USE, UNDERSTAND & ENGAGE: A Digital Media Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools - Overview

What exactly is digital media literacy, and how can we ensure that students are learning the skills they need in school? MediaSmarts classifies competencies for digital media literacy according to four main principles: access, use, understand and engage. These principles form the basis for our media literacy framework.

Young Canadians need to be able to critically, effectively and responsibly access, use, understand and engage with media of all kinds. Based on our research on digital media literacy education in Canada, USE, UNDERSTAND & ENGAGE provides a road map for teaching these skills in Canadian schools. The framework draws on nine framework topics of digital media literacy (listed in the grid below) and provides teachers with supporting lessons and interactive resources that are linked to curriculum outcomes for every province and territory. The home and school connection is supported by parent tip sheets that are linked to from each resource.

USE, UNDERSTAND & ENGAGE: A Digital Media Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools (K-12) was made possible by financial contributions from CIRA through the .CA Community Investment Program.

Download a full printable PDF Version

Reading Media

The most fundamental digital media literacy topic is learning to “read” the media. Resources in this category teach students how media are made: how different media and genres tell stories and communicate meaning, such as camera angles and editing in film, panel composition and transitions in comics, as well as the affordances and defaults of different networked media.

Media Representation

Media shape how we see reality — whether it's made by professional creators or by our friends and family. This category looks at how media represent reality and how different audiences respond to those representations, covering topics such as stereotyping, how our views of the world and ourselves are shaped by media, how advertising messages manipulate us, and how we represent ourselves on social media.

Ethics and Empathy

This category addresses students’ social-emotional skills and empathy towards others as well as their ability to make ethical decisions in digital environments when dealing with issues such as cyberbullying, sharing other people’s content and accessing music and video.


Privacy and Security

This includes essential skills for managing students’ privacy, reputation and security online such as making good decisions about sharing their own content, understanding data collection techniques, protecting themselves from malware and other software threats, and being aware of their digital footprint.


Community Engagement

Resources in this category teach students about their rights as citizens and consumers and empower them to influence positive social norms in online spaces and to speak out as active, engaged citizens. Students also learn about industry regulatory and self-regulatory bodies and codes, communicating with media makers or industry bodies, and engaging in advocacy through their own media making.


Media Health

Media health skills include analyzing media messages about health, diet, drugs and alcohol, and sexuality; managing screen time and balancing students’ online and offline lives; managing online identity issues; dealing with issues relating to digital media, body image and sexuality; and understanding the differences between healthy and unhealthy online relationships.


Consumer Awareness

These skills allow students to navigate highly commercialized online environments. They include recognizing and interpreting advertising, branding and consumerism; reading and understanding the implications of website Terms of Service and privacy policies; and being savvy consumers online. Students also learn about the norms and routines of media industries such as how movies are greenlit and actors are cast, how news outlets decide what stories to cover, and how different media texts are aimed at different audiences.


Finding and Verifying

Students need the skills to effectively search the internet for information they need for personal and school purposes, and then evaluate, authenticate and critique the sources and information they use for school or for personal reasons.


Making and Remixing

Making and Remixing skills enable students to make media and use existing content for their own purposes in ways that respect legal and ethical considerations such as copyright (and with an understanding of their own rights as users and creators) and to use digital platforms to collaborate with others.