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Navigating the digital world: development of an evidence-based digital literacy program and assessment tool for youth


The rapid expansion of digital connectivity has provided youth with wide-ranging access to digital platforms for communication, entertainment, and education. In light of this profound shift, there have been growing concerns about online safety, data privacy, and cybersecurity. A critical factor influencing the ability of youth to responsibly navigate digital platforms is digital literacy. While digital literacy programs have been implemented in various regions worldwide, significant disparities remain not only in overall digital literacy levels, but also the assessment of digital literacy initiatives. To address these challenges, an environmental scan and literature review were conducted to identify existing digital literacy programs in Canada developed specifically for youth, as well as digital literacy assessment tools, respectively. The search encompassed peer-reviewed articles, organizational curricula, and assessment measures indexed in various databases and organization websites. The environmental scan identified 15 programs targeting key components of digital literacy such as data safety, cyberbullying, and digital media. The literature review identified 12 digital literacy assessment tools. Based on the findings, data were synthesized from shortlisted programs and assessment tools to inform the development of both a new digital literacy program and assessment tool to complement the youth-focused program. The new program focuses on four key components: (1) digital fluency, (2) digital privacy and safety, (3) ethics and empathy, and (4) consumer awareness. A 15-item assessment tool was also developed consisting of 4–5 questions specific to each program component. Given the growing importance of digital competencies, a youth-focused program and assessment tool are crucial for understanding and addressing digital literacy among this vulnerable cohort. This program's adaptability allows for customization across sociodemographic target groups, including culturally diverse and geographically remote communities—an aspect that has the potential to enhance digital literacy across settings. Implementing digital literacy programs can better prepare youth for an increasingly digital world, while minimizing potential risks associated with technology use.


Digital connectivity has rapidly evolved in the past decade (Burr et al., 2020; Korte, 2020), and contributed to fundamental shifts in how people engage with each other, find information, and access services (Bach et al., 2018). Of all the demographic groups, youth have increasingly turned to technology and the internet as preferred tools for communication, socialization, entertainment, and more recently, education (Bach et al., 2018; Pandya & Lodha, 2021). From the use of social media applications to online gaming and educational resources, digital technology has become an integral part of the daily routines of many youth globally (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2020; The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 2018).

Nevertheless, there are variations in digital platform use, and more importantly, digital literacy levels among youth within and across countries (Bandura & Leal, 2022; Human Rights Council, 2023). In Canada, these disparities are particularly pronounced, with a national ‘digital divide’ resulting from stark cross-country differences in both digital access and digital literacy levels (Aydin, 2021; Hadziristic, 2017). While it is true that 80–96% of Canadian youth aged 13–24 years own or have access to smartphones (Rideout et al., 2022; Secretariat & Secretariat, n.d.; Vernon et al., 2018), certain factors such as gender, education, and geographic location have a significant influence on the digital skills of Canadian youth (Hadziristic, 2017), with some subgroups still demonstrating significantly lower digital literacy skills than their peers, including Indigenous youth, newcomers to Canada, youth living in poverty or in northern, rural, and remote communities (Government of Canada, 2023).

Despite these disparities in connectivity, digital technology use by youth is growing globally (Graafland, 2018; Haddock et al., 2022; The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 2018). In addition to recreational use (Joshi et al., 2019), online learning has become increasingly common in countries such as Canada, particularly due to the Coronavirus disease pandemic which led to widespread school closures and adoption of remote learning among all levels of schooling in both urban (Quintana et al., 2020) and rural jurisdictions (Kannan et al., 2022). Many jurisdictions have opted to continue offering some level of online learning in the post-pandemic era (LaBonte et al., 2021). The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in the 2021–2022 school year, 33% of schools continued to offer remote learning, and 10% offered hybrid models of instruction (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2022) that combined in-person and online learning (LaBonte et al., 2021). While increased digital access improved quality of life for many, it has also magnified concerns about online safety, data privacy, and cybersecurity (Government of Canada, 2016). Misinformation, identity theft, and cyberbullying are among the numerous digital concerns which are particularly important among vulnerable groups such as youth (Human Rights Council, 2023).

Research has shown that despite being early adopters of evolving technology (Haddock et al., 2022), youth often demonstrate limited critical thinking skills and low media literacy, which can lead them to share information impulsively (Machete & Turpin, 2020; Pérez-Escoda et al., 2020) and therefore make them vulnerable to online misinformation (Nan et al., 2022). Privacy is another growing concern (Lupton, 2021), as personal information can be collected, stored, and shared online often without their consent or knowledge (Donelle et al., 2021), rendering youth vulnerable to identity theft, online fraud, and other forms of online exploitation (Quayyum et al., 2021). Studies suggest that youth are often unaware of who has access to their posted content and the permanence of their digital footprint. Such oversight can not only impact their quality of life, but also lead to the exploitation of their personal information (Donelle et al., 2021; van der Velden & El Emam, 2013).

The ability to navigate the benefits and risks of digital connectivity largely hinges on one key factor—digital literacy. Digital literacy is “the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies” (Law et al., 2018) and includes individuals’ ability to use various digital devices and software (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022). Digital literacy has become a crucial skill for young people to navigate and succeed in the increasingly technology-driven world, with these skills becoming increasingly relevant in all environments, including school, recreation, home, and work (Government of Canada, 2023). Research shows a concerning trend of low digital literacy among youth, particularly in areas with limited digital connectivity (i.e., remote areas) (Bhawra et al., 2022; Schreurs et al., 2017). This warrants the need for dedicated digital literacy programs, both to aid learning and decision-making, as well as to mitigate some of the prominent concerns associated with increased technology usage (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2020). Several jurisdictions in Canada, particularly in urban centres or private school boards, have begun implementing specific digital literacy curricula (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022; Government of Ontario, 2022; Nova Scotia Ministry of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2022); however, adoption of digital literacy programs is not mandatory across all school boards.

Given the importance of digital literacy, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) led the development of a Digital Literacy Global Framework which emphasized the role of digital literacy in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4—Quality Education—which includes a specific indicator (4.4.2) to measure the percentage of youth and adults who have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in digital literacy skills (Law et al., 2018). UNESCO’s framework is informed by global evidence on the core components of digital literacy and associated evaluation criteria, which can serve as a foundation for the development of digital literacy curricula across jurisdictions (Law et al., 2018). The UNESCO framework and persistent digital divide in countries such as Canada underscores the pressing need for comprehensive digital literacy programs to address these disparities and empower youth in the digital age.

Thus, this study aimed to develop a tailored digital literacy program for youth in Canada, as well as a robust digital literacy assessment tool designed to evaluate the impact of the newly developed program by measuring digital literacy before and after program implementation. To inform the development of the program and assessment tool, an environmental scan and literature review were conducted to explore the current landscape of digital literacy programs and assessment tools for youth in Canada. This work was guided by the following research questions: (1) Based on an environmental scan of peer-reviewed and grey literature, what digital literacy programs or frameworks have been developed for youth in Canada? Specifically, (i) What are the core topic areas (e.g., data safety, cyberbullying) of digital literacy programs/frameworks? and (ii) Who is the target audience for existing digital literacy programs/frameworks?; (2) Based on a literature review of peer-reviewed articles, what assessment tools and/or questionnaires have been used to evaluate digital literacy levels? Specifically, (i) What digital literacy assessment tools have been tailored for youth?


Environmental scan

An environmental scan was conducted to explore the current landscape of digital literacy programs for youth in Canada. This method allowed for the exploration of digital literacy programs in peer-reviewed publications as well as grey literature (Charlton et al., 2019; Shahid & Turin, 2018). The environmental scan aimed to identify both peer-reviewed journal articles of existing programs, as well as organizational reports or school curricula describing programs or frameworks in Canada which aimed to improve digital literacy among youth. The environmental scan was conducted by searching for programs and frameworks in relevant databases (Aromataris & Riitano, 2014) including the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database which focuses on education research, as well as Google and Google Scholar to capture programs or curricula that may not be published in peer-reviewed literature (i.e., from organizational websites). Moreover, in order to hone in on previously developed curricula (Shahid & Turin, 2018), specific organizational and school board websites within Canada were also searched. Search terms used in the environmental scan included a combination of “Digital Literacy”, “Program”, “Framework”, “Program development”, “Youth,” and “Canada.” The key inclusion criteria for this scan included identification of programs which: discussed an educational program or curriculum related to digital literacy; were developed for children, youth, or adolescents; were developed or published in the last 6 years (2018–2023); were designed for implementation either in person or online; and were available in English. Exclusion criteria were documents: not published in English, not targeting youth or adolescent populations, or not clearly describing digital literacy as a focus area for a given program or curriculum.

Database search for peer-reviewed literature

A peer-reviewed literature review for existing digital literacy assessment tools was conducted to determine how awareness and knowledge uptake from digital literacy programs were being assessed (Ahmed et al., 2016). The literature search aimed to identify digital literacy assessment measures that could be used to assess digital literacy status among youth (i.e., a reference point to identify changes in digital literacy pre/post program or intervention participation). Peer-reviewed articles indexed in ERIC, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar were explored (Aromataris & Riitano, 2014), as these databases encompass articles across the domains of education research, life sciences, and other academic literature, respectively. This search strategy enabled a comprehensive review of digital literacy assessments tools that may have been developed or used across disciplines. Search terms used included a combination of “Digital Literacy”, “Digital quotient”, “Digital citizenship”, “Measurement”, “Assessment”, and “Youth”. Relevant literature cited within articles were also reviewed and shortlisted if they discussed an assessment tool related to digital literacy and met general inclusion criteria (i.e., were developed or modified for children, youth, or adolescents; were designed for implementation online; and available in English).

Data extraction and synthesis

Following best practices for data extraction and synthesis of literature (Cooper & Hedges, 2009; Paré & Kitsiou, 2017), titles and abstracts of articles identified through the environmental scan (describing digital literacy programs) and peer-reviewed literature search (for digital literacy assessment tools) were screened for relevance based on the core inclusion and exclusion criteria. For articles identified within ERIC and MEDLINE databases, potentially relevant articles were downloaded to the referencing software, Mendeley, where duplicate records were removed. Similarly, titles and abstracts were screened in Google and Google Scholar, however given the large number of hits generated by the search engines, only potentially relevant articles, reports, and curricula documents were downloaded to Mendeley for review based on screening of titles, abstracts, and/or executive summaries against our inclusion criteria. One author screened the identified records (MCB) and removed irrelevant literature according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. A second reviewer (JB) validated included records for content, scope, and relevance (Waffenschmidt et al., 2019). A data abstraction form was designed in Excel, and two researchers (MCB, JB) extracted the data of included records (Cooper & Hedges, 2009; Paré & Kitsiou, 2017; Waffenschmidt et al., 2019). Discrepancies were resolved through discussion among the researchers.

Eligible data from all identified digital literacy programs and assessment tools meeting the inclusion criteria were synthesized (Cooper & Hedges, 2009; Paré & Kitsiou, 2017) and are presented in Table 1. Data on the general characteristics of the included studies included program name, a brief description of the organization and/or program, key program components, and program location. Data from all identified assessment tools for digital literacy are summarized in Table 2. Summary data of the assessment tools included year of publication, location where the tool was developed, age of target population, the goal of the assessment, key indicators assessed, whether the assessment is skills based or questionnaire based, and length of the assessment (Paré & Kitsiou, 2017; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).

Table 1 Youth-focused digital literacy programs and frameworks
Table 2 Digital literacy program overview

Digital literacy program and assessment tool development

Findings from the environmental scan were synthesized and analyzed (by MCB, JB, TRK) to create a new digital literacy program tailored for youth (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006). Key themes and topic areas identified through the environmental scan were shortlisted to inform the development of a new program. Topic areas that were considered core digital literacy components in peer-reviewed literature, theoretical frameworks such as the UNESCO Digital Literacy Global Framework (Law et al., 2018), or those described in the majority of shortlisted programs were included in the newly developed program. Topic areas were grouped by theme and consolidated to create the final list of program components. Specific learning objectives were developed for each component, taking into consideration our target population (i.e., youth) (Chatterjee & Corral, 2017). The newly developed digital literacy program is evidence-based with topic areas and components selected from seminal work in digital literacy and digital literacy education (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022; Law et al., 2018). The program was designed to capture a breadth of information across each of the seven competencies described in the Digital Literacy Global Framework (i.e., fundamentals of hardware and software; information and data literacy; communication and collaboration; digital content creation; safety; problem solving; and career-related competences) (Law et al., 2018). As the primary audience for this curriculum is youth in Canada, content was sourced from Canadian sources (e.g., Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada) where possible (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2018).

Given that the purpose of the digital literacy assessment tool was to evaluate the pre/post change in digital literacy following implementation of the newly developed program, a new tool was developed (by MCB, JB, TRK) to assess various components of digital literacy identified in the program (Kishore et al., 2021). In our research process, we sought to ensure the accuracy and relevance of our digital literacy assessment by consulting previously validated measures of digital literacy (Lazonder et al., 2020; Perdana et al., 2019; Saxena et al., 2018). These established measures served as valuable guides in the formulation of questions tailored to address the key topics covered in our digital literacy program (Kishore et al., 2021). To accurately gauge the impact of our program on participants' digital literacy levels, we adopted a comprehensive approach, developing at least one question within our assessment tool for each subtopic and skill area included in our program (Kishore et al., 2021). This assessment tool will therefore enable evaluation of the effectiveness of our program and enable specific areas of program improvement.


Summary of digital literacy programs

A total of 13 relevant digital literacy frameworks, programs, and organizations were identified through the environmental scan (Table 1). We classified the identified frameworks, programs, and organizations into 6 broad categories: (A) school-based digital literacy and coding courses (n = 3), which included formal coding, engineering design, and applied design and technologies courses and/or curricula that are integrated into the mathematics and science curricula; (B) school-based digital literacy workshops (n = 5), where programming for students is provided in the school setting by third party organizations; (C) teacher education/training models (n = 4), where teachers receive formal training and subsequently serve as facilitators or digital literacy lessons are co-taught with digitally-savvy teachers; (D) structured lesson plans and educational resources (n = 8), where parents and teachers are provided lesson plans or outlines, differentiation strategies, and implementation tips that can be used to educate youth about digital literacy concepts; (E) full-time bootcamp programs (n = 3), where individuals of any age can participate in intensive and accelerated learning programs at varying skill levels; and (F) part-time extracurricular programs (n = 4), where individuals of any age can participate in before/after school and weekend programs, camps during school breaks, or drop-in programming. Programs may fall under more than one category depending on the types of programming offered by each organization. Among the 13 identified programs, 8 were Canada-wide, 2 were developed and delivered in Ontario, and 1 in each Manitoba, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.

A summary of key program components is presented in Table 1. Substantial overlap was found in the topics addressed across identified programs. Topics included: introduction to computers, ethics and empathy, cybersecurity, data privacy, data literacy, community engagement, digital health, consumer awareness, digital media and arts, and artificial intelligence (AI). Our team thoroughly reviewed key components of previously developed programs and determined which elements were relevant for the development of the current digital literacy program for youth.

Development of a tailored digital literacy program

Key program components were identified through the environmental scan. Four key topic areas were selected given the number of times they were mentioned in other programs and their importance to overall digital literacy for youth. The four key program components include: (1) digital fluency, (2) digital privacy and safety, (3) ethics and empathy, and (4) consumer awareness. Each component addresses several relevant subcomponents. The learning objectives for this program were adapted from the Digital Literacy Framework for Grades 10–12 developed by the Ministry of Education and Child Care of British Columbia (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022). An overview of each program component’s learning objectives and subcomponents is presented in Table 2.

The digital fluency component aims to provide youth with the skills needed to search and authenticate information online, understand and operate applications, and the basics of computers, data, and data storage. The digital privacy and safety component of this program educates youth about the concept of privacy in their everyday lives and how it relates to using the Internet, the importance of passwords, digital viruses, and identity theft. The ethics and empathy component of the program educates youth about digital citizenship, including their digital identity, digital awareness, and cyberbullying. The ethics and empathy topic also addresses copyright and plagiarism on the internet. The consumer awareness component aims to ensure that youth understand their rights as consumers and how their information is being tracked and shared.

The program has been developed for both paper-based as well as online delivery. The program has also been developed to adapt to various target audiences and geographic locations across Canada (e.g., urban youth, remote Indigenous communities, etc.). The adaptability of the program is primarily through the use of modifiable in-class activities (Fig. 1). Areas throughout the program where real-world examples would be useful to contextualize the information for learners are highlighted (Animikii, 2019). Preliminary examples are provided in the program; however, educators and program coordinators are encouraged to adapt the examples to fit their context and target audience. The full curriculum can be found in the Additional file 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Example of modifiable in-class activities included in the program

Digital literacy assessment tools

A total of 103 articles in MEDLINE and ERIC were identified after removing duplicates, as well as 10,000+ hits in Google Scholar which were reviewed against the inclusion/exclusion criteria as described in the “Methods” section. A total of 18 results across all databases/search engines met the inclusion criteria. Four of the identified digital literacy assessment tools utilized complex software to assess digital literacy and computer skills. The remaining 15 assessment tools measured digital literacy through the use of self-reported questionnaires. A summary of the relevant digital literacy assessment tools is presented in Table 3. While publication years ranged from 2006 to 2023, most articles reviewed were published between 2018 and 2020. While each tool evaluated its own distinct set of indicators, several indicators were commonly found across assessment tools. These indicators included: searching and processing, evaluating digital information, communication using technology, knowledge and understanding of computers and technology, digital safety, and attitudes towards digital literacy.

Table 3 Digital literacy assessment measures

Development of a digital literacy assessment tool

Findings from the environmental scan were used to develop a digital literacy assessment tool to assess change in digital literacy following completion of this program (pre vs. post program implementation. Indicators identified among previously validated measures of digital literacy were used to guide the development of questions specific to the key digital literacy topics covered in the program. A 15-item assessment tool consisting 4–5 questions specific to each module in the program was developed. Topics assessed from each module included: (1) Digital fluency: searching and processing, authenticating information, computing, and the cloud; (2) Digital security and privacy: data sharing, passwords, data collection, digital viruses, and identity theft; (3) Ethics and empathy: digital identity, harassment and cyberbullying, copyright, and plagiarizing; (4) Consumer awareness: phishing, terms of service, and digital advertising. In addition to module-specific questions, a brief baseline questionnaire was included to gather information regarding youth demographics as well as their internet access and usage, communication, and social networking patterns. The final measure adapted version can be found in the Additional file 1.


Digital literacy has become increasingly important to navigate the complexities of a digital world, particularly among youth, and can be considered an essential skill to function in the twenty-first century (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2020; Richardson et al., 2022). This study aimed to create a digital literacy program tailored for youth in Canada, as well as an assessment tool to enable evaluation of digital literacy levels pre- and post-program implementation to identify existing competencies and disparities in digital literacy levels. To date, there is no national program which has been adopted for diverse youth across the country, which creates challenges for measurement and evaluation of digital literacy levels over time. The focus on youth populations was deliberate, because although youth are generally considered to possess a higher digital quotient (Keach, 2014), their dependence on digital platforms for everyday tasks places them at potentially increased risk of misinformation, identity theft, and cyberbullying (Silveira et al., 2022).

While general digital literacy skills programs are a necessary component of national strategies (Medhurst et al., 2023), it is important to recognize that vulnerable subgroups of youth may require targeted digital literacy programs that address key gaps or challenges in order to minimize inequities (Vassilakopoulou & Hustad, 2023). Similar successful initiatives have been implemented in the United States (Drazich et al., 2021), with a strong emphasis on the inclusion of low-income populations, as well as in Indonesia, where digital literacy models have placed a specific focus on women who may be at increased risk of gender bias, specifically in the workplace (Kusumawardani et al., 2022). While access and use of the internet and digital tools by youth in the western world is near universal (Donelle et al., 2021; Secretariat & Secretariat, n.d.; Żerebecki & Opree, 2022), there are variations of digital literacy across jurisdictions and sociodemographic groups (Bandura & Leal, 2022; Hadziristic, 2017; Human Rights Council, 2023). Acknowledging these variations, and taking a targeted approach to program design, we focused on developing a digital literacy program to address current gaps in Canadian digital literacy curricula.

Our study found a range of programs across Canada dedicated to improving digital literacy among youth. The majority of these programs focused on equipping youth with computer science and data science skills such as coding data analytics, and development of AI in order to foster an understanding of the impact of technology on everyday life. The practical, hands-on experience provided by many of these programs aims to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While skills-based programs are critical for youth to navigate an increasingly digital world, a key limitation of many of the existing programs appears to be the prioritization of technical skills over critical concepts related to acceptable online behavior, such as ethics, data ownership, safety, and privacy. This is problematic, as many youth may not understand the implications of the risks associated with digital connectivity, while they might be able to develop STEM skills. As a result, youth may not appreciate the broader context of the complexities of digital technology, particularly in navigating online resources, which makes them susceptible to misinformation (Human Rights Council, 2023; Nan et al., 2022). Teaching youth how to identify and evaluate trustworthy sources of information, as well as how to differentiate between fact and opinion, can help them navigate the world of digital media with greater confidence, accuracy, and nuance (Hämäläinen et al., 2021; Magis-Weinberg et al., 2021).

Among the reviewed programs, the “Use, Understand, Create” initiative (Media Smarts, 2022) took a more holistic lens as it addressed these broader concepts of digital literacy (e.g., ethics, privacy, community engagement, and media literacy) in addition to digital skills. The Media Smarts team developed a comprehensive framework providing educators with guidance on how to incorporate these complex skills and topics into the classroom. While this program covers key aspects of digital literacy, the program is structured as classroom resources and lesson plans for educators, which requires specific training and skills to implement effectively—a potential implementation challenge. Flexibility in program delivery is a crucial consideration for appropriate implementation as well as uptake by youth (Nascimbeni & Vosloo, 2019; Oostermeijer et al., 2022). By ensuring that individuals with varying levels of training (i.e., educators with formal training to parents with limited technological experience) can successfully implement the program, our digital literacy program can be adopted in a range of settings due its flexibility and accessibility.

Despite the breadth of digital literacy curricula identified by our environmental scan, the majority of programs did not demonstrate flexibility in terms of mode of delivery and administration. This ability to adapt is especially important for improving the uptake, usability, and sustainability of digital literacy programs among youth, particularly as technology and the associated risks are constantly evolving (Nascimbeni & Vosloo, 2019). Based on the strengths and limitations of existing curricula, we developed a user-friendly program which could be delivered not only by educators in schools, but also by parents or other adults who could aid youth in understanding and applying the module content at home and/or other public settings (i.e., community centers). To ensure ongoing relevance of the program content, each module uses specific examples, which program administrators can tailor to their target audience to appeal to demographic diversity, geographic location, cultural relevance, or recent incidents based on the latest technological developments. For example, with recent advancements in AI (Bohr & Memarzadeh, 2020; Collins et al., 2021; Vinuesa et al., 2020), it is critical for youth to understand its applications in everyday life, potential benefits, as well as associated risks by including topics such as AI-driven advertising on social media which may use browser history data to push targeted ads (Bohr & Memarzadeh, 2020; Davenport et al., 2020). Another aspect of this adaptability is the format of delivery, as the digital literacy program can be delivered in-person, online, or via a smartphone-based app—further increasing the usability and sustainability of the content.

In addition to tailored examples and interactive content, a distinguishing factor of this digital literacy program is the emphasis on data sovereignty. Data sovereignty refers to meaningful control or ownership of one’s data (Bhawra et al., 2021; Hudson et al., 2023). Many smartphone-based apps and digital platforms unethically collect consumer data, leaving consumers with little to no control of how their data is used, stored, or repurposed (Anom, 2022; Hemker et al., 2021). This is especially problematic among communities which have been historically colonized, including racialized and Indigenous Peoples (Hudson et al., 2023), whose personal information has often been misused particularly in the medical field (Goodman et al., 2017; Smye et al., 2023; Wylie & McConkey, 2019). Research indicates that users are more inclined to interact with and share data on online platforms that prioritize user control over their own data and place a strong emphasis on privacy (Prince, 2018). As a result, it is critical for consumers to be aware of their rights to data privacy and ownership, thus this digital literacy program emphasizes the control over data and connected concepts including consent and self-determination. By connecting digital privacy and safety to data sovereignty, the program empowers youth to understand their rights and make informed decisions about the data they share.

The impact of this digital literacy program will depend on several factors, including the implementation strategy, as well as broader contextual factors. Key considerations for implementation include: (i) setting (i.e., in your community, is this program best delivered in a school, community center, or other organization as part of extracurricular programming?), (ii) mode of administration (i.e., is it most feasible to deliver this program in-person or adapt for delivery online or via a mobile app?), and (iii) stakeholders (i.e., who is best suited to deliver this program in your community – educators, parents, etc.?). Other contextual factors that need to be considered include available resources for administration and promotion of the program. While we found a range of resources and programming for digital literacy, there was little evidence of program evaluation (at least publicly available reports), which is an important factor in assessing the overall impact, design, and delivery of these programs (Reddy et al., 2023). Hence, we developed a digital literacy assessment tool to assess changes in literacy levels between pre- and post-program implementation. This tool will enable quantifying changes in digital literacy levels within a population both prior to and following program implementation. For example, individual-level change (i.e., specific improvements across module topic areas) can be empirically determined using statistical tests such as paired T-tests, which thereby allows program administrators and evaluators to determine the extent and type of impact the digital literacy program is having within a population.

Strengths and limitations

This study makes an important contribution to both the literature, as well as resources to practically apply and evaluate digital literacy among youth. The cross-disciplinary nature of this topic required flexibility in the search strategy, thus an environmental scan and literature review were selected as the primary methods to enable review of relevant organizational websites, grey literature, and reference lists as deemed relevant. However, it is possible that some relevant digital literacy programs and/or assessment tools may not have been captured by our search strategy, particularly given the geographic exclusion criteria limiting our search to Canadian programs and English language articles. Moreover, programs or curricula that did not explicitly frame the content as promoting ‘digital literacy’—but may have focused on related content such as data security—were likely also not captured by our search. While the developed digital literacy program and assessment toolkit is specific to address current gaps in Canada, both of these resources can be applied and/or adapted by other jurisdictions.


It is evident that digital literacy is a critical life skill for navigating today’s digital world, and therefore requires dedicated educational strategies to ensure that youth are equipped with the skills to maximize its benefits while mitigating potential risks. Based on existing evidence and informed by foundational frameworks such as the UNESCO Digital Literacy Global Framework, this study developed a comprehensive digital literacy framework and assessment tool which could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of program implementation in a variety of settings, ranging from community centres to schools.

Given the growing importance of digital competencies, a youth-focused program and assessment tool are crucial for understanding and addressing digital literacy among this vulnerable cohort. While our study uncovered several promising programs and tools, it was evident that many lacked the flexibility and adaptability necessary to implement across varied settings. Our program’s adaptability allows for customization to various sociodemographic target groups, including culturally diverse and geographically remote communities. Each module uses specific examples which can be tailored by program administrators for their target audience to appeal to demographic diversity or recent concerns (i.e., web-based scams, specific data privacy issue in a community), as well as the latest technological developments. Moreover, the corresponding assessment tool is necessary for ongoing evaluation and to enable ongoing improvements to digital literacy curricula for diverse populations of youth. Future work in this area will include a formal evaluation of both the newly developed digital literacy program and the assessment tool among Canadian populations. Additional research is required focusing on the development of a comprehensive global digital literacy program, which can be further adapted to specific jurisdictions and other vulnerable groups such as seniors. Overall, implementing digital literacy programs can better prepare youth for an increasingly digital world, while minimizing potential risks associated with technology use.

Availability of data and materials

All referenced digital literacy programs and assessment tools used to develop the current manuscript have been cited and summarized in the included data summary tables.



Education Resources Information Center


Artificial intelligence


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics


United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization


Sustainable Development Goal


Not reported


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The authors would like to thank Taniya Uruthirakumar for her help with data abstraction and creation of summary tables, as well as Nadine Elsahli for her support in collating this manuscript. Thank you to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) for supporting our digital health research programs and digital literacy initiatives.


This research was supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program (TRK).

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JB and TRK conceptualized this manuscript, MCB conducted the environmental scan and literature review, and MCB, JB and TRK conducted a review of all shortlisted programs and assessment tools, including creation of the final digital literacy program and assessment tool categories. All authors contributed to writing the full draft, reviewing, and approving the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Tarun Reddy Katapally.

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Supplementary Information

Additional file 1:

1. A tailored digital literacy program for youth. 2. A digital literacy assessment measure for youth.

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Buchan, M.C., Bhawra, J. & Katapally, T.R. Navigating the digital world: development of an evidence-based digital literacy program and assessment tool for youth. Smart Learn. Environ. 11, 8 (2024).

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