programs. College students looking to earn specific certificates to prepare for life after school can earn them here — or users can opt to take their entire academic career online, earning their degree through programs found on Coursera.
  • edX: As online learning continues to grow in popularity, so does the amount of subpar instructional content — which can leave learners struggling to find high-quality educational material. edX seeks to resolve that by providing users with a library of effective online courses across a diverse range of subjects. While there is a fee for enrollment, this can be a useful tool when seeking out coursework for independent study.
  • Saylor Academy: Want to supplement your college education with additional online learning? Explore what Saylor Academy has to offer. As a nonprofit, this resource seeks to offer free online courses to those who are looking to learn. Their courses are curated from online resources created by experts in education, and each is designed as a self-paced experience. While the site is not accredited, you can still earn some valuable experience using it.
  • TED-Ed: While TED Conferences began in 1990, their presentations (known as “TED Talks”) have exploded in popularity in the past decade. TED-Ed consists of informative, thought-provoking presentations that are powerful tools in education, as they cover a wide range of topics and present unique perspectives on academic or controversial issues. When used in the classroom, they can springboard students into debate. Watching them independently can help you grasp the talking points related to key topics.

Online Resources for Students in Math, Science, Business, Humanities, and Other Majors

In addition to the platforms listed above, there are specific resources that are helpful to students in certain majors. Take a look below to see how these can improve your learning efforts.

Online Math Resources

  • Open Textbook Library: Those looking to improve their math skills can use free mathematics textbooks available at the Open Textbook Library. This is a great resource for independent study or to brush up on specific skills. With subjects that range from basic to advanced, this is suitable for college students of all grade levels.
  • – 50+ Killer Resources for Computer Science Students: Majors involving computer science are technically some of the most popular mathematics-related fields of study on college campuses today. This list of resources, curated by, will help students in these fields in a wide variety of ways.

Online Science Resources

  • Public Library of Science: Need access to scientific research? Depending on the school you’ve enrolled with, you may be given access to a database on research that you can access online. However, all learners can access free scientific publications at the Public Library of Science. The organization’s successes over the past two decades have been impressive. In their own words, they “proved the viability of Open Access, redefined publishing with PLOS ONE, the world’s largest multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal, and developed the first suite of Article-Level Metrics.
  • Live Science – Science Websites That We Read Every Day: Around the globe, those involved in scientific research are making new discoveries and pushing new boundaries every day. Students in science-related majors should keep abreast of scientific news in order to engage in informed discussions about recent developments. Live Science lists the most essential, authoritative sources.

Online Business Resources

  • AccountingCoach: If you run across a term or concept that you’re unfamiliar with, AccountingCoach can help you brush up. Launched in 2003, this site is meant to help learners understand introductory accounting and bookkeeping concepts at no cost. With a subscription cost, you can access AccountingCoach PRO, which includes interactive tests, tutorials, video seminars, and more.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Learning Center: Information on business planning, financial, and marketing fundamentals can be found at the SBA Learning Center. Many business major students are interested in eventually becoming an entrepreneur, and this resource can prove to be invaluable during your first years working toward your business degree.

Online Humanities Resources

  • LitCharts: Are you a student in the humanities who would like a little help understanding the deeper meanings and themes behind literature? LitCharts offers guides and visualizes data about literature in highly digestible, engaging ways. While the platform requires a subscription fee, it can bring your comprehension of assigned readings to a whole new level. The free app for LitCharts has the full functionality of the desktop version, except it’s optimized for mobile viewing.
  • Project Gutenberg: Online learners — particularly those focused on history and literature — need access to digital texts. Project Gutenberg offers free public domain texts. There is well over 50,000 texts available at no cost, and this number is expected to balloon in 2019, when the public domain will grow after a 20-year hiatus.

Online Resources for Other Subjects

  • Animoto: If you want to give your Public Speaking course presentations an extra level of polish, explore what Animoto has to offer. This platform makes creating presentations a snap: All you have to do is select a theme and music, then add desired images and video. This can make for an effective supplement to lectures, and students can use it to share findings with their peers.
  • Duolingo: Most bachelor degree programs require credits in a foreign language in order to graduate. If you find yourself struggling while trying to learn a new language, Duolingo may be a valuable tool for you. It provides instruction and challenges users to read, listen, and speak the target language in a variety of daily exercises. With support for over 30 languages (and more on the way), this free platform likely has something for you.