Digital skills vs. digital capabilities

Understanding the difference and why you need both

Often used interchangeably, here is a quick explanation on the difference between the terms digital skills and digital capabilities.

Digital skills – also called IT skills – refers to the ability to use different devices such as a smartphone or laptop. Digital capabilities is a combination of these skills as well as having the confidence and understanding to allow you to thrive in a digital society.

For example, one digital skill is knowing how to open up an email. A digital capability would be knowing how to recognise a spam email and being confident in the best way to delete it and avoid spam in the future. Another similar term to digital capabilities you may have heard is digital literacy. Jisc uses this definition:

“Digital capability is the term we use to describe the skills and attitudes that individuals and organisations need if they are to thrive in today’s world.”

So, you may be wondering if the distinction matters. Will the people hiring you care whether you have digital skills or digital capabilities? It is true that the terms are often used differently depending on the context and background of those describing them. Often people focus on adding a list of specific digital skills to their CVs and online profiles. While this can be helpful in getting a client or employer to notice you, it is not enough to be able to achieve long-term success. It is important that as you set goals for your personal and career development that you seek to improve your digital capabilities. Don’t stop once you have completed a course, watched a video, or received a certificate: find ways to begin practicing your new skills and learning practical and safe ways to enhance your experience. This might be joining an online community or experimenting with a personal project. 

In other words, digital capabilities are not just about learning how to use a specific tool or software, but understanding it’s context in the real world. This is the approach that will allow you to maximise your experience in a digital society. 

The University of Kent has launched a new Digital Capabilities service to offer staff and students the opportunity to discover, access, and utilise the full breadth and depth of digital tools available to support their learning, teaching and research.

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