Conceptions of digital competence from the perspective of democracy-related (civic) education

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann (DARE Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe)

Paper for the International Conference: Inclusive Citizenship as Belongings, Practices and Acts, 29 September – 1 October 2022, Leibniz University Hannover, Jointly organised by the Leibniz Research Center for Inclusive Citizenship (CINC) and ECPR Standing Group Citizenship. Link

In digitalisation debates and educational reforms at the national level, transnational (OECD, UNESCO) or European (DigComp 2.2), digital competence is increasingly viewed as integral or as part of transformative competences. In educational practice, too, it is assigned a high practical relevance, despite all of the existing criticism of competency models. Overall, there is a trend toward a more holistic and reflective understanding of digital competence that goes beyond the mere ability to use technology or to handle it safely and professionally. A trend diffusing especially from the field of youth-related media pedagogy into lifelong learning.

At the same time, current societal course-setting in politics and business regarding the design of rules (in example copyrights, privacy, platform or market regulations) or the factual implementation of technical approaches in societal subsystems (automatisation, datafication of work spaces, platformisation of collaboration) is only to a limited extent reflected in learning opportunities. In particular, a technical view of digitalisation and a STEM-releated view on professional digital skills ode pedagogues predominates.

More fundamentally and despite increasing request for “preparing” citizens for the future, the integration of notions of democratic transformation in digital transformation pedagogy remains weak by slight improvemenets, even in democratic countries. This article uses the revised European framework DigComp 2.2 and its process of reviewing in 2021 as example.

Based on the results of the DIGIT-AL project – Digital Transformation in Adult learning for Active Citizenship ( – the article outlines thematic areas that will play a more important role in broadening our understanding of digital literacy towards a pedagogy of learning for, about and through digital transformation.

  • Learning for digitalisation: co-determining the digital transformation in society.
  • Learning about digitalisation: social, cultural, economic impact of digitalisation in society.
  • Learning through digitalisation: digital learning, digital tools and services.
    This analytical distinction aims also to bring more overview in the debates about digitalisation in education and how these aspects could be integrated more in democrtacy-related learning:
  • Digital rights – understood as integral part of a democratic digital transformation (and going further than to data protection)
  • Platformisation as an overall process and meta-trend
  • The digital self
  • Facilitating understanding of the technical concepts of big data, AI, datafication to non-professionals
  • Data-Economic and Network-Cultural knowledge, including different visions of the Internet ecosystem
  • Integrating global and environmental interdependencies in digitalisation-related education (linked to Global Learning, Global Citizenship Education, Education for Sustainable Development)
  • Understanding impact of technology options on participation and inclusion

The article also incorporates approaches that link these fields, such as the Council of Europe’s approach of “Digital Citizenship Education” (DCE) deriving from the conceptual work on Competences for a Democratic Culture (RFCDC).

The article concludes how the particular perspective of democracy-related education (politische Bildung) can play an important role here: An approach that considers empowerment as its task, with experience in teaching complex bodies of knowledge, that is interested in social, cultural, and economic effects of social action, and that above all considers democratic ideas and rights as the essence of transformative education.