What is Information Fluency?

Information fluency is a state of competency in any subject (or set of subjects) which we believe to be a good goal for students to achieve in a class, and for which a class may be designed.┬áThe terms for this model have been chosen carefully. It is information, not digital. Many parts of the information fluency model are analog, or comprised of characteristics for which the digital/analog terminology isn’t germane. It is fluency, not literacy. Digital literacy is the keyboarding and filing skills set of the information age, a sometimes vexing, but essentially solved, problem. Anyone who has learned– or attempted to learn– a foreign language should intuitively understand the distinction between literacy and fluency… with the former, one can get around; with the latter one can express themselves creatively.

Information Fluency is a model that builds on the skills of traditional digital literacy, integrating technology with domain (discipline) specific knowledge, critical thinking, presentation, participation and communication skills. Being fluent connotes understanding.

The Information Fluency Triad



Domain Knowledge

Domain knowledge is the “stuff” we teach. However, this is not limited to discipline specific information and facts, but also:

  • knowledge of information resources such as publications, databases, search tools, web resources, etc.
  • understanding of the community of learners, enthusiasts and professionals in that area
  • tools needed to browse, explore and discover needed information
  • methods for storing, managing, retrieving and sharing

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is something every educator thinks about and probably has a pet definition for. The intent with the Information Fluency model is that critical thinking is represented by the ability to:

  • analyze and evaluate information
  • conceptualize and integrate new learning
  • analogize and create parallels
  • formulate and answer questions use knowledge for problem-solving
  • think tangentially and orthogonally

Most important of all, to be complete critical thinking skills must involve:

  • paying attention to oneself and
  • modifying one’s own behavior to improve understanding and ability.

Presentation and Participation

Presentation and participation represent a trend toward increased emphasis on learning community, both inside and outside the classroom.

Presentation and participation include traditional activities, such as in-class presentations and readings, but also new activities and forums possible due to the affordances of technology, including participation in discussion boards, collaborative activities using tools like wikis and VoiceThreads, blogging and participation in social networks.

Important characteristics of presentation and participation include:

  • the ability to create effective presentations designed for the specific audience using the appropriate media
  • comprehension of context, tone and basic rhetoric
  • knowledge to re-purpose information successfully for use in new contexts
  • a developed capacity for handling, evaluating, and integrating commentary and criticism from others
  • an understanding of the processes and value of self-reflection

How Can I Use Information Fluency in My Class?

The Information Fluency Triad is a helpful lens for assessing student understanding. Students who do not exhibit an ability to work the subject of your course in and between each of the three IFT spheres may be portraying their incomplete understanding of your subject. Depending on where they fail to meet standards, say they seem to have rigorously studied the assigned reading but their presentations are uninspired, the IFT can help you to diagnose where the process has broken down in the students’ process, and how you may go about helping them.

“Mere” Information Proficiency (A Two-Legged Stool)

The three areas of the triad work together to create Information Fluency. As you can see, any combination of just two of them reaches a different, possibly incomplete result– the proverbial two-legged stool:

Domain Knowledge + Critical Thinking: Isolated, Untested InsightIsolated-Insight

One can have great mastery of the resources and information associated with a discipline– what is often referred to as “the content”– and strong critical thinking skills (however one defines them), but without the ability to participate in the communities in which that discipline’s knowledge and wisdom reside and to present clearly, powerfully and persuasively, the value of one’s individual insight is greatly limited. In an increasingly technologically mediated world, opportunities and demands to participate in communities of learning and practice– and to present what one knows (or wants to know) to others– are likewise increasing. Further, our understanding and position is strengthened– together they become resilient– through the processes of presentation and participation, allowing us to deepen our understanding, account for arguments and alternatives, and learn to revise and rethink.

Critical Thinking + Presentation/Participation: Rhetoric & SophistryRHETORIC

Without an adequate and dynamic pool of disciplinary knowledge to draw from, interrogate, and build on, one’s critical thinking and presentation skills are just that– presentation skills. One might be highly polished, skilled at making a point or sending a message, and temporarily convincing, but that message won’t stand up to scrutiny. While there is much to be said for the art of rhetoric, sophistry is ultimately an incomplete and insufficient to be fully-fledged members of a community of learning or practice.

Presentation/Participation + Domain Knowledge: Reporting & ReportageReportage

Critical thinking can be thought of as the set of skills that allows us to do more than merely report (in the literal sense, reporting should be an art that– no matter where one stands on the idea of objectivity– demands as much critical thinking as any other form of creative writing) information and events. The ability to interpret, question, reflect, revise, connect, synthesize, and generate new information and knowledge are only possible if we combine our existing knowledge with the activities that characterize critical thinking.

How Can My Students Use Information Fluency?

A Cycle of Resources, Actions, Activities

Information Fluency isn’t just a theoretical concept, but one which has practical application in any course. It is a lens by which you can evaluate individual outcomes, assessment and activities in your course and the course as a whole. In this diagram we have mapped some common actions and activities to the Information Fluency triad.


The subject of applying the Information Triad as a map for designing course assignments, activities and assignments is continued on The Learning Assessment Cycle page.


About the Author:

Chris is UAF eLearning's Design Team manager and resident Disruptive Technologist with a particular interest in emerging pedagogy, open education, and issues in intellectual property and Fair Use.

This page was last updated on : Dec 16, 2014