It may sound absurd to hear this in 2022, in the middle of the information technology and digitization era, but the problem of illiteracy worldwide is far from over.

In fact, it is estimated that, as of today, almost 17% of the world’s adult population still cannot read or write. On the other hand, 122 million young people worldwide are unable to read and write. Added to this, in the case of both adults and young people who are illiterate today, the majority are women or girls.

It is needless to say that illiteracy, especially at a young age, represents a huge obstacle to personal fulfilment and is, in general, a predictor of poor personal and professional success.

Similarly, it would seem easy to think that, on the other hand, those who possess a certain amount of schooling and the ability to read, write and calculate are always able to use these basic skills for the construction of their own personality or, in general, for their own fulfilment. In reality, this is not always true for many factors, one of which has become widespread in recent years, spreading thanks precisely to the intrinsic characteristics of the new media (social media in primis): we are talking about functional illiteracy.


Wanting to well define the concept, we can identify functional illiteracy as: “the condition of a person who is unable to understand, evaluate, use and get involved in written texts in order to actively intervene in society, to achieve their goals and to develop their knowledge and potential“.

Or again “Functional illiteracy is defined as the difficulty that adult subjects perfectly able to read, write and do calculations manifest in understanding the meaning of texts and quantities (from newspaper articles to bills to public administration communications) related to everyday and working life and in using information in written form.” According to Skills Matter, a 2013-2015 PIAAC-OECD survey, Italy has the sad record in Europe, along with Spain, with 28% functional illiteracy, second only to Turkey and its 47%. In the Scandinavian countries and Denmark, the average is 9%.

Obviously, much is being done in recent years to combat the spread of illiteracy (functional and non-functional) and to minimise the risks involved. One of the solutions that would seem to have the best chance of success seems to be to exploit, especially in the case of adults, continuing education and in particular the tool of e-learning.

When we speak of e-learning, we are referring to a form of distance learning mediated by technology.

The term e-learning was coined in the late 1990s by American Elliott Masie, who described it as ‘the way network technology designs, distributes, selects, administers and expands training’.

E-learning therefore allows traditional learning systems to be enriched using digital devices.

But why choose e-learning in particular?

E-learning has all the potential to support continuing education and training:

  • It stimulates people to use the internet, smartphone, tablet or computer in a different way than going on social networks;
  • It offers playful methods of learning through gamification and simulations, helping people with reading and writing difficulties to understand real situations and make decisions;
  • Gives the possibility to enjoy the same content in different ways: text, video, audio;
  • It distributes the cognitive load that could hinder the learning of employees no longer used to studying, by breaking down the topics to be learned into micro-contents;
  • Encourages proactivity and self-learning by giving trainees the possibility to choose what to learn, when, where and for how long;
  • Helps track training needs before, during and after training with detailed statistics;
  • Makes corporate compliance more engaging and stimulating with blended, social, live learning formulas.

To fight the spread of phenomena related to functional illiteracy, but in general in all its forms, is a fundamental aspect of forming autonomous individuals capable of informing themselves and making decisions in an informed manner.

From the perspective of using e-learning as a tool for action, technology must not be an obstacle or an element of difficulty in any way; on the contrary, it must be understood as a means of simplifying and building autonomy and personal growth.

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