The University of Arizona South (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN11 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Pages: 5398-5405
ISBN: 978-84-615-0441-1
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 3rd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2011
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Literacy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2011). It is more traditionally referred to as the ability to read and write, although there are many other literacies in the digital age: media literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy. In lieu of the all or none concept, literacy is also regarded as the level which one reached in his or her acquisition of reading and writing skills (UNESCO, 2008). The ability to read and understand a simple text, and to use and transmit written information of everyday life (UNESCO, 2008) will be the basis of the term literacy within this paper. The Association of College and Research Libraries (2011) captures this in part via its Information Literacy definition, as a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information effectively. The overall rate of global literacy rates have increased from 76% to 82% in adults 15 years of age and older (UNESCO, 2008). Coinciding with the increase in literacy rates is an increase in global online learning. Between 2002 and 2009 the online enrollment in degree-granting higher-education institutions in the USA alone has increased from 9.6% to 29.3% of the total enrollment (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Although the discourse and media use varies among online courses, there is typically more reliance upon written text analysis than oral dialogue in online courses. Lliteracy is not a concern pertaining to students enrolled in higher-education institutions, but their level of literacy skills, especially reading, must be considered in student performance outcomes in online courses. In addition, students who are enrolled in courses taught in his/her non-primary language may experience similar outcomes as the first language students with low literacy skills.

This paper explores the affect literacy level and taking an online course in a second language has upon students’ perceptions of online courses, and their overall academic progress. One particular concept, The Matthew Effect, purports that an individual’s reduced reading ability will impact the uptake of information in other subject areas (Stanovich, 1986). Data gathered from a Hispanic Serving Institution (HIS) university that offers significant courses via online delivery due to its outreach mission, and from traditional face-to-face courses will be examined and discussed for the impact that literacy skill deficiency and second language learner status has upon successful learning in online courses.


Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2010). Class differences: Online education in the United States (2010). Retrieved from

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2011). Information literacy defined. Retrieved from

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2011). Definition of literacy. Retrieved from

Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360-407.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2008). International literacy statistics: A review of concepts, methodology, and current data. Retrieved from
On-line, Learning, Literacy, Second-Language.