We’re living in the Information Age, a time characterized by an overwhelming amount of content from many different media types, some of them not even having existed at the turn of the 20th century. That's why people today need to increase their media and information literacy.

But what exactly do media literacy and information entail? Are they different from social media literacy or digital media literacy? It appears that this topic can get confusing rather quickly!

That’s why we’re here today. This article explores media and information literacy, giving examples of each form and how they differ, and why they're important and needed.

Let’s begin with media literacy.

What Is Media Literacy?

As we explore the media literacy meaning, it will sometimes seem that it’s interchangeable with the meaning of information literacy, but they are two different animals. The Aspen Media Literacy Institute came up with this definition in 1992:

“Media Literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.”

The term is typically used when discussing education and raising media-savvy children in the 21st century.

Medialiteracynow.org offers us an expanded definition more appropriate for today’s media-saturated environment. Media literacy is the ability to:

  • Decode media messages (including the systems in which they exist).
  • Assess the influence of those messages on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Create media thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Additionally, media literacy encompasses ten vital skills:

  • Identifying fake news: This skill involves reading past the headlines, checking the author’s credentials and the date of the news, finding corroborating sources, and identifying biases
  • Using multiple sources: This skill involves checking other sources for the same news story
  • Gauging tone and language: This skill entails developing an ear for credible language
  • Questioning numbers and figures: Numbers need to be scrutinized as much as words do. Where did they come from? How did people arrive at the figures?
  • Understanding images and their effect on the brain: We are a visually oriented species, and we need to teach people how powerful media images can be
  • Cultivating multimedia skills: Media comes in many forms today, and we need to be well-versed in as many of them as possible
  • Recognizing bias: This skill includes confirmation bias, which involves only looking at sources that confirm the views you already have
  • Shaping media ourselves: This skill covers creating rules of engagement and other standards and enforcing them
  • Curating information: So much information, so little time! This skill covers effectively filtering, choosing, organizing, saving, and using information gained from the media
  • Becoming responsible media creators: This skill promotes the creation of relevant, accurate information

Put simply, media literacy is the ability for people to evaluate and analyze messages conveyed through today's media critically and how they impact us.

What Are Examples of Media Literacy?

Here are examples of the kinds of media that people today should cultivate literacy in, to one degree or another:

  • Television
  • Video games
  • Photographs
  • Podcasts
  • Blog posts
  • YouTube videos
  • News-related websites
  • Social media
  • Magazines and newspapers

What Is Information Literacy?

The American Library Association defines information literacy as “…a set of abilities requiring individuals to 'recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.'"

Information literacy requires that people today develop the following skills:

  • Awareness of how to engage with today’s digital world
  • Finding meaning in the information you discover
  • Articulating the kinds of information you need
  • Using information ethically
  • Understanding the role we can play in communicating in the context of our professions
  • Evaluating information in terms of credibility and authority

Additionally, we can identify five components of information literacy:

  • Define: Identify the need, question, or problem
  • Find: Locate, access, and retrieve the information from whatever sources are necessary
  • Evaluate: Assess the information’s credibility. Is it reliable and relevant to your situation?
  • Organize: When we look for information, we are often inundated with material. It needs to be organized and compiled
  • Communicate: Communicate your newfound information to the appropriate audience in a clear, ethical, and legal manner

This Venn diagram, courtesy of Madison College Libraries, shows the position of information literacy in relation to other forms of literacy. Note the overlap with media literacy!

What Are Examples of Information Literacy?

Here are some examples of information literacy skills:

  • Communication: Receiving and relating different types of information, further divided into:
    • Nonverbal
    • Verbal
    • Visual
    • Written
  • Critical Thinking: Evaluating facts to fully understand an issue, problem, or topic and create an effective solution
  • Computer Technology: Using computers/the Internet to find the information and determine its validity
  • Research: Gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information related to a given topic. This skill is further divided into:

The Need for Media Literacy and Information Literacy in Today's World

Look at how life was in the 1920s. Then, people acquired information through just four forms of media: newspapers, magazines, movies, and radio. Perhaps that's what folks mean when they say that life was simpler back in "the old days"!

Push the clock ahead an entire century, and the average person in the 2020s has a dizzying array of media sources. Not only do we still have printed media and radio, but that’s also now supplemented by television, videos, podcasts, blogs, specialized websites, text messages, blogs, vlogs, and the 24-hour news cycle.

Furthermore, for good or bad, technology has advanced to such a point that anyone can create content. All that people need is a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone and some means of recording and presenting their thoughts. Unfortunately, not everyone pays attention to accuracy or ethics. However, thanks to the community-building power of the Internet and social media, like-minded people can now gather and organize into groups. It doesn’t matter if their ideas are grossly misguided or outright wrong; when people collect themselves into an organized unit, it implies that they may have a valid point.

Consequently, today’s technological advances have created an environment where we are inundated on all sides by information, both false and true, 24 hours a day. That’s why we need media and information literacy more than ever today. There’s too much to process today, and we not only have to absorb it all, but we must sift through it all to find what’s true and what’s garbage.

The Importance of Media and Information Literacy

John Adams, the second President of the United States, once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." Put another way, as much as we might want to believe otherwise, we can't change reality.

Unfortunately, too many people out there want to do just that. Whether it’s a political position, a belief in the efficacy of vaccines, the existence of conditions such as global warming, or even the state of reality as we know it, there are people on the fringe who will outright deny facts because that information doesn’t jibe with their opinions. What makes this whole situation more frustrating and scarier is that in many cases, we can prove the validity and accuracy of the information.

But that doesn’t matter to some people, who willfully ignore or rationalize specific facts because they don’t like them. And thanks to the Internet and related media, they have the means of expressing these poisonous ideas to impressionable people, misleading them.

That's why we need to ensure that everyone, especially children, becomes proficient with media and information. For example, how many people have thought that a global pandemic was fake news, then got sick and passed away?

Whether we're talking about people's personal lives or a corporation's marketing strategy, it's crucial to have the skills to navigate through the wealth of information out there. Both media and information literacy are essential for all aspects of life, whether personal or professional.

What Are the Differences Between Media and Information Literacy?

There is one massive difference between media and information literacy. Information literacy describes identifying a need for information and then locating, evaluating, and using the data effectively to solve a problem. On the other hand, media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, change, and produce media in many different forms.

Information literacy is more related to library science, while media literacy relates more to media content, industry, and social effects. In addition, information literacy covers where to find and evaluate information and how to use it, while media literacy covers how it works and produces its different forms.

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