Why Teach Digital Media Literacy?

Today's definition of literacy is more than reading and writing. In order to be functionally literate in our media-saturated world, children and young people—in fact, all of us—have to be able to read the messages that daily inform us, entertain us and sell to us. Media literacy education, therefore, must begin long before children become print literate to prepare them to critically engage with the media they consume.

Kids also now start using networked digital technology in early childhood – often before they can read [1] – and of course consume huge amounts of media in those years as well. These tools have an enormous potential to empower youth to make media and to be engaged citizens, as well as to express themselves, connect with their friends and find information – but they can be misused, and carry many of the same concerns as traditional media.

Media occupy a central role in our society. The question is not whether we should study digital media literacy, but whether we can afford not to.

Here are fifteen good reasons to teach digital media literacy:

  1. It prepares students to grow up in an ever-changing world of technology “where media are omnipresent.”[2] As one Canadian teacher put it, “This is our next generation and they’re going to have these tools in their hand and they’re going to be using it every day.”[3]     
  2. Digital media literacy is highly motivating. It starts from interests and knowledge that students already have. Teachers often report that students are enthusiastic about media education, and both the quantity and quality of student writing goes up when they write about media.
  3. Digital media literacy encourages young people to question, evaluate, understand and appreciate their multimedia culture. It teaches them to become active, engaged media consumers and users.
  4. With most Canadian students turning first to the internet for research, media education is essential in teaching young people to navigate the wide-open world of online information, to weigh claims and sources, to recognize fallacies and bad faith arguments, to find reliable information and understand issues of plagiarism and copyright.
  5. Media education brings the world into the classroom, giving immediacy and relevance to traditional subjects. It serves as a perfect bridge for subject integration and interdisciplinary studies.
  6. Media education embodies and furthers current pedagogy, which emphasizes student-centred learning, the accommodation of students’ individual learning needs, and the analysis and management – rather than just the simple storing – of information.
  7. Media education is grounded in the sound pedagogical approach of starting learning where kids are at. All media – music, comics, television, video games, the internet and even ads – are a part of life that all kids enjoy. Media create a shared environment and are, therefore, catalysts for learning.
  8. Media education lets students be the experts. Because students often know more about the media and digital tools being studied than their teachers do, students can take a leadership role while teachers guide them in applying critical thinking to the content.
  9. Media education encourages young people to use multimedia tools creatively, a strategy that contributes to “understanding by doing” and prepares them for a workforce that increasingly demands the use of sophisticated forms of communication.
  10. In a society concerned about growing youth apathy to the political process, media education engages young people in “real-world” issues. It helps young people to see themselves as active citizens and potential contributors to public debate.
  11. In a diverse and pluralistic society, the study of media helps youth understand how media portrayals can influence how we view different groups in society: it deepens young people’s understanding of diversity, identity and difference.
  12. Digital media literacy helps young people’s personal growth and social development by exploring the connections between popular culture – music, fashion, television programming, movies and advertising – and their attitudes, lifestyle choices and self-image.
  13. Digital media literacy helps children critique media representation, teaching them to distinguish between reality and fantasy as they compare media violence and real-life violence, media heroes and real-life heroes, and media role models and real-life roles and expectations.
  14. Media creation provides students with many different ways to achieve and to showcase their learning. It fosters collaboration skills and can provide opportunities for students who have difficulty demonstrating their learning in traditional forms like essays and lab reports.
  15. Media education involves virtually all areas of the curriculum. Whether they are involved in making media, analyzing it or using digital tools, students make extensive use of language, research, planning and communications skills. By addressing issues such as data privacy, digital media literacy can connect to areas of curriculum  such as mathematics.


[1] Brisson-Boivin, Kara. (2018). “The Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families.” MediaSmarts. Ottawa. 

[2] (1983) The Grünwald Declaration on Media Education, Educational Media International, 20:3, 26, DOI: 10.1080/09523988308549128

[3] Zielke, N. (2017). Dynamic Elementary Education: Teaching Digital and Media Literacy.