The YouthLearn Initiative began in 2001 to serve the scores of afterschool educators and classroom instructors seeking relevant, creative materials as well as insight and inspiration on applying the powerful tools of technology and project-based learning in their educational setting. Over the past 15 years, the YouthLearn team has led a range of projects that advance youth media, digital literacy, STEM education, and social-emotional learning in both the U.S. and overseas.
YouthLearn is a project of EDC, an international non-profit organization dedicated to improving education, health, and economic opportunities for people of all ages. Founded in 1958 by MIT researchers and scholars, EDC today has 1,200 employees, working on 250 projects in all states in the U.S. and 22 countries around the world.
What does your organization do and what are your primary goals and main projects?
The YouthLearn team designs projects at the intersection of informal learning, 21st-century literacy, and creative self-expression, putting youth development at the center of our approach. We believe that the most powerful learning occurs through the alchemy of contextual, real-world problem solving and personal experience
The overarching goal of YouthLearn is to transform young people’s learning experiences by:
- Inspiring Exploration and student ownership of learning through inquiry- and project-based approaches.
- Incorporating technology wisely to enhance learning and promote youth development.
- Focusing on collaboration in program design and learning experiences and including families and communities in these efforts.
- Engaging youth in projects that are purposeful and intended to have an impact, connected to issues that they care about.
Project examples and feature stories that share our team’s approach to learning are found at the YouthLearn website.
What makes your organization stand out? Describe something unique about your organization?
The YouthLearn team has a distinguished record developing innovative training models in collaboration with a broad range of private and public funders and community partners, such as the Adobe Foundation, National Science Foundation, Massachusetts Department of Education, Mott Foundation, McCormick Foundation, and Noyce Foundation. Working closely with our funders and partners, our team has developed robust, nuanced programs, responsive to the needs of local communities and their young people, and is recognized for building relationships and cultivating rich opportunities for collaboration across settings and time zones. Further, we organized and hosted dynamic face-to-face gatherings and international summits for groups of youth, educators, thought leaders, researchers, practitioners, and funders. We receive feedback that these experiences open doors to new thinking and new opportunities, and are truly life-changing for some participants.
Are there recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE partners?
The recently revamped YouthLearn website offers abundant resources to help educators use project-based learning to tap young people’s creativity and elevate inquiry as a tool of empowerment – and all are open sources and free to use.
Also, in collaboration with the Adobe Foundation, the YouthLearn team created training, curriculum, and a robust community of practice in service of the mission of Adobe Youth Voices to empower young people to harness creativity and digital skills to create change in their lives and their communities. The curriculum and training materials are freely available to any educator interested in guiding youth to build original media works on issues they care about. See the Youth Media Collection at the Adobe Education Exchange for resources and stories from the program.
Describe the connection between the work of your organization and media literacy?
Our team supports educators in fostering youth agency and empowerment through powerful learning experiences, such as creative media making. Media literacy provides the foundation for youth media practice. The more young people know about the intention behind various media and how to interpret content, the more they’ll begin to use technology as a tool for their self-expression and personal development.
To truly be effective consumers and producers of media, young people, especially those in marginalized communities, need to be literate in media methods, and in this information age, digital and information literacy are essential if one hopes to be a full citizen in our global community. YouthLearn develops innovative training and curriculum that promotes information-literate young people, skilled in both the analysis and creation of content.
Why is media literacy important to you?
While there has been considerable progress in providing underserved populations access to technology, less attention is given to ensuring youth develop a deeper understanding of the forces that impact the flow of information. Media literacy turns the passive act of receiving a media message into action through the practice of decoding, reflecting, questioning, and ultimately creating media. It encompasses the ability to recognize propaganda and bias in the news, understand the impact of media ownership and sponsorship and identify stereotypes and misrepresentations of gender, race, and class.
Commercial and entertainment content target young people as consumers, yet many youths feel that mainstream media does not reflect their lives as they truly live them. Their peers and communities are often portrayed negatively and stereotyped, and news stories about youth are rarely more than crime reports. When youth fail to find themselves reflected in the media, there is an opportunity to discuss feelings of isolation and address issues of disparity, bias, class, and equity.
Media-literate young people define their relationship to media content rather than let the content dictate their place in society.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your organization, your mission, or your staff?
YouthLearn staff recently took on the task of leading the National Center
on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that low-income children have increased access to high-quality learning experiences. This compelling new work offers an even greater opportunity for us to influence the ways that millions of children are cared for during out-of-school time across our country.