What Is Media Literacy?

Media Literacy

is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of approaches that

• develop critical thinking skills around all types of media,
• build an understanding of how media messages shape our culture and society,
• give people tools to advocate for a changed media system.

Media Literacy


• Digital Literacy
• Information Literacy
• News Literacy
• Visual Literacy
• Digital Citizenship

Digital Literacy

requires technical fluency, but also the ability to:

• make informed decisions about what we do and encounter online

• recognize how networked technology affects our behavior and our perceptions
• create and effectively communicate with digital media tools

• and more!

SOURCE: Media Smarts

Information Literacy

is a survival skill
in the Information Age.

Rather than drowning in the abundance of information that floods their lives, information literate people know how to find, evaluate, and use information effectively to solve a particular problem or make a decision.

SOURCE: American Library Association

News Literacy

helps us discern verified information from spin, opinion and propaganda,

and produce news accurately, fairly and responsibly.

SOURCE: ​News Literacy Project​

Images are powerful and today they are a primary source of our information. With new technologies, almost anyone can create and share visual media.

Visual Literacy

allows us to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media such as: photographs, videos, illustrations, drawings, maps, diagrams, and advertisements.

Source: American Library Association

Digital Citizenship

Powerful new technologies connect students to the world in new ways that can be both positive and negative. Digital Citizenship refers to the norms of safe and responsible technology use.

• and more!

Source: Cyberwise

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In the 21st century, literacy means media literacy

Our children live in a world of powerful 24/7 media. There has been a drastic increase in the amount of time children and youth are spending with media over the last decade. Children ages 8 to 18 now spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day with entertainment media outside of school, according to recent research.

Used well, the media can entertain and inform our children in positive ways. However, since most children aren’t taught to use media thoughtfully, many media messages contribute to public health issues such as obesity, bullying and aggression, low self-esteem, depression, negative body image, risky sexual behavior, and substance abuse, among other problems.

Media Literacy education – which teaches students to apply critical thinking to media messages and to use media to create their own messages – is a key 21st century skill. Media Literacy is critical to the health and well-being of America’s children, as well as to their future participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.

What is the MLN definition of
Media Literacy?

Media Literacy is the ability to:
  • Decode media messages.
  • Assess the influence of those messages on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Create media thoughtfully and conscientiously.

What can Media Literacy do for us?

Media Literacy:
  • Expands the concept of literacy, as today’s messages come in many forms and literacy can no longer refer simply to the ability to read and write.
  • Offers a solution to public health issues, such as body image issues and substance use, exacerbated by toxic media messages.
  • Empowers all people to engage in a global media environment.

Media Literacy: A Video

A tool for advocates

This video introduces the concept of media literacy as a key that unlocks meaning behind the messages that we see, and allows us to be more thoughtful and deliberate as we create our own messages – such as those we create and share on social media.

In Their Own Words

Media Literacy Efforts and Advocates

Canada has required schools to teach media literacy for many years.

Ontario Ministry of Education definition:

Media Literacy is concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase the students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the-media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality. Media Literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians:

  • Work with local schools to implement comprehensive media-education programs that deal with important public health issues.
  • Work with the US Department of Education to support the creation and implementation of media-education curricula for school children.

American Psychological Association

In its resolution on violence in the media, the American Psychological Association supports the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based programs to educate children and youth regarding means for critically viewing, processing, and evaluating video and film portrayals of both aggressive and prosocial behaviors.

The APA sexualization task force recommends that the APA advocate for funding to support the development and implementation by public agencies and private organizations of media literacy programs, including interactive media, in schools that combat sexualization and objectification.

Making the Connection: Media Literacy and Health

Research on media health effects and media literacy as an intervention strategy.