What is Media Literacy? - Definition, Importance & Examples

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  • 0:00 Media Literacy in Our Lives
  • 0:59 The Importance of…
  • 1:50 Deciphering Media
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Anne Marie Orr

Anne Marie is an experienced educator of 15+ years, has a Master's Degree in Education and was designated a Master Teacher for State of Ohio.

In this lesson, we will explore the role and purpose of media literacy in society in history and today. Examples of media, mass media communications and media literacy will be explained and evaluated in order to form an understanding of why media literacy is critically important for the 21st century.

Media Literacy in Our Lives

Just what is media? And how does it differ from mass media? Media is the means of communication that reaches or influences people, such as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines. Mass media does the exact same, but with a goal of reaching much larger numbers of people. Both play an enormous role in our lives, despite the fact that media consumption often goes easily unnoticed. But what to do with all this information? That's where media literacy comes in!

Media literacy involves the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media communication has become quite a force in society today, allowing for consumption of loads of information. And today's digital consumers are masters of media multitasking, which involves simultaneous contact with two or more other forms of media. As consumers of media, it is important to have the ability to understand, translate, and use the information we receive.

The Importance of Digital Literacy in our Lives

Think about it. On an average day, how much media do you consume? What are the messages being sent to you? How do they influence your thinking or even your decisions?

Media literacy is actually not a new phenomenon. Starting with the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, media has developed as a form of communication beyond the interpersonal. Newspapers and magazines were a media force in the Industrial Era.

Continual advances in technology expose us to more and more media. The use of technology and digital literacy go hand in hand. Technology allows for greater expansion of mass media outlets, starting with the Internet, but we also must consider Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the list goes on and on.

There are different purposes for mass communication, including to inform, to amuse, to persuade, and to enlighten.

Deciphering Media

Now that we know what media literacy is and how it is ingrained into our lives, let's talk about how we, as the consumers, can decipher all the messages being sent our way. There are five key questions to ask of any media:

  1. Who created the message that is being sent?
  2. What techniques were used to attract my attention?
  3. How might other people understand or interpret this message differently from me?
  4. Are there any lifestyles, values or points of view that are not represented or are omitted from this message?
  5. Why was this message sent?

By asking these 5 simple questions, you have empowered yourself with media literacy! If you have the necessary awareness of the media, you can analyze the media, reflect on it, and then take action if you decide.

Let's put this to practice and decipher a message. Consider the following advertisement:

Deciphering an advertisement

In many cases it only takes asking the right questions to get to the heart of the matter.

Let's begin:

  1. Who created the message that is being sent? In this case, the message was created to entice you to try the new, simple, perfect latte by the makers of the product.
  2. What techniques were used to attract your attention? Every message has a format and techniques of production. This advertisement uses animated graphics, distinctive lettering, and bright colors to attract attention. The message seems real because it shows a computer screen with the message, as if you were at your personal computer viewing the ad.
  3. How might other people understand or interpret this message differently from me? For those who are not coffee drinkers, this ad may simply be bypassed or overlooked. Or it could entice one to try this new product. For those who already enjoy a latte, the message of a new, simple and perfect option may encourage them to give the product a try.
  4. Are there any lifestyles, values, or points of view that are not represented or are omitted from this message? In this advertisement, the goal is to identify with latte drinkers. The value of a new, simple, and perfect latte is being sold in the message. It is clearly geared to coffee drinkers.
  5. Why was this message sent? The message is sent to encourage viewers to try the new latte. But why? To generate revenue or give the public a much needed caffeine boost? When a product is being sold, it is most likely that a company is attempting to make a profit. However, messages, including advertisements, can also be sent to persuade, incite, amuse, or simply inform.

Using this framework, you not only gain knowledge about the content of media, but perhaps more importantly, you learn and practice the skills needed to navigate your way in a global media culture.

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