Media literacy for adults: New study shines a light to the shade of media education in Finland

Even though media literacy has long tradition in the Finnish society and plenty of work is being carried out, a comprehensive understanding of the overall situation of adult’s media literacy is not yet achieved. Thus, together with the Centre for Cultural Policy Research Cupore we conducted a qualitative interview study to look closer the current situation. Extended abstract of the full study is now published.

Due to a widespread increase in the speed of technological development, changes in study and work culture, polarising hate speech and alternative facts, the importance of media literacy is not difficult to argue for today.

Finland has a long tradition in media education, and its roots can be placed as part of the history of public education. Despite the versatile operations, the perspective of media education has been focused particularly on the media education of children and young people, often leaving adults in the shade in terms of research, systematic plans and practical procedures.

However, the situation has improved in many ways in terms of both research and national policy guidelines.

In the field of research, work such as the extensive research on the media education of elderly people conducted by the University of Lapland has blazed a trail and reinforced the theory base in the field of adult education. Academic discussion has been highlighted at the international level as well. An example of this are the thematic issues of academic journals, which broaden the discussion on media education throughout people’s lives.

In terms of national policies, the media education of adults took some concrete steps forward when the Ministry of Education and Culture published the ‘Media literacy in Finland’ national policy prepared by the National Audiovisual Institute in 2019. The national media education policy cover not only the media education of children and young people, but that of adults as well.

In addition to the field of research and policy, important development work to improve the media literacy of adults has been carried out in Finland across societal sectors. There are plenty of examples in the services provided by liberal adult education providers, libraries and other cultural actors, civil society organisations and businesses, which contribute to providing people with opportunities to develop their media literacy. On the other hand, even though plenty of work is being carried out, a comprehensive understanding of the overall situation is yet to be achieved.

New study provides more understanding

To provide new understanding, together with the Centre for Cultural Policy Research Cupore we conducted a qualitative interview study to look closer the current situation of the adult’s media education in Finland. In the study, the researchers of Cupore interviewed 20 experts working in relation to the themes of media literacy and media education in the different sectors of the Finnish society. You can find the extended abstract of the study (in English) here.

The study relates to three separate but interrelated themes.

  1. A knowledge-based understanding is needed regarding the current status of media literacy work for adults. Experts working in the field can provide accounts of matters such as what kind of challenges are related to their operations and how they could be resolved.
  2. The study helps form a picture of media education operations in relation to already existing structures. With regard to this, attention is paid to what the current focus of the proposed actions in the national media education policy is on and what areas are in danger of being overlooked.
  3. The study broadens the horizon towards the future. It is important to build a basis for shared understanding of what the key actions are that should be focused on in Finland in order to make media education in the coming years as high-quality, comprehensive and systematic as possible for adults as well.

The diversity of media literacy

Media literacy is understood broadly in Finland. Even though media education can thematically cover different topics extensively, it is important to pay attention to concrete actions. From the perspective of planning media education work and co-operation opportunities, it is important that the different parties have a shared view on what perspectives, topics and themes the goals of media education work are linked to.

The study at hand broadens knowledge of what media education perspectives and topics are currently emphasised in media education work and what should be paid more attention to in the future. According to the survey, attention should be paid in particular to critical media literacy and, in terms of user skills, security skills and data control.

Discussion about concepts is important. Based on the study, defining media literacy work as part of an operating strategy can help identify the media educational dimension of an operator’s own work and, on the other hand, allocate a place for it as part of the planning of operations. The themes of media education are also related to other topics and concepts used, such as digital competence and information literacy. Conceptual discussion helps operators understand the relations between concepts and thus find new co-operation opportunities as well.

Implementation of the media education policy

The Finnish media education policy propose various actions that support achieving the main goals. The study helps with collaboration to highlight those actions that media education operations focus on in particular and those that can be overlooked.

The first objective of the policy guidelines is that the media education provided in Finland is comprehensive in terms of its content, perspectives, target groups and geographic distribution. With regard to this, the study indicates that emphasis is placed on the targeting of media education at different groups, open sharing of the results of the operations and the utilisation of the opportunities provided by digitality.

The second objective is that media education in Finland is high-quality, meaningful and non-discriminatory. With regard to developing the quality of media education, the study indicates that operations were carried out on a research basis, in international co-operation, by developing competence and through participation.

The third objective of the media education policy guidelines is related to implementing media education in a systematic and long-term manner. The study indicates that fewer actions related to this objective were implemented compared to procedures related to the other two objectives. The need to develop systematicness was highlighted in the operators’ own activities and the field of media education in general.

Towards high-quality, comprehensive and systematic media education

In order to bring the promotion of media literacy among adults out of the shade and into the mainstream, joint discussion and views on functional solutions are needed. With regard to this, the study also involved seeking concrete operating models, good practices and ideas for key actions in the future that could facilitate promoting the media literacy of adults in a comprehensive, high-quality and systematic manner in accordance with the objectives of the media education policy.

The actions highlighted by experts in the survey can be divided into five areas that are linked to one another. The areas are promoting awareness of media education, coordination and steering, strengthening the research basis, increasing media educational competence and developing financing.

No one party is likely to be able to solve every actions alone, but all can take part in the shared work. The highlighted actions help with finding points to delve into and create a basis for joint discussion. Through the procedures, everyone working with themes related to the media literacy of adults can reflect on how the actions could be related to their own work and its objectives.

KAVI provides support for media education work for adults

Active work to support the media education of adults is being carried out at the National Audiovisual Institute as part of promoting media education in general. We support media literacy work for adults information through means such as producing and compiling, preparing support materials, promoting awareness and competence, coordinating and creating new opportunities for operators to co-operate, network and provide information about their own operations.

The Medialukutaitosuomessa.fi (Medialiteracy.fi) website is currently being updated by compiling research information about Finnish people’s use of media, media literacy and the practice of media education. The website provides operators in the field of media education with an opportunity to provide information about their own projects and operations through guest editorials.

The updated version Mediataitokoulu.fi website (Media literacy school) has been launched in autumn 2021, whereby the contents of the online service will place more emphasis on the development of competence related to the media education of adults as well. The website provides a platform through which operators in the field can publish and share tools and media education materials openly for professionals in the field to use.

At the annual Media Education Forum, the themes of media education for adults will be given visibility in the future as well. The free-of-charge seminar day provides operators with an opportunity to provide information about their own actions, create co-operation opportunities and network. The lectures held at the event are published on KAVI’s Asiaa mediakasvatuksesta (‘Discussing Media Education’) YouTube channel.

The national media education theme week – the Media Literacy Week – also provides operators in the field of media education for adults with an opportunity to co-operate, increase their visibility and provide information about their own campaigns to professionals in various fields.

Social media groups provide a low-threshold platform for networking and information provision. An open group called Aikuisten medialukutaidon edistäminen (‘Promoting the Media Literacy of Adults’) has been established on Facebook for adult media education.

In 2021, we have created and published an online training course on media literacy basics for public administration workers. The training course will expand training opportunities in terms of media literacy at the level of the government and municipalities.

Promoting media literacy is a joint effort. The study at hand has shone a light to the shade of media education. It compiles a range of perspectives to serve as a basis for joint discussion and work in the coming years to reinforce the media education of adults.

Lauri Palsa

Senior Adviser, National Audiovisual Institute