The twenty-first century is a media saturated, technologically dependent, and globally connected world

Lukanne Lowe


 “The twenty-first century is a media saturated, technologically dependent, and globally connected world” (Kellner & Share, 2007, p.3). However, most education has not kept up with advances in technology or education research. Due to the changes in technology, we need to acquire critical media literacy skills so that students from a young age up until university can adequately read media messages so that they can be active citizens and participants in society. Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012) states that “the bigger question is thus not whether media education will develop but what type of media education will dominate in schools and other learning environments” (p.12).  Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012) argue that the approach taken to build a media literacy programme must unite the “robust tradition of media analysis and production that has been the hallmark of media education for the past forty years with the emerging domain of new communication technologies in education” (p.14). It should focus on elements that are participatory, collaborative, and creative. Bruce et al. (2015) emphasises the point that media literacy is a fundamental twenty-first century human right. “Taking this position seriously means that schools and initial teacher education (ITE) programmes must prepare today’s children, youth, and teachers to effectively engage with an increasingly digital, networked, and media- saturated world” (Bruce et al. 2015, p. 1). There are many different forms of literacy that 21st century learners need to acquire: critical literacy, critical information literacy, critical media literacy and critical social media literacy. As consumers and sometimes producers of media, young people learn a great deal about the workings of media and about the world around them. “Media education takes what may appear natural in the media saturated environment and challenges learners to see through the facets of media that may have been uncritically absorbed” (Hoechsmann and Poyntz, 2012, p.15).

As individuals we are often not aware of the media forms around us that are influencing us and we are being educated and positioned by media culture, as “its pedagogy is frequently invisible and is absorbed unconsciously” (Kellner and Share, 2007, p.4). This is the reason why we need to teach and learn the different forms of literacy so that we can be aware of how media constructs meanings and impose their messages.

Critical media literacy expands the notion of literacy to include different forms of mass communication and popular culture as well as deepens the potential of education to critically analyze re lationships between media and audiences, information and power. It involves cultivating skills in analyzing media codes and conventions, abilities to criticize stereotypes, dominant values, and ideologies, and competencies to interpret the multiple meanings and messages generated by media texts. Media literacy helps people to discriminate and evaluate media content, to critically dissect media forms, to investigate media effects and uses, to use media intelligently, and to construct alternative media. Kellner and Share (2007)

Bruce et al. (2015) focus on the different forms of literacy that need to be taught to 21st century learners.

Critical Literacy – They explain critical literacy in a way that helped me gain a clearer understanding. They explain that like guided reading it requires direct modelling and teaching of critical literacy practices, questions that can be asked irrespective of year level and curriculum area are: “Who created this text?, for whom is it designed?, with what in mind?, with what authority?, how are we being positioned?, who is present or absent, privileged or marginalised?, and what is the effect on us, on them, on me?” (p.3). These questioned can be simplified for the younger years and be developed into more in depth questions for the older year levels.

Critical information literacy – are skills that are in need to be taught due to the “explosion of information available online in an anywhere-anytime environment” (p.3). The goal is to teach students to be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Bruce et al. (2015) add that there has been little evidence of a coherent approach to developing information literacy skills in schools, especially in the secondary schools who found that students used a limited range of search strategies, neither critiqued nor checked the reliability of online information, and primarily used a cut-and-paste reporting tactic.

Critical media literacy – Bruce et al. (2015) explains that in contrast to critical information literacy’s which focus on libraries, archives, and non-news information providers, critical media literacy takes the news media and popular culture as its focus. It has a strong focus on representations and stereotypes and people as consumers. It questions: What view of the world is the text presenting?, what different interpretations of the text are possible?, and who produces and who benefits from the text?  Bruce et al. (2015) argue that students can engage with such questions from a very early age.

Critical social media literacy –  is another form of literacy that Bruce et al. (2015) focus on. A critical social media literacy approach would focus on “emphasising empowerment through collaboration and participation and developing skills to recognise and respond to people and views that are different from their own” (p. 6). It is important to educate students so that there is knowledge behind what and where they post on social media.

I understand the implications and difficulties that come with teaching this topic but the benefits surpass any struggle. I would hope that more teachers and upcoming teachers will be educated in universities in this area so that they can pass on their knowledge to the younger generation. Bruce et al (2015) explain that teachers need to be educated in this area and it is important to encourage and support teachers to not only their skills but their confidence as well. When Bruce et al (2015) explain that critical media literacy is a ‘fundamental human right’, they are targeting this towards everyone and not just the students whose teachers are educated and skilled in this area. It should be mandatory for all teachers to teach this area not just the individual advocates in schools who believe it is important. UNESCO has a great handbook for teachers, parents and students that informs them about media literacy. I would encourage you to have a look and tell me what you think


Bruce, T., Ladbrook, J., Villers, H., Gaerlan-Price, E., & Hoben, N. (in press, 2015). Media and information literacy: A 21st Century human right? In J. Morgan (Ed.), 21st Century curriculum. (pp. xx) Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland.

Hoechsmann, M., & Poyntz, S. R. (2012). Media literacies: A critical introduction. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781444344158 [Read: Chapter 1: What is media literacy?, pp. 1-16; Chapter 8: Critical citizenship and media literacy futures, pp. 191-202]

Kellner, D., & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy, democracy, and the reconstruction of education. In D. Macedo & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 3-23). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2006). Media Education: A kit for teachers, students, parents and professionals. Retrieved from

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