What is Media Literacy? NAMLE's Short Answer and a Longer Thought


Originally written and published by AMLA (2001) which is now NAMLE.

The Short Version

Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages. As communication technologies transform society, they impact our understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse cultures, making media literacy an essential life skill for the 21st century.

...And A Broader Definition

Within North America, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms including print and non-print messages. Interdisciplinary by nature, media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surrounds us.

To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel and behave.

Today's information and entertainment technologies communicate to us through a powerful combination of words, images and sounds. As such we need to develop a wider set of literacy skills helping us to both comprehend the messages we receive, and to effectively utilize these tools to design and distribute our own messages. Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills which empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the board room or the voting booth.

Finally, while media literacy does raise critical questions about the impact of media and technology, it is not an anti-media movement. Rather, it represents a coalition of concerned individuals and organizations, including educators, faith-based groups, health care-providers, and citizen and consumer groups, who seek a more enlightened way of understanding our media environment.

Over the years, many definitions and visions of media literacy have been created to reflect different points of view, different approaches and goals, and different audiences. As the field grows, we will post many of these definitions along with their sources.