Core Principles of Media Literacy Education

Glossary of Terms

This glossary is a living document that will no doubt change as media literacy evolves. For some especially complex entries, additional resources for educators have been provided. We hope to continue adding to these suggested resources as much as possible, and we welcome resource submissions from our community to help support all educators.


A prejudice or leaning—conscious or unconscious—that may influence judgments in an unfair manner.


The practice of banning, removing, restricting access or deleting messages or materials.


A sense of belonging and expression of public identity through awareness of and participation in community and civic happenings.


Relating to the role and responsibilities of a person in regards to social and political structures.

Codes and Conventions

Different mediums rely on features and techniques unique to that medium to convey meaning. These codes and conventions can include technical features (for example, camera movement and lighting in a horror film) and symbolic codes (for example, raised eyebrows in a graphic novel to convey surprise or skepticism). Using the conventions of a particular medium increases the likelihood that the audience will perceive the medium as intended.  

See: Module 4: Languages in Media and Information from Unesco.
Code and convention | English Conceptual Learning

Cognitive Awareness

Understanding of the mental processes that occur as the brain experiences information.

Co-learning Pedagogies

Teaching pedagogies that position the educator as a facilitator and the learner as a co-designer in the educational experience. These pedagogies disrupt the traditional educational hierarchy of “sage on the stage” and instead emphasize environments where learning is reciprocal between teachers and learners.


Media messages are the result of myriad decisions media creators must make in creating a message as well as the values, techniques, environments, and structures that shape or motivate those decisions.


An approach to teaching premised on appreciating and facilitating how learners construct knowledge and do not passively take in information. Learners incorporate new knowledge into their pre-existing ideas about the world through reflection and critical thinking.

See: Constructivism – Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Teaching Transformation – University at Buffalo
See: Project Look Sharp’s Constructivist Approach

Critical Inquiry

Gathering and analyzing ideas, messages, information, and assumptions from multiple and diverse perspectives to further well-reasoned understanding and to produce new ideas and questions.

Critical Media Literacy

An inquiry-based media literacy practice concerned specifically with critically examining structures, systems, ideologies, representations, and power.

See: Kellner and Share’s Critical Media Literacy Framework 


The application and integration of multiple academic disciplines simultaneously.

Cultural Institutions

Organizations and systems focused on preserving or promoting culture through knowledge creation, interpretation, and dissemination.


Entities including Individuals, organizations, and platforms that help deliver media content to the public.

Ecomedia literacy

The examination of how technological developments and media production impact living systems and the physical environment.

See: The Journal of Media Literacy – Ecomedia Literacy Issue – International Council for Media Literacy


Justice and fairness in creating equal outcomes for all, especially for minoritized, marginalized, and underserved groups.

Democratic Society

A society that guarantees fundamental rights to freedom of expression, including a free press, religion, voting, and representation and protects the dignity and equal rights of each person through systems of checks and balances.

Digital Literacy

A subset of media literacy that focuses on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to understand how digital tools interact with and impact society.

Historically Marginalized

Groups and communities that have been and may continue to be relegated to the periphery of society and denied full participation in society because of unequal power dynamics in social, political, and cultural systems.

Information Literacy

A set of skills supporting the ability to discern when information is needed, including the ability to find, analyze, evaluate, use, and reflect on the needed information.

See: Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report | Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL)


The ability to encode and decode symbols and to synthesize and analyze messages.


All electronic, digital, and print means used to transmit messages.

Media analysis

The process of using critical inquiry to understand a message. Effective media analysis is based on the following media literacy concepts:

  • All media messages are constructed.
  • Each medium has different characteristics, strengths, and a unique “language” of construction.
  • Media messages are produced for particular purposes.
  • All media messages contain values and points of view.
  • People use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to interpret their own meanings from media messages.
  • Media and media messages can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and the democratic process.

Media Creator

Someone who expresses ideas, values and emotions through media and communication tools.

Media Consumer

Someone who receives, interprets or interacts with media messages through any form of media.

Media Experience

A term used to emphasize the participatory nature of people’s interactions with media. Media experience accounts for both the media text (a media product we wish to examine) and the environment in which a person encounters the text. The environment includes the physical and technological setting in which the media text is encountered, as well as the layered personal and social contexts people bring to their media use.

Media Institutions

Organizations that own and produce media content, media platforms, media distribution channels, or a mix of these.

Media Landscape

The greater media environment in which people communicate, including setting, format, ownership, regulation, and professional practices.

Media Literacy

The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.


A situation in which messages are carried via information or communication tools or technologies instead of through face-to-face communication.


Critical awareness and understanding of one’s thinking and learning processes.

See: Metacognition | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University

Multiple Literacies

A concept emphasizing that people experience and make sense of the world through methods beyond traditional reading and writing. Different modes of communication—visual, audio, linguistic, spatial and gestural—require their own unique and intentional literacy practices and applications.

See: UNESCO glossary for multiple literacies.

Participatory Culture

We use this term to invoke a collaborative media environment in which there are low barriers to entry and engagement, and in which expression and creation can lead to positive social connections.

See: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One) — Pop Junctions


How media texts portray groups, communities, experiences, and social issues, especially in regards to identity and stereotyping.  

See: Media Representation – Media & News Literacy – Research Guides at James Madison University
See: Introduction – What is Representation? – GCSE Media Studies Revision – BBC Bitesize

Skepticism v. Cynicism

Media literacy education emphasizes being skeptical and not cynical of media. Learners who are skeptical question their media experiences, while learners who are cynical doubt that anything could be valuable, eligible, accurate or trustworthy.

See: Exploring Media Literacy Education as a Tool for Mitigating Truth Decay | RAND
See: Can Media Literacy Backfire? | MediaSmarts

Social Justice

Social justice is the ongoing effort to end systems that discriminate or devalue any person or group. Social justice efforts aim to create and sustain a society in which all people are valued, where social and civic participation is possible for all people because all people have full human and civil rights.

See: John Lewis Institute for Social Justice

Social-Emotional Literacy

Social-emotional literacy often falls under categories of social-emotional learning (SEL). Both social-emotional literacy and social-emotional learning focus on developing healthy identities by helping learners manage emotions and make positive social connections.

See: What Does the Research Say? – CASEL
See: Defining Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) | NC DPI


A person’s principles or standards of behavior, or their personal regard for what is deserving of importance or worth.

Additional Media Literacy Resources