Research provides tools for understanding media literacy, related phenomena and for its development. However, making use of research is not straightforward. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for media literacy professionals to develop a research-based approach.
Media literacy is studied in various disciplines and from different perspectives. There is also a great need for reliable knowledge. For example, research can provide ways to understand media-related phenomena such as artificial intelligence or disinformation: what kind of media culture do people live in and how?
In addition, research can help to understand media literacy and education, such as teaching, guidance, communication and the production of content such as learning materials. Research-based approaches increase the reliability and usability of content.
Reliable information is also important for wider objectives such as strengthening democracy and participation in societies.
This guide introduces the research-based approach to media literacy work, its rationale, methods and promotion. Based on the work of more than 30 experts at the Finnish Media Education Forum 2023, the guide is aimed at professionals from different sectors who are interested in developing media literacy work in their own practice or in the wider professional community. The contents are intended to support the planning of your own activities and are freely applicable.
Lay the foundations for sustainable practice
Reliable knowledge and its application is the basis for all media literacy action.
Research helps to distinguish knowledge from conjecture and to promote the relevance of work. While differing views can be an important starting point for producing knowledge, relying on researched knowledge ensures greater reliability. Researched knowledge enables professionals to assess and transcend subjective everyday experiences, which may be individual, biased or inaccurate. Reliable information helps to avoid false generalisations. It builds confidence, offers a range of perspectives and confirms or refutes assumptions.
In a fast-paced world, it is not always possible to delve deeply into all relevant issues. The research-based approach strengthens confidence in the knowledge that can be applied, as research guarantees that a problem, phenomenon, issue or topic has been studied in depth and over a long period of time. This enables understanding and action on complex issues. By basing action on researched knowledge, a more diverse understanding of the subject can be promoted, while at the same time avoiding the dissemination of inaccurate information.
To provide guidelines for action
Research-based approach in practice and management is important to support guidance of work. A research-based approach can help to make judgements that can help to do the relevant things in a sensible way. It also provides perspectives and answers on a range of issues that can be used to make recommendations and suggestions for improvement.
Research evidence provides a backbone for guiding the work. It can help to justify decisions and actions. In this way, decisions such as resource allocation and focus on specific issues are based on reliable information, not just on general perceptions, guesses, personal feelings and intuitions. Research helps to distinguish between knowledge and misconceptions. In media education, research data can help to understand, for example, learning processes, dialogue and the context of education. For example, when it comes to social media, research is important because there are many beliefs and assumptions about it.
Helping to develop activities
The research-based approach also provides a constructive approach to developing and critically examining your own activities.
The use of research increases the impact of action and gives depth to practical work. Up-to-date information can add interest and help to clarify and better understand issues. Personal and community experience alone may be limited, but research can provide new insights and broaden perspectives. Research can help to improve policies and respond better to different needs. A research-based approach helps to identify and take better account of perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked. It also helps to identify needs, gaps, shortcomings and gaps in your own work, so that you can better respond to challenges and problems.
Strengthening democratic society
Research-based knowledge belongs to all. The use of reliable information, knowledge and a research-based approach also strengthens participation in society and thus democracy.
- What is the relevance of research-based knowledge and research-based approach to your work?
- What is your professional community’s view on research and research-based practice?
Media educators can use research in many ways. It can be related to planning, justifying, preparing, applying for funding, actual work and reporting and communicating on it.
In practice, a research-based approach can mean:
- following, monitoring and compiling up-to-date research knowledge,
- identifying and responding to information needs, e.g. information searches,
- critically assessing, comparing and verifying source materials,
- applying research-based knowledge through planning,
- shared discussions, learning and knowledge sharing,
- consultation, collaboration and participation in working groups,
- exploration of the studies,
- evaluation and development of own activities,
- awareness raising and communication.
Collaboration with researchers at different levels and scales can strengthen the research based practice. This can be in the form of large-scale research and development projects or individual discussions, planning and consultations. Research can be put into practice, for example through training for professionals and learning materials. It is important to open up the sources used and make them visible in the final products, such as manuals, websites and presentations.
A research-based approaches are not simple solutions but can be strengthened by designing the work and creating the favorable conditions. It is important to create and organise time to learn about research and apply the knowledge. Finding and curating research publications is useful not only for one’s own work but also for others, if they are shared in various contexts. Research-based work provides a framework and structure for action and a starting point for a wide range of media education activities.
- What can research-based approaches mean for your work and your community?
- What research topics are the most relevant to your work?
By developing your own activities
A research-based approach cannot be taken for granted but media education professionals in different fields have many ways to promote it.
Everyone in the work community has opportunities to promote research-based approaches. It is supported by, among other things, sufficient time and a supportive environment, skills and atmosphere.
Managers and leaders in particular have an important role to play in developing the conditions that support research-based approaches in media literacy work, but each individual can contribute from his or her own perspective. The space for a research-based approach can be created by allowing sufficient time to follow, learn about, reflect on and discuss current research. Time for discussion and shared knowledge development can be created, for example, by organising regular reading circles. It is also important to emphasise and require a research-based approach. It should be made visible in the policies, documents and plans that support the work.
Skills and competences to support the use of research knowledge can be strengthened by encouraging study and learning, attending training courses and creating the conditions for keeping up to date, for example as part of everyday work.
Research-based learning can be encouraged and inspired, for example through shared discussions, public appreciation and presenting information in an accessible way. Research knowledge can be made visible in the outputs of the work, such as the various final products, resources and materials produced. Promoting a research-based approach will strengthen the research-friendly atmosphere in wider society.
Communication plays an important role in promoting research-based activities.
It is important to strengthen the accessibility of research knowledge by lowering the threshold. Research knowledge must be made visible and easily understandable. Clear and accessible language helps to reach a wide range of people. Communication should use channels that reach those interested in media literacy, such as organisational social media accounts, groups and networks, and newsletters. Research-based approaches can be taken into account in the communication plans.
Research-based knowledge can be published openly on portals and services that reach relevant target groups. In addition to the results themselves, it is also useful to communicate research-based practices, highlight lessons learned and describe what can be achieved by using research.
Collaboration can help to promote research-based approaches. Collaboration can be done directly with researchers, but it is also important to collaborate within your own working community and with different stakeholders. Collaboration increases opportunities for interaction, helps to raise awareness of research findings and reinforces understanding of the need for new knowledge. Cooperation and dialogue with research institutes and higher education establishes the basis for the production and accessibility of new and relevant knowledge.
The space and opportunities for collaboration can be created, for example, by participating in joint events, inviting researchers to participate or providing opportunities for thesis authors. Broader cooperative projects with research organisations and researchers also promote research-based work.
- How can you promote research-based practice in your own work?
- What strengths support the use of research-based knowledge in your professional community?
Media Literacy in Finland website. The website of the National Audiovisual Institute compiles studies, surveys and reports on media literacy and media education. You can also report on the studies yourself.
Strategic Research Council. The Strategic Research Council (STN) in Finland funds high quality science that is relevant and impactful for society. Research is used to find concrete solutions to major challenges that require a multidisciplinary approach. On the website you will find solutions from the Strategic Research Council’s programmes and their projects on science.
REPOSE. Renewed perspectives on the use of research in education (REPOSE) aims to provide new analytical and methodological perspectives to support researchers and practitioners in using research in education.
- Beyond the research-practice gap: Constructing epistemic relations in teacher education. A conceptual article exploring the relationship between research and professional practice in teacher education. The article focuses on the conceptual framework and the relationship between practice and practice.