Media Literacy: A Foundational Skill for Democracy in the 21st Century

Tessa Jolls & Michele Johnsen

Volume 69, Issue 5, 1379-1408

The current focus on the validity, credibility, and trustworthiness of media and information is urgent and global. In the past ten to twenty years, the information landscape has fundamentally changed due to an exponential increase in access to information consumption and production. Meanwhile, the role of traditional filters and gatekeepers that monitor accuracy and balance has been substantially reduced. This transformation has given rise to an unprecedented power shift in the way information is produced, consumed, distributed, trusted, and valued. On one hand, empowered citizens can now learn, participate, share, and express themselves as never before. On the other, abuses such as unintended spread of misinformation, disinformation campaigns by malicious actors, and misuse of personal information have become rampant, and citizens must navigate a complex new media landscape without traditionally trusted resources. The challenge for democracies is to find ways to preserve the freedoms that come with more access to information while minimizing the threats that go along with them.

Modern education’s role in this is to enable students to live, learn, discern, and thrive in a diverse, global media culture, both online and offline. With content readily at hand, education must emphasize information process skills as central to teaching and learning. Media literacy offers empowerment through education and an opportunity to equip all citizens with the skills they need to become lifelong learners who are maximally prepared to navigate and leverage the power of media for their own benefit and that of others. Through media literacy education, students internalize process skillsheuristicsthat become automatic filtering systems to apply to any media content, anywhere, anytime. This approach is compatible with the mobility that most people enjoy through their mobile devices and enables citizens to be better informed participants in today’s media culture. Media literacy practices and pedagogy can be consistent, replicable, measurable and scalable globally, providing an evidence-based methodology for critical thinking, in both the consumption and production of media.

Media literacy provides a pathway to appropriate education for the 21st century. The time is now to prepare all citizens to be effective risk managers, efficient organizers of information, wise consumers, responsible content producers and active participants.

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