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The Changing Dynamics of Media Literacy in K-12 Education

By · Dec 1, 2021 · 3 min read

The Changing Dynamics of Media Literacy in K-12 Education

Not only have today’s students never used a chalkboard in the classroom, but today’s teachers have never used them either! Yes – things have changed dramatically in teaching in the last 20 years. 

The concept of literacy, as originally taught in K-12 schools, used to be about making sense of letters – linking them together in writing to make words, and then putting words together to make sentences. And because our culture was based on, and our lives lived primarily around the written word, this made sense.  

Education Has Changed Forever

Now, children (and adults) live their lives through screens more than ever. Whether you view that as good or bad, it is a fact. The myriad of images, videos, posts, and articles that we are all exposed to on a daily basis, require a specific set of literacy skills of their own in order to make sense of them. Social media and the web require us to understand the nuance of grammar, punctuation, and unwritten rules as much as any other language. The language of media calls on educators and parents to think of literacy – and education –  in a whole new way.

Historically, schools have been a place for children to learn from teachers and be tested through examinations. However as knowledge has become more accessible to all, this type of teaching has become less relevant.

Over 30 years ago, communications theorist David Berlo pointed out a somewhat serendipitous state of knowledge in modern society. He asserted that whilst …’it no longer is possible to store within the human brain all of the information that a human needs…’, it is also ‘no longer is necessary to store within the human brain all of the information that humans need; we are obsolete as a memory bank.’ His conclusion was that ‘…education needs to be geared toward the handling of data rather than the accumulation of data.

If this is the case, then the teacher’s role should now be one of guidance and direction rather than lecturing – helping students to assess, analyze and process knowledge. Without this subtle change in teaching, we risk not equipping children with the appropriate skills to excel in the world after high school and college. 

A study by the American Diploma Project found that earning a high school diploma no longer necessarily means that we have the skills required to succeed in the workplace. The report calls for national standards to ensure that there are clear guidelines for schools on what needs to be done to deliver the skills that are demanded from graduates in the workplace. These standards should be updated regularly, and subject to change just as life is. 

The study is key in demonstrating the strong link that should exist between the classroom and real life. Employers now require specific skills from graduates that schools and colleges need to encourage: critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating with, and understanding the opinions of others.

The Importance of Political Media Literacy

Whilst some media literacy is now taught in many schools, it is time to think of political media literacy as a way of teaching and not just another checkbox exercise. There is more to the subject than making children aware of media stereotypes, online bullying and fake news. Whilst these are all key parts of media literacy, they should not be the entire picture. 

Educators should look towards our Media Literacy Education Platform as the starting point of their commitment to delivering high-class media literacy training in their schools. This can be used as a launchpad to further develop their pledge to equip children with the interpersonal, social, and strategic-thinking skills they need to thrive in the modern world. 

Life in the 21st century requires of our children a skill set that has changed drastically in the last 40 years. The notion of literacy must be expanded beyond the traditional ideas of reading and writing, to encompass thinking and communicating in the media age. We cannot risk education being so far removed from reality that we send our young adults out into the world ill-equipped to deal with what the world demands of them.

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