Promoting media literacy education


Today when we speak of literate individuals we must consider a child’s abilities to read and write not only using print media but also the vast array of media that the huge electronic and digital industry is now making readily accessible to all of us. Our children must learn to apply to all forms of media the habits of inquiry and skills of expression they will need to become critical thinkers and effective communicators in this 21st century.

It’s very easy these days to find oneself on information overload; how do we teach our children to sort valid and important information from all that is bombarding them daily? Entertainment has been taken to a whole new level, with a myriad of options offering our children many new windows on the world. If you agree with George Gerbner that media are a major socializing force, serving as a major storyteller about our culture ( then it has become more important than ever before that consumers of the entertainment technologies should be taught to use habits of inquiry and critical thinking skills when navigating the vast media landscape before them.


Of course there is little question that the vehicles for expressing one’s voice to family, friends and classmates has also exploded exponentially in the 21st century along with opportunities to now create media pieces that can be shared with all the world. The major question remains as to how our youth will choose to make use of these exciting new vehicles. How will they channel their energies into expressing their own authentic voices about issues and ideas? How will they use these vehicles to express and further develop their own creative talents? These are questions that media literacy educators work diligently to address each day.


The commonly recognized definition of media literacy in North America is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and produce communication in a variety of print and non-print formats."

Important skills needed:

In order to initiate a media experience, a first critical step is that the user must learn how to access this medium (e.g. how the camera or computer operates). This step comes with a strong cautionary note however since for some literacy efforts may end at this point. Please remember that many toddlers are able to turn on the TV; they’re also fascinated with their parents’ smart phones and tablets and enjoy pressing the buttons. It can be really fun to watch them as they explore these devices however learning how to press a button is only the first step. The child has figured out how to access that particular form of media but how much does he/she really understand (or in the case of an older child, try to figure out) about what he finds, that is what’s being shown or said?

In order to take this next important step, it now becomes necessary to take a closer look at a media piece and start trying to answer some questions such as: What is this piece trying to tell us? Is there some message that we’re supposed to be getting from this? Who created this message and what is its purpose? How is this message presented; what techniques are used to attract and hold attention? What lifestyles, values and points of view are shown here? How might different people interpret what they’re seeing and/or hearing here? What hasn’t been presented here? What hasn’t been included; what more might we want or need to know?


Evaluation involves a judgment of the quality or worth of the media selection. Youth should be able to justify their stand or position, offering their criteria for arriving at this conclusion. In order to reach this decision, the individual may ask him or herself such questions as: How well was this done? Were the techniques that were used considered effective? Did the creator succeed in achieving his/her goal? Does the student have any suggestions for improving this work? What would students say about this work to their peers and why?

Today’s youth are communicating by creating media in a variety of forms. Learning to speak and write may take on a whole new meaning depending on the type of media we’re discussing. For example, producing a video that expresses a young person’s own voice in a creative way requires special skills that must be carefully developed. From composing a posting for a blog or developing a webpage to writing a song, rap, poem or essay to appear online and potentially sharing it with the world, learning the skills of communication has never been more important to our youth than it is today!

Key Concepts

Two key areas of consideration to media educators:

  • Media are constructions.
  • Audiences negotiate meaning.

Media are constructions.
Media represent the actual event or story being told... Directors determine how stories will be portrayed, what parts will be shown, what will be edited out. Even so called “reality TV” is a construction. Reporters select which stories to tell, what details to include and how to tell them. There is always a person or team of people with their own biases behind every product that has constructed that reality.

  • Media are representations of the real world and help shape that world.
    Media are not the real world but somebody's "take" on the world communicated to the audience. Even though this representation is limited, the audience is left to form its understanding of the world based on that representation; this can result in shaping the audience’s sense of reality.

  • Beliefs and values are embedded in all media messages.
    Behind all media is a person or a team of people making decisions. These people have ideologies and values that are reflected in the product they produce. It may be as subtle as which camera angle to shoot the protest from or what order to tell the facts. It may also be as obvious as sexual, political, or religious values determining what part of the story to tell or what parts to omit.

  • Commercial interests drive many media products.
    Even as we continue to enjoy the ever increasing opportunities the internet provides us to express our personal views to a large audience, commercial interests still maintain a major presence in the media landscape. The bottom line of our mainstream media is that they must make money.

    Huge media conglomerates still wield tremendous power in determining the types of media that are readily available to the public. Points of view expressed are too often driven by the source of funding making a particular media work possible. The constant search for sources of revenue and the business model driving our major media outlets has direct impact on the types of media readily available through our mainstream media outlets. It should be noted that social media sites are not immune to the influence of the ever important business model. Even in cases where the media content is not made for profit, the ways in which content is distributed is often run with profit in mind. Once successful, many of these sites start considering how to monetize their success, attracting advertisers, etc. This of course will have implications for those making use of these sites.

  • All media forms have identifiable techniques.
    The making of media has become complex. The form and content are connected. Each medium has unique aesthetics, codes, conventions, and techniques. Students can learn how media are made and what makes a quality product in order to evaluate their effectiveness and impact.

Audiences negotiate meaning.
Never forget the audience! Audience is a key consideration in the study of media.
  • Target audience
    When examining any piece of media, encourage your students to consider the audience this piece was intended to reach. Is it intended to reach parents or grandparents or is it for teens or younger children? Be sure to encourage them to consider the clues that led them to their decision.

  • How might different people view this same media piece?
    When considering the different possible audience members, think about such factors as age, culture, experiences, and education. How might different people in the audience view the ideas, information or points of view being expressed here? What’s missing (e.g. information, points of view, images, people represented) that might have been important to different members of the audience? Remember different audiences will negotiate media messages differently.