GTCU Digital Competency Framework

General Technology Competency and Use Framework: Conceptualizing and Surveying Digital Competency

    • Francois Desjardins, PhD


    • Roland vanOostveen, PhD


    • Todd J.B. Blayone, M.A.

      Todd J.B. Blayone

    • Elizabeth A. Childs, PhD

      Elizabeth A.

    • Olena Mykhailenko, PhD

      Olena Mykhailenko

    • Anne Louise Davidson



Authored by Dr. François Desjardins, the General Technology Competency and Use (GTCU) framework conceptualizes digital-technology abilities of individuals in terms of their self-reported: 1) device preferences and contexts of use, and 2) experience and confidence along four dimensions of activity: Technical (GTCU-T), Social (GTCU-S), Informational (GTCU-I) and Epistemological (GTCU-E). The last three dimensions are explicitly aligned with the IEEE definition of computer hardware: “physical equipment used to process (GTCU-E), store (GTCU-I), or transmit (GTCU-S) computer programs or data.” The GTCU offers researchers and educators a parsimonious model with demonstrated effectiveness in surveying teachers and students in higher education for purposes of studying technology adoption, digital trends and general preparedness for technology-enhanced learning. The GTCU overlaps conceptually and operationally with other academic, digital-abilities frameworks like that of Van Deursen and Van Dijk (The Netherlands), Eshet (Israel) and Ferrari (EU). Two unique characteristics of the GTCU are: 1) its Epistemological dimension, which relates to computational competencies of high importance to professional “power users” in creative, scientific, technological and information-intensive domains, and 2) its proprietary data-collection instrument, an online application that provides users with a rich and visually engaging GTCU profile.

[Keywords: GTCU, general technology competency and use, digital abilities, digital competence, technology competence, online learning, technology use in education, students, teachers]


Research Problem

Digital technology permeates all aspects of human activity and requires everyone to adapt constantly to this evolving “reality.” Because education always tries to remain relevant, digital technology has been introduced in many ways and for a variety of purposes. Again, digital technology required everyone in this field to adapt. However, the specific nature of his adaptation remained unclear. What should learners learn? What should teachers teach? What should teachers know?

Official GTCU Conceptual Summary Publication (Desjardins, 2015)

Official GTCU Conceptual Publication (Desjardins, 2015)

These basic questions gave rise to the development of many models and lists of learning objectives, skills and competencies from within the field of education, for every group of people involved in the educational process. The original objective of this particular project was, and remains, to develop a model of technological competencies that is consistent with other current educational theories, and completely applicable in any discipline or area of human activity outside of education, and therefore not limited to a pedagogical perspective. The premise is simple: if education is a social project, it should be consistent with all human activity, and so should our view of digital technology.

Other Models

Many existing models and inventories or sets of standards were consulted both in French and in English literature, (i.e.: ISTE Standards; B2i and the C2i certification, [France]) to explore the overall validity of the model. So far, it appears that although there are some variations, all major models are converging on a very similar set of groupings as no matter what the starting perspective was, inevitably, the basic designed functions of the technology itself tend to emerge as framing the general purposes or uses we can make of them. What remains to be seen of course, is with the development of ever newer and different digital technologies, will this model of four orders remain relevant?

Competency Theories

Based on the works of scholars such as McClellan (1973), Gillet, (1986) and LeBoterf (1999), a competency is considered here to be a set or an array of theoretical and practical knowledge, skills and values that can be readily called upon and put into action in a situation and context that is different from prior situations. Although training may provide initial necessary elements, such competency is considered to develop with varied experience, and with the ability and confidence of the individual to adapt.

Four Orders of Technological Competency

(Desjardins, Lacasse, Bélair, 2001; Desjardins, 2005)

GTCU, KNEU, Kyiv, Ukraine

The uses of digital technology described below imply the development of Four Orders of Competency, either as a prerequisite to making effective and efficient use of the technology, or as a result of using the technology for said purposes.

Technical Order of Competency: An array of practical knowledge generally developed through experience with the technology and applied as usable methods to interact effectively and efficiently with the technological object itself. This language, and these commands and skills constitute the knowledge from which a user will select, using specific criteria derived from the analysis of a situation, to plan and use the technological object. Although these technical competencies are defined separately in this model, they are essential in any use of the technology, regardless of the intent.

Social Order of Competency: An array of practical knowledge generally developed by reflecting on communications experiences and centered on a genuine concern for the needs of others, in order to develop and use a strategy of thinking about, and acting with, others online, that is safe, respectful, viable and ethical.

Informational Order of Competency: An array of theoretical and practical knowledge generally developed by reflecting on results of a variety of document gathering activities in order to extract usable methods for the aggregation, identification, selection, organization and interpretation of information.

Epistemological Order of Competency: An array of theoretical and practical knowledge about a specific discipline or domain generally developed through formal studies or experience and applied as usable methods to use domain specific digital tools effectively and efficiently. This knowledge, translated into operational methods or schemas is required to assign information processing tasks (computational use) to a digital tool (such as a spreadsheet, a database, a photo or music editing system or any other information processing software, including programming languages and authoring systems), for identifying and solving of problems or for the accomplishment of specified tasks.

Nature of Digital Technology

Digital technology consists of a great variety of “computerized hardware” interconnected in broad networks. IEEE defines computer hardware as: “physical equipment used to process, store, or transmit computer programs or data” (ISO/ IEC 24765:2009 Systems and software engineering vocabulary [IEEE, 2006]).

Uses of Digital Technology

(Desjardins, 2007)

Given the three basic functions that can be performed by the underlying computerized hardware, users can exploit digital technology to:

  1. Interact with other users (Communicational Use: transmit/receive)
  2. Interact with documents (Informational Use: store/ retrieve)
  3. Assign and interact with processes (Computational Use: process programs or data)

GTCU Profile

GTCU, KNEU, Kyiv, Ukraine

Everything we do with digital technology is a reflection of the combination of our intent and the technical possibilities of the tools themselves. In other words, digital technology allows us to interact or communicate with people, store and access information and use the technology as tools to automate virtual or physical processes. As we do this, we develop new skills, new knowledge and new competencies.

The GTCU Profile instrument asks questions regarding these Technical, Communicational, Informational and Computational uses of digital technology and then groups the results along the same lines giving us the following four orders of competency: Technical, Social, Informational and Epistemological.

As we all tend to use technology for different purposes and in different ways, we develop skills and competencies that vary along these four orders. Some of this results from our professional environment, training and work requirements while some of this results from personal interests. The generated graphs using Frequency of Use and Confidence of Use as major indicators of competency reflect these variations and thus illustrate our individual General Technological Competency and Use Profile.

Confidence of use

The whole notion of self-confidence in one’s ability to perform a certain task being a direct influence not only on the personal motivation to act, but also on the motivation to improve, has been widely demonstrated to affect the actual behaviour and performance. As Albert Bandura (1977, 1989, 1994) suggested, this general concept of self-efficacy draws on past experience and performance as well as vicarious experience, social persuasion and emotional state to predispose an individual to perform a task. Confidence of use is therefore considered here to affect motivation that in turn will affect the potential for learning and for improving competency.

Frequency of use

As anyone makes frequent use of any knowledge or skill in response or a variety of problems or to complete different tasks, the different situations encountered will provide a constantly richer set of possible scenarios where solutions may work, or not. It is the breadth of this body of experience that will proportionally develop the possibilities of recalling an appropriate behaviour or of adapting known solutions for new problems. In addition, it should be noted that as the variety of tools used to perform certain tasks increases, the differences in experiences also increases the level of practical knowledge developed by the user. The relative competency of a user is therefore considered to grow with the breadth and frequency of experience.

Currently, researchers at EILAB are working with a revised version of a self-reporting survey instrument to profile users in terms of their frequency of use of various digital technologies as well as their self-confidence levels when using these.  The instrument has already been used to collect data in a variety of higher education settings and work is progressing on the analysis to explore trends in the use as well as the associated competency and skill development with different groups.