Perspectives on Media Literacy II: it’s not just for the kids!

Note: This short blog post is written and published as part of my participation in the LiDA104 open micro-course on Critical Media Literacy and Associated Skills. It is a continuation on my previous post on media literacy where I analyzed two of its definitions.

Picture of a handheld camera with Facebook Live sticker
We can all be media creators

Talking about media literacy evokes the same ideas that many people have when talking about education: it is just for kids.  This is not a new narrative nor a matter of personal opinion (although there is some that). Just to be sure, I did a quick search on Google Trends comparing the terms “andragogy” vs “pedagogy” vs “adult education” vs “school education”. The latter was by far the most popular term, in the US and around the world. Pedagogy and Adult Education are almost on par, whilst “andragogy” is left far below on the popularity contest:

Google trends graphic showing the number of times people have searched the terms school education, adult education, pedagogy and andragogy
School Education wins over Adult Education. Pedagogy wins over Andragogy.


Unreliable as it is, this quick search dives us deep into what people are looking for when they search about education online. Pedagogy and school education are both more popular terms than andragogy and adult education (quick note: the WordPress editor marks me ‘andragogy’ as an incorrect word, figure that!).

Most experts believe that media literacy should be a lifelong approach. I have no quote for that, but I believe it. Countries and communities should tackle media education on all age groups, not only kids. Literature focused on adult education is already scarcer than K-12 education, and media literacy is not the exception. Media literacy in the adults is under-talked and under-discussed (and many other ‘unders‘).

After a not-so-quick search online, I have crafted this small table pointing out five issues or potentials of media literacy education in the youth and adult population. Take a look:

Youth Adults
Because we learn to consume media since we are toddlers, media use and media content can blur the barriers between childhood, youth and mature audiences”. Renee Hobbes argues that acquiring multimedia communication skills is crucial to “engage in the civic life of the community“.
Children and youth audiences are constantly exposed to age inappropriate media such as sexualization, violence, bullying, marketing of unhealthy food, alcohol and tobacco, “and unhealthy body images and gender stereotyping”. And could contribute to normalize or aggravate these issues. Media Education is part of every citizen’s basic entitlement to freedom of expression and their right to access information. And it is crucial in building and sustaining a democracy.
Media Literacy today is less about protecting kids and more about empowering them so that they can take full advantage of all the new media landscape offers”. Another issue with adult media literacy education is the amount of sources available to parents. “Few resources are available to help [them] support the development of their children’s media literacy skills”.
Popular Culture no longer no longer should be trivialized in the classroom.  Analyzing the media produced by mainstream culture “allows students to engage in constructive discussion in the classroom, […] they give students the tools to critically analyze, reflect, and question the media”. Whilst print media stimulates only one of our senses, “entertainment media such as movies and television are a combination of moving visuals, sounds, and words that combine in facilitating meaning”. The smoother the message is conveyed, the harder it is to evaluate it objectively.
Media production allows each students to have an equal and democratic voice, this arms students with the rare opportunity to challenge established rules of social interaction and power relations by asking instead of answering questions”. Unfortunately, access to the Internet does not always translate into reduced inequality gaps. Due to low media literacy levels on adults “increasing
internet penetration serves to exacerbate rather than reduce inequalities”. Media Literacy is a key step to profit from all the benefits the web can offer.

This list is not extensive, of course. And I would argue that most issues, solutions and possibilities related to media literacy affect both groups similarly. Superficially, civic engagement and democratic freedom might seem more relevant to those with the legal ability to vote, but this is not entirely true. Civic education starts from a very young age and democratic freedom permeates the daily life of everyone living in a democratic country, regardless of age. The same could  be said about the digital divide between natives and immigrants (a framework that becomes increasingly obsolete as digital media becomes harder to analyze and evaluate). No longer do ‘digital natives’ have an ability to navigate safely the modern media landscape, and ‘digital immigrants’ don’t necessarily suck at it either. Media Literacy is needed for both groups, for all ages.

At the end of the day, media literacy has sociological implications. It’s promotion or dismissal will directly impact any individual from any sector of the population. Age-specific issues should be raised whenever we are working with one group or another. Age-appropriate content should be part of a K-12 media literacy program. The ability to find trustworthy information to make an electoral decision should  be part of any adult literacy effort.

In a review of research literature for media literacy, Sonia Livingston et al. from the Department of Media and Communication at London School of Economics and Political Science highlight that media literacy “can be said to serve three key purposes“. It contributes to:

  1. democracy participation and active citizenship;
  2. the knowledge economy, competitiveness and choice; and
  3. lifelong learning, cultural expression and personal fulfillment

No one I know is exempted from any of these needs.


Thanks for joining!


1 Comment

  1. Good reflections and perspectives on Media literacy. I look forward to reading more and hope that you will continue with the cohort offering notwithstanding the delayed start!


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