National Survey Finds Most U.S. Adults Have Not Had Media Literacy Education in High School

A recent survey finds that most people did not learn to reflect on media messages in school, and few learned to use media literacy skills when considering science news. In 2022, Media Literacy Now partnered with the Reboot Foundation to include questions regarding exposure to media literacy education in an annual national survey. This year’s survey topic focused on the state of science literacy and its impact on our social and political lives.

In addition to MLN’s findings, Reboot Foundation’s own report found that the survey’s questions on science literacy and critical thinking suggest that deficits in education, both science literacy and media literacy, are associated with belief in discredited conspiracy theories. Survey respondents who reported that they were taught in high school to analyze science news stories are less inclined to believe in discredited conspiracy theories. Education in media literacy in general seemed to give participants the skills and background to better think critically about such circulating theories.

Our Key Findings

For overall findings, research method, and detailed findings and discussion, download the full report, “Science Fictions: Low Science Knowledge and Poor Critical Thinking Are Linked To Conspiracy Beliefs” from The Reboot Foundation’s website.

The Reboot Foundation believes that in order for leaders to chart a path forward, the process must begin with an education that prepares students for the modern media environment and equips them with the skills to understand and evaluate complex concepts in science and technology.

While it is heartening to see some steps taken in this direction in recent years, more new programming, legislation, and curriculum changes at the local level are needed to address this problem.

Helen Lee Bouygues, President of Reboot, Wolf Greenfield

Looking Ahead

“It’s clear from this survey that Americans are lacking key life skills they need to navigate an increasingly complex media environment,” said Erin McNeill, founder and president of Media Literacy Now. “Policy makers must take note and prioritize media literacy education for all students. It’s not just about solving political polarization. People need to understand media systems and have an opportunity to develop skills to analyze messages and think critically about the source and who benefits from messages shared so they can make decisions for themselves and their families, without undue influence and manipulation.”

While it’s encouraging that the majority of survey respondents (84%) said they supported required media literacy education in schools, media literacy remains under-taught in schools. We need to keep making progress on policy initiatives to introduce media literacy education into K-12 schools because it’s urgently needed.

These survey results can be used by media literacy advocates on the local and state levels to help make the case to policymakers that not only is media literacy education not happening in schools, but it’s something that has overwhelming support.

**Forty-three percent of our sample self-reported as female, 56 percent as male, and 1 percent as non-binary. Participants reported ages ranging from 19 to 81, with an average age of 41, and modal age of 31. Sixty-five percent of our participants had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. All participants were located in the United States.

The survey was completed by 541 respondents. The complete set of questions for each survey is available upon request.