Ii.        definition of mass communication, a.      model of communication is intra or interpersonal, 1.       one sender, one receiver, 2.       return loop is individual, 3.       feedback is usually immediate and specific, b.      changes considerably when applied to media, 1.       one sender, multiple receivers, a)      what happens in each receiver’s black box is individual, b)      return loop doesn’t go to the original sender, c)       feedback is delayed and often nonexistent, c.     this class is an example of mass communication, 1.       one sender – me, 2.       multiple receivers – you, 3.       i get no definite feedback on your response, iii.       mass media, a.      mass model of comm. is the same, but the channel changes, 1.       the channel for this class is speech, a)      feedback, (1)    immediate from how you respond to what i say, (2)    delayed through exams, 2.       the channels for mass media are mechanical, a)      writing, b)      print, c)       radio, d)      sound recording, e)      movies, f)         television, g)      modern communication media, (1)    feedback, (a)    delayed or nonexistent, (b)    must be inferred, (2)    response to feedback is delayed, (3)    makes mass media conservative in approach, (a)    go with what worked in the past, iv.    you must understand how the comm. model works to get the most out of it, a.      known as media literacy, v.      basic elements of media literacy, a.      a critical thinking skill enabling audience members to develop independent judgments about media content, 1.       most people don’t consciously engage with the media, 2.       they don’t think about the messages the receive, 3.       critical, a)      not just “i don’t like”, b)      why do you like or not like it, c)       can you explain your reactions, d)      examine a message, (1)    its content, (2)    its intent, (3)    its effect on the audience – including you, 4.       “ thinking ”, a)      consciously examine the message, b)      react intellectually, not emotionally, c)       put your reaction into words, (1)    we think in words, not feelings, 5.       “ skill ”, a)      to critically think requires cultivation and practice, like learning the piano or to play a sport, b)      apply this skill to all messages you receive, including this class, b.      an understanding of the process of mass communication, 1.       mass media messages are deliberately designed to affect their audiences, 2.       every medium has its own way of delivering that message, a)      can affect the audience’s understanding, b)      for example:, (1)    print uses the syntax of writing, (2)    television uses the syntax of speaking and images, c.     an awareness of the impact of media on the individual and society, 1.       advertising can create desire, 2.       news not only tells us what’s going on, but what to think about, 3.       stereotypes can influence our perceptions of everything we encounter, d.     strategies for analyzing and discussing media messages, 1.       most people leave all the power in determining how to affect the audience to the creator of the message, 2.       you must take that power into your own hands, a)      dissect messages to determine their components and intent, b)      consciously consider how the message can, and does, affect you, e.      the ability to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content, 1.       many people believe mass media aim at the lowest common denominator, a)      the stupid and lower class, b)      this is crap, 2.       true appreciation comes from looking below the superficial and discovering the many ways a message can be perceived and meaning derived, a)      terry pratchett novels are superb social satires, b)      “the daily show”, (1)    can be funny if you don’t know what’s going on in the world, (2)    true appreciation is only possible for the media literate, (a)    recognize the people, (b)    recognize the events, (c)    understand the commentary, f.      development of effective and responsible production skills, 1.       learn to write clearly, concisely, and effectively, a)      proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, b)      not just words in a row until you think you’ve said it, 2.       learn to use modern media, a)      build a web page, b)      make a video, (1)    shoot it, (2)    edit it, (3)    put it online, c)       learn to write a script, d)      learn computer programs, g.     an understanding of the ethical and moral obligations of media practitioners, 1.       media pros are under a lot of pressure, a)      legal vs. ethical (e.g., violence on tv), b)      avoiding offending anyone, c)       who decides what’s moral or offensive, and to whom, d)      media must support themselves, which can lead to conflicts, (1)    e.g., a news report that puts a major sponsor in a bad light, (2)    should it be published or aired, (3)    what are the ethics, e)      if you don’t understand the pressures on media, you can only have a knee-jerk, emotional reaction, not reasonable arguments and sensible decisions, h.      to be media literate you need to develop a set of media literacy skills, 1.       ability and willingness to make an effort to understand content, to pay attention, and to filter out noise, a)      it’s easy to just let media messages wash over you, b)      but just because you’re not paying attention doesn’t mean you’re not being affected, c)       you must make a conscious effort to interact with media messages, 2.       an understanding of and respect for the power of media messages, a)      a lot of mass media is banal, rather silly, and even stupid, (1)    easy to dismiss, (2)    easy to consider beneath consideration, (3)    easy to consider to simple to have an effect, b)      if you’re hit with a message often enough it can have an effect, c)       3 rd person effect, (1)    the attitude that “other people are affected, but not me.”, (2)    this is delusional, (3)    media messages are deliberately designed to affect the audience, 3.       the ability to distinguish emotional from reasoned reactions when responding to messages, and to act accordingly, a)      many messages are designed to cause an emotional reaction, b)      emotions can’t be argued with or countered, c)       you must realize you’re reacting emotionally, and try to figure out why, (1)    put your emotions into words, (2)    think with those words, 4.       develop a heightened expectation of media content, a)      avoid just watching or reading for the sake of watching or reading, b)      make an effort to find quality and give satisfaction, c)       don’t just channel or internet surf or leaf through magazines, 5.       know genre conventions and learn to recognize when they’re being mixed, a)      messages can be classified into different categories, (1)    examples:, (a)    sitcoms, (b)    evening news, (c)    horror movie, (d)    entertainment magazine, (2)    each genre has certain distinctive, standardized style elements, (a)    learn those style elements, (b)    recognize when they’re mixed, (c)    example :.

(i)      Daily Show

(a)    Has the elements of an evening news show

(b)    Has an audience, an element of a talk show

6.       Think critically about media messages, no matter how credible the source

A)      in a democracy, media must be credible because they are central to the governing process, b)      be aware that the media are designed to make money, (1)    all messages are slanted to appeal to their audience, (2)    reflect what their audiences already believe, (3)    just because something is said doesn’t necessarily make it true, i.          an understanding of media content as a text that provides insight into our culture and our lives, 1.       a big part of this class, 2.       media have always had a major influence on culture and society, a)      the invention of a medium has altered forever every society that has received it, b)      societies are constructed in large part by their media.

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Media Literacy Interventions: A Meta-Analytic Review

Se-hoon jeong.

1 Assistant Professor, School of Media and Communication, Korea University

2 Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Purdue University

Yoori Hwang

3 Assistant Professor, Department of Digital Media, Myongji University

Although numerous media literacy interventions have been developed and delivered over the past 3 decades, a comprehensive meta-analytic assessment of their effects has not been available. This study investigates the average effect size and moderators of 51 media literacy interventions. Media literacy interventions had positive effects ( d =.37) on outcomes including media knowledge, criticism, perceived realism, influence, behavioral beliefs, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behavior. Moderator analyses indicated that interventions with more sessions were more effective, but those with more components were less effective. Intervention effects did not vary by the agent, target age, the setting, audience involvement, the topic, the country, or publication status.

Harmful effects of the media have been documented in a range of domains, including violence (e.g., Paik & Comstock, 1994 ), sexual behavior (e.g., Allen, D’Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995 ; Hestroni, 2007 ), and body image (e.g., Holmstrom, 2004 ). Media literacy interventions refer to education programs designed to reduce harmful effects of the media by informing the audience about one or more aspects of the media, thereby influencing media-related beliefs and attitudes, and ultimately preventing risky behaviors.

Several studies have reviewed the effects of media literacy interventions on topics such as violence ( Cantor & Wilson, 2003 ), sexual behavior ( Allen, D’Alessio, Emmers, & Gebhardt, 1996 ), and advertising ( Livingstone & Helsper, 2006 ). A review by Bergsma and Carney (2008) examined the contexts and process of effective media literacy interventions focusing on health promotion. However, a comprehensive meta-analysis of media literacy interventions is not yet available. The present study assesses the average effect size of media literacy interventions and the conditions under which such interventions are more effective. We begin with a brief overview of the conceptual basis for media literacy interventions, followed by a review of outcomes and moderators of media literacy intervention effects.

Media Literacy Interventions

Conceptual basis.

Scholars have advanced divergent conceptualizations of media literacy and have failed to reach a broad consensus on the definition of media literacy. 1 However, they generally agree that media literacy centers on specific knowledge and skills that can help critical understanding and usage of the media (e.g., Hobbs, 1998 ; McCannon, 2009 ; Martens, 2010 ). For example, Aufderheide (1993) has defined media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety of forms,” and has suggested that the fundamental objective of media literacy is to help audiences maintain “critical autonomy in relationship to all media.” Silverblatt (2001) defined media literacy as a “critical thinking skill that allows audiences to develop independent judgments about media content.” Critical thinking is relevant not only to receiving messages but also to producing meaning ( Kellner & Share, 2005 ) and “learning to create one’s own messages” ( Hobbs, 1998 ).

Some scholars have further differentiated the types of media literacy. For example, Meyrowitz (1998) classified media literacy into content, grammar, and medium literacy. Content literacy concerns knowledge of ideas and values represented in media messages. The knowledge that media content represents embedded values and points of view is central to the concept of media literacy. Grammar literacy focuses on knowledge of the techniques used in textual and visual messages, such as angles, cuts, zooms, and juxtaposition. Medium literacy concerns knowledge of different characteristics of the media. For example, some media are unisensory whereas others are multisensory. In addition, structure literacy concerns knowledge of the context of media production and consumption, such as the role of media institutions in the production of media messages ( Lewis & Jhally, 1998 ). Knowledge of how commercial media differ from public media can be a form of structure literacy. 2

We view that media literacy intervention aims to enhance criticism by increasing knowledge of the media, awareness of the influence of the media, and the ability to assess the realism of the media representation of reality. By doing so, media literacy interventions are expected to reduce the impact of the media on audiences’ beliefs, attitudes, norms, and behaviors. This meta-analysis examines the extent to which extant media literacy interventions have been able to influence these outcomes.

Theoretical Perspectives

Prior media literacy studies have examined various outcomes, some of which are relevant to understanding of the media and others are relevant to behaviors. A broad range of outcomes were examined in the studies because they were based on various theoretical frameworks. Inoculation theory ( McGuire, 1964 ) has provided a rationale for media literacy education. 3 The theory consists of threat and refutational preemption components that can protect the audience against subsequent attacks. Thus, by providing knowledge and skills to refute media messages, literacy interventions may help audiences to resist the influence of harmful media content.

Although inoculation theory was not developed specifically for media literacy education, some models were. For example, Potter’s (2004) cognitive processing model of media literacy suggests that knowledge structures and skills are fundamental to the acquisition of media literacy. Knowledge structures are sets of organized information in an individual and provide the contexts with which individuals make sense of media messages. Skills include those relevant to analysis, evaluation, grouping, induction, deduction, synthesis, and abstraction. The message interpretation process (MIP; Austin et al., 2002 ) model is another theoretical framework specific to media literacy. The MIP model suggests that messages guide decision making through logical and affective processes such as skepticism, realism, norms, and outcome expectancies. The MIP model includes affective aspects of media-based decisions, which distinguishes it from cognitively-focused frameworks such as inoculation theory and Potter’s model. In addition, Messaris’s theory of visual persuasion (1997) is relevant to media literacy. According to Messaris, visual persuasion may be more effective than verbal persuasion because of the indexical, iconic, and syntactic characteristics of visual signs. Thus, Messaris (1997) argued that learning the grammar of visual media may be useful for resisting the influence of media messages.

The above conceptualizations and theories suggest a range of outcomes for media literacy interventions. Such outcomes may be classified into two broad categories: media-relevant outcomes and behavior-relevant outcomes. Austin et al.’s (2002) , Messaris’s (1997) , and Potter’s (2004) models suggest that interventions can influence media-relevant outcomes. One type of media-relevant outcome is knowledge, including knowledge of specific construction techniques used to persuade audiences (e.g., Harts, 1997 ; Hobbs & Frost, 2003 ) and knowledge about advertising (e.g., Buijzen, 2007 ). Another type is criticism, including concepts such as understanding of persuasive intent ( Austin & Johnson, 1997a ) and skepticism ( Austin et al., 2005 ). The third type is influence, which refers to one’s awareness of the influence of the media on audiences. Finally, realism refers to the extent to which one believes that the portrayal of persons or events in the media corresponds with those in the real world. Previous studies have found that interventions can increase the audience’s media knowledge ( Austin et al., 2005 ), media criticism (e.g., Austin et al., 2005 ), and awareness of media influence (e.g., Duran et al., 2008 ) while reducing the perceived realism of media messages (e.g., Austin et al., 2007 ).

The MIP model further suggests that interventions can influence behavior-relevant outcomes. On the basis of the theory of reasoned action (TRA; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975 ) and the integrative model of behavior change (IM; Fishbein & Yzer, 2003 ), behavioral outcomes can be classified into behavioral beliefs, attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, and behaviors. Behavioral beliefs concern one’s perception about the outcomes of performing a behavior; attitudes refer to one’s overall evaluation of performing a behavior; norms refer to one’s perception about the behaviors and attitudes of a social reference group (e.g., friends or family); and self-efficacy refers to one’s perceived ability to perform a behavior. Previous studies have found that interventions can reduce the frequency of risky or antisocial behaviors ( Austin et al., 2005 ) as well as behavioral intentions ( Banerjee & Greene, 2007 ) by inducing negative attitudes (e.g., Banerjee & Greene, 2006 ) toward and negative behavioral beliefs ( Austin et al., 2007 ; Gonzales et al., 2004 ) about such behaviors. In addition, media literacy interventions can reduce the likelihood of an individual engaging in the behaviors by reducing normative pressure ( Austin et al., 2005 ) and increasing self-efficacy ( Austin et al., 2005 ).

Based on the above discussion, we hypothesize that media literacy interventions will increase audiences’ knowledge, criticism, awareness of the influence of the media, while reducing their perceptions of realism. Further, we hypothesize that media literacy interventions will reduce risky or antisocial behaviors, increase negative behavioral beliefs about and negative attitudes toward such behaviors, reduce normative beliefs about such behaviors, and increase self-efficacy to avoid such behaviors.

Moderating variables in media literacy studies generally fall into three classes: agent (or source), audience, and treatment ( Potter and Byrne, 2007 ). The agent refers to the individual who delivers the intervention, and extant media literacy interventions have typically involved teachers, peer students, and researchers. An agent can be a teacher (e.g., Dysart, 2008 ; Wade et al., 2003 ) or peer students who are trained by the researcher (e.g., Austin et al., 2005 , 2007 ). In many studies, the researcher served as an agent playing the role of a teacher or a parent (e.g., Banerjee & Greene, 2006 ; Huesmann et al., 1983 ). However, studies typically have not directly tested whether intervention effects vary by the type of agent.

Related to the role of agent noted above is the setting in which media literacy interventions are delivered. When the agent is the teacher, media literacy interventions are typically implemented in school settings. However, when the agent is the researcher, they are implemented in various settings such as schools (e.g., Dysart, 2008 ), communities (e.g., Comer et al., 2008 ), and labs (e.g., Divsalar, 2006 ). The setting in which an intervention is delivered (e.g., a more naturalistic or controlled setting) may play a role in determining its effects. In this regard, we examine whether the effects of media literacy interventions are a function of the setting.

Although children or adolescents have been the primary audience of media literacy interventions ( Potter, 2004 ), some studies have included college students or adults (e.g., Irving & Berel, 2001 ; Ramasubramanian & Oliver, 2007 ). The age of the audience may be an important factor in the effects of media literacy interventions. For example, Piaget (1952) suggested that as children move from the concrete operational stage (ages 8–12) to the formal operational stage (age 13 and above), they start to think in abstract ways. Thus, they may develop the ability to better understand media literacy education (see also Livingstone & Helsper, 2006 ).

The extent to which an intervention involves its audience may determine its effectiveness. For example, Banerjee & Greene (2006) found that an intervention including the production of messages is more effective than that focusing only on the analysis of messages. This suggests that interventions with active audience involvement (e.g., discussion or production activities) may be more effective than those with passive audience involvement (e.g., lessons only). Banerjee & Green view that media literacy interventions with active audience involvement can be more effective because they elicit greater mental efforts and comprehension than interventions with passive audience involvement. Thus, media literacy programs with active involvement components may be more effective than those with passive components.

As discussed above, media literacy is a multidimensional construct. Consequently, intervention treatment includes multiple types of literacy, such as content, grammar, medium, and structure literacy ( Meyrowitz, 1998 ; Lewis & Jhally, 1998 ). Some interventions focused on a single type of media literacy, such as content literacy (e.g., Abelman & Courright, 1983 ) whereas others addressed multiple types (e.g., Dysart, 2008 ). However, studies have not examined whether these factors work together to produce additive effects. Thus, the present meta-analysis tests whether combining these factors would produce stronger effects of media literacy education.

The frequency of media literacy intervention sessions may lead to differences in the effects. Some media literacy interventions employed a single session (e.g., Irving et al., 1998 ), whereas others involved multiple sessions (e.g., Hennessey, 2008 ). Providing an appropriate dose of intervention sessions is considered crucial in achieving the desired outcome of an intervention (e.g., Hornik, 2002 ). In the present meta-analysis, we examine whether the effects of media literacy interventions vary as a function of the frequency of intervention sessions.

Media literacy interventions have addressed an increasingly wide range of topics, including alcohol, tobacco, violence, body image, sex, commercialism, and social issues. Thus, it is important to examine whether the effects of media literacy interventions vary according to the topic. Although a number of countries have adopted media literacy interventions, some countries such as the U.K., Canada, and Australia have a longer history of media literacy education than others due to social, policy, and regulatory factors ( Kubey, 2003 ). Thus, this meta-analysis examines whether the effectiveness of media literacy interventions varies by the country (i.e., where the intervention is implemented). Finally, we will examine whether publication status (e.g., published or unpublished) determines the effects of media literacy interventions to test a possible publication bias. Thus, we examine whether the effects of media literacy interventions are moderated by the agent, the setting, audience age, audience involvement, intervention treatment, session frequency, the topic, the country, and publication status.

Literature Search

Studies were searched using various databases, including Communication Abstracts, PsychInfo, PubMed, Proquest Dissertations and Theses Fulltext, and Google Scholar. The key-words used were “media literacy,” “media literacy intervention,” “media literacy curriculum,” and “media literacy program.” We also used combinations of key-words, such as “intervention,” “advertising,” and “skepticism,” to identify additional studies. 4 We included all studies that were published before the cut-off point of December, 2009.

Of the 127 relevant studies, we selected 51 articles by excluding those that did not meet the following criteria. First, studies must have used quantitative methods. Although qualitative studies can provide an in-depth understanding of what students learn from media literacy programs, a meta-analysis should aggregate quantitative data. 5 Second, studies must have tested the impact of a structured media literacy intervention on audiences. 6 A typical intervention includes a program in which participants (a) learn about media production and its effects on audiences in lecture, print or video format, (b) are involved in various activities (e.g., discussions and homework) relevant to the program, or (c) produce their own media messages based on what they have learned from the program. Third, studies must have included one of the following outcomes of media literacy: knowledge, criticism, influence, realism, behavioral beliefs, attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, or behaviors. 7 Fourth, studies must have reported statistical information required for a meta-analysis. 8 Finally, studies had to be written in English. Fifty-one independent studies met all of the above criteria and were included in this meta-analysis. 9

After selecting the list of studies that meet the above criteria, we identified a set of outcomes that were consistently included in the studies. The nine outcomes were as follows: knowledge, criticism, influence, realism, beliefs, attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, and behaviors. For knowledge , studies have typically used the term to refer to knowledge of specific construction techniques used to persuade audiences (e.g., Hobbs & Frost, 2003 ) as well as general knowledge of advertising (e.g., Buijzen, 2007 ). 10 For criticism , studies have used terms such as understanding of persuasive intent ( Austin & Johnson, 1997a ) as well as skepticism ( Austin et al., 2005 ). Beliefs about media myths ( Pinkleton et al., 2008 ) and attitudes toward media messages or advertising ( Austin et al., 2007 ) were also classified as criticism because these reflect critical perceptions of media content. For influence , studies have typically examined the extent to which respondents believed that the media can influence audiences (e.g., Duran et al., 2008 ). For realism , studies have typically used terms such as realism ( Austin et al., 2007 ; Huesmann et al., 1983 ). For beliefs , studies used terms such as expectancy ( Austin et al., 2007 ) and health consequences of tobacco use ( Gonzales et al., 2004 ). For attitudes , studies have typically used the term attitudes (e.g., Banerjee & Greene, 2006 ), and for norms , studies have typically used the term norms ( Austin et al., 2005 ). Most of the studies included in this meta-analysis have considered descriptive norms. 11 For self-efficacy , studies have typically used the term efficacy ( Austin et al., 2005 ). Finally, for behaviors , we grouped actual behaviors ( Austin et al., 2005 ) as well as behavioral intentions ( Banerjee & Greene, 2007 ) into a single category.

We examined the following moderators: the agent, the setting, target age, audience involvement, intervention treatment, session frequency, the topic, publication status, and the country. Agents were coded as teacher, peer, researcher, or other. Related to the agent, settings were coded as school, community, both (school and community), or other (e.g., a lab). Target age was coded using the mean age of the respondents in a study. Audience involvement was classified into the following categories: (1) passive interventions involving only a lecture with print or audio-visual materials, (2) interactive interventions involving various activities such as in-class discussions, role playing, and computerized games, and (3) production interventions involving the actual production of messages. Intervention treatment was operationalized as the number of media literacy components. We examined each study to determine whether it included content, medium, grammar, and structure literacy components. Then, we counted the total number of components included in a study. For example, if a study included content and grammar literacy, then we coded that there were two treatment components in the study. The number of components included in each intervention could range from one to four. All studies included at least one literacy component and some included all four. For session frequency , the total number of sessions in the intervention was coded, and the number of sessions ranged from 1 to 40 sessions (mean = 3.62, median = 2). Topics were coded as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, body image and eating, violence, sex, advertising and marketing, social issues (e.g., racism, gender role), and general. Countries included the U.S., Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Tanzania. Because there were only eight studies conducted outside the U.S., all non-U.S. studies were merged into a single category. Publication status was coded as either published or unpublished.

Effect Size Calculation

To compute the meta-analytic effect size, the results of all studies were converted into a common effect-size metric ( d ) by using the following equation:

In other words, the effect size represents the difference between the treatment group (i.e., the media literacy intervention group) and the control group. When there was more than one treatment group in a study, the overall mean across treatment groups was compared with that of the control group. In addition, we included the statistics (e.g., means and standard deviations) from immediate posttests but not the statistics from the delayed posttests. This is because the time lag for the immediate posttest was comparable across studies included in this meta-analysis, whereas it was not for the delayed posttest. That is, immediate posttests were typically administered on the day of the intervention, whereas delayed posttests were conducted days to a year after the intervention. A statistical software package Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Version 2 was used for calculating effect sizes and for conducting meta-analyses.

Analysis Methods

First, the average effect size was computed across all outcome measures, including knowledge, criticism, realism, influence, beliefs, attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, and behaviors. Then the average effect size was computed for each outcome. Of the 51 independent studies, the numbers of studies reporting the effects of media literacy interventions on each outcome were as follows: 10 for knowledge, 24 for criticism, 14 for realism, 3 for influence, 7 for beliefs, 22 for attitudes, 7 for norms, 3 for self-efficacy, and 25 for behavior. The analyses were conducted using random-effects analyses based on Hedges & Olkin’s (1985) procedure. 12 Finally, analyses were conducted to test the effects of potential moderators. The moderator analyses were based on the average effect size of each study, combining all outcomes. The categorical moderators (i.e., the agent, the setting, audience involvement, the topic, publication status, and the country) were analyzed using mixed-effects categorical analyses, whereas the continuous moderators (i.e., target age, intervention treatment, and session frequency) were analyzed using meta-regression.

The Average Effect Size of Media Literacy Interventions

The mean effect size of media literacy interventions, weighted by sample size, was .37 ( p < .001), with a 95% confidence interval ranging from .27 to .47. This suggests that, overall, the effects of media literacy interventions were significant in the positive direction (see Table 1 ).

Summary of Moderator Analyses

K refers to the number of independent effect sizes considered for each group.

The Average Effect Size by Outcomes

Media literacy interventions had positive effects on almost all outcome measures: knowledge ( d =1.12, p < .001, 95% CI: .77 to 1.47), criticism ( d =.29, p < .001, 95% CI: .20 to .38), realism ( d =.54, p < .001, 95% CI: .24 to .84), influence ( d =.60, p < .05, 95% CI: .09 to 1.11), beliefs ( d =.23, p < .001, 95% CI: .12 to .35), attitudes ( d =.28, p < .001, 95% CI: .17 to .39), self-efficacy ( d =.34, p < .001, 95% CI: .18 to .50), and behaviors ( d =.23, p < .001, 95% CI: .15 to .31). Thus, our hypothesis that media literacy interventions increase audiences’ knowledge of the media, criticism of the media, awareness of the influence of the media, while reducing media realism was supported. In addition, the hypothesis that media literacy interventions reduce risky or antisocial behaviors, increase negative behavioral beliefs about and negative attitudes toward such behaviors, and increase self-efficacy to avoid such behaviors was supported. However, the effect on norms ( d =.18, p = .08, 95% CI: −.02 to .39) was not supported.

For the categorical moderators, Table 1 provides a list of effect sizes for each categorical group. The effects of media literacy interventions did not vary according to the agent, the setting, audience involvement, the topic, the country, or publication status.

For the continuous moderators, the meta-regression results indicate that session frequency ( b = 0.008, SE b = 0.002, p < .001) and intervention treatment ( b = −0.05, SE b = 0.02, p < .05) were significant moderators. For session frequency, studies with more intervention sessions reported larger effect sizes. For intervention treatment, however, the direction was somewhat unexpected. Studies with more intervention treatment components reported smaller effects. Target age ( b = 0.001, SE b = 0.01, p = .86) was not a significant predictor.

This meta-analysis contributes to the media literacy literature by a) providing a summary of the general effects of media literacy interventions, b) examining the effects of media literacy interventions on different types of outcomes (i.e., media-relevant vs. behavior-relevant), and c) specifying the moderators that influence the effect size of media literacy interventions.

First, media literacy interventions were generally effective ( d =.37). Media literacy interventions had positive effects on most of the outcomes considered in this meta-analysis, although the effect on norms was marginally significant. The results suggest that it is possible to employ media literacy interventions to address the harmful effects of mass media. The effects of the media on risky behaviors (e.g., violence, smoking, and underage drinking) have long been criticized. The results of this study suggest that media literacy interventions may be an effective approach for reducing potentially harmful effects of media messages. Intervention effects were found across divergent topics for diverse audiences, for a broad range of media-related (e.g., knowledge) and behavior-related (e.g., attitudes and behaviors) outcomes. The results that intervention effects did not vary according to target age, the setting, audience involvement, and the topic suggest that interventions can be equally effective across a spectrum of settings (e.g., school, community, or lab), age groups, levels of audience involvement, and topics (e.g., alcohol, violence, and sex). Media literacy interventions is particularly important with the development of social media because the quality of information circulated through social media (e.g., Twitter) is not guaranteed, and thus, audiences’ literacy has become more important than ever.

Second, the present study clarified a list of outcomes that can be influenced by media literacy interventions based on a review of a number of theoretical frameworks relevant to media literacy. Although this meta-analysis was not able to conduct a direct test of differences in the effect size by the type of outcome, the results indicate that media literacy interventions have differential effects on the two types of outcomes: media-relevant outcomes and behavior-relevant outcomes. That is, media literacy interventions may have greater effects on media-relevant outcomes (e.g., knowledge and realism) than on behavior-relevant outcomes (e.g., attitudes and behaviors). This may be because media literacy interventions focus more on media-related content than on behavior-related content. Because most media literacy interventions have focused on enhancing critical thinking rather than on inducing behavior change, media literacy interventions may have greater impact on media-related outcomes. Further, this may be explained by the idea that media-relevant outcomes are more proximal or immediate outcomes of media literacy interventions, whereas behavior-relevant outcomes are more distal outcomes. Proximal outcomes are those that are more immediately influenced by media literacy interventions, whereas distal outcomes are those that are more remotely influenced by interventions. 13 Thus it is not surprising that media literacy interventions will have stronger effects on media-related outcomes than on behavior-relevant outcomes. Future media literacy interventions may benefit by actively combining and integrating media-related educational components and behavior-related educational components (see Primack, Fine, Yang, Wickett, & Zickmund, 2009 ).

Finally, the present meta-analysis identified the moderators that influence the effect size of media literacy interventions. The results of the moderator analyses indicated that the impact of media literacy interventions increased as a function of the number of sessions, suggesting that media literacy interventions are more likely to be successful when the program is reinforced through multiple sessions. This result is consistent with Hornik’s (2002) argument regarding campaign effects based on the dose-response relationship.

The findings of this study suggest areas of future research. In terms of intervention treatment, the results are somewhat unexpected. In general, interventions with fewer components were more effective than those with more. There can be at least two possible explanations for this finding. One explanation is that interventions with more components are likely to contain too much information, resulting in information overload and information loss. This can be explained by the limited capacity model of information processing ( Lang, 2000 ). Another possible explanation is that interventions with more components are more likely to be confusing, particularly to young audiences who are less likely to be cognitively sophisticated. If so, a simple and more focused education program may enhance the effects of a media literacy intervention. Thus, future research should examine the effects of media literacy interventions by varying the number of treatment components and considering the audience’s age.

The agent was not a significant moderator. In other words, the effect size of the intervention did not vary by the agent. Existing evidence on the role of agents in intervention effects is not entirely consistent. Some studies have found that experts are more effective than nonexperts ( Durantini, Albarracin, Mitchell, Earl, & Gillette, 2006 ), while others suggest that peers are more effective than nonpeers ( Webel, Okonsky, Trompeta, & Holzemer, 2010 ). Expert-led interventions may be more effective because of their knowledge, experience, and authority, whereas nonexpert-led interventions may be more effective because of perceived similarity and identification. The effect of agents in media literacy interventions may be clarified when future interventions directly compare the effects delivered by experts and peers.

This meta-analysis has some limitations. First, some unpublished studies, such as conference papers, were not included in the analysis. However, the average effect size for published studies was not larger than that for unpublished ones, indicating no publication bias. In addition, Rosenthal’s fail-safe N for this study was 4,688, which indicates the number of missing studies required for making the results of this meta-analysis nonsignificant. This suggests that it is unlikely that our findings are due to publication bias. 14 Second, some studies were excluded from this meta-analysis because of the lack of necessary statistical information.

Overall, this study suggests that media literacy interventions are effective. Positive effects of media literacy interventions were observed across diverse agents, target age groups, settings, topics, and countries. Future research could further examine the specific types of intervention treatments that can enhance media-relevant and behavior-relevant outcomes.

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A forest plot of effect sizes and 95% confidence intervals for each study


The authors would like to thank Charlie Armstrong, Soojung Kim, and Sunghwan Kim for coding the moderators. This study was supported in part by grant RO3CA128438 from the National Cancer Institute. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

1 Media literacy education has reflected diverse perspectives ranging from critical/cultural to social scientific. The present meta-analysis focuses on the social scientific approach which emphasizes protection.

2 Although interventions did not have to include the content, medium, grammar, or structure literacy components, studies typically had at least one of the four components.

3 Some inoculation studies were relevant to media literacy, whereas others were not. The list of inoculation studies that were excluded from this meta-analysis is available upon request.

4 To include the studies that did not use the term “media literacy,” we used search terms (e.g., “intervention,” “advertising,” “skepticism”) to generate a list of studies and reviewed each study to determine its appropriateness for this meta-analysis. To be qualified as a study of media literacy (i.e., not a study of reading, writing, or technological literacy), the study must have included some aspect of critical literacy as indicated by a number of definitions of media literacy (pp. 2–3). We conducted this additional search to provide a comprehensive review of media literacy interventions.

5 As a result, five studies using qualitative research methods such as in-depth or focus group interviews were excluded.

6 The list of 42 studies that were excluded by these criteria is available upon request.

7 A meta-analysis requires a sufficient number of studies focusing on a specific outcome. This is because a meta-analysis provides a summary of the effect of an independent variable on an outcome across multiple studies. Thus, some outcomes that were considered by only one study were excluded from this meta-analysis. As a result, three studies were excluded because they focused on outcomes that were not considered by other media literacy studies.

8 Although we contacted the authors to obtain missing statistical information, 26 studies were eventually excluded.

9 Studies based on the same sample, such as Buijzen & Mens (2007) and Buijzen (2007) , were counted as one study, and the effect sizes for these two studies were averaged. On the other hand, Experiments 1, 2, and 3 in Sagarin et al.’s (2002) study were treated as three independent studies because they were based on different samples.

10 Some researchers view knowledge as an outcome, whereas others view it a manipulation check. In this meta-analysis, we considered it an outcome, not a manipulation check.

11 Specifically, seven studies measured descriptive norms, whereas only one ( Chernin, 2007 ) measured subjective norms. Although the two types of norms are different ( Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990 ; Rimal & Real, 2003 ), we grouped them into a single category because there was only one study focusing on subjective norms.

12 The statistical software package used in this study, Comprehensive Meta-Analysis , was programmed based on Hedges & Olkin’s (1985) approach. An alternative analysis could be conducted using Hunter & Schmidt’s (1990) approach.

13 The distinction between proximal and distal outcomes may not be ideal. For example, beliefs may be considered more distal than knowledge but more proximal than behaviors.

14 Publication bias refers to the tendency of researchers to publish more studies that present significant results than those that present nonsignificant results. Thus, meta-analyses often include unpublished studies to examine whether effect sizes differ by publication status.

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Curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy article, enhancing critical thinking skills and media literacy in initial vocational education and training via self-nudging: the contribution of nerdvet project.

critical thinking skills enabling the development of independent judgments about media content

  • 1 Department of Human Science, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  • 2 ENAIP Veneto Foundation, Padova, Italy

Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs are fuelled by technical and practical educational modules. The teaching staff adopts both traditional and innovative pedagogical frameworks to increase the generalization and maintenance of practical skills. At the same time, VET teachers and trainers have a few occasions to promote and include disciplines and educational programs for enhancing students' soft skills, e.g., critical thinking skills (CT) and media literacy (ML). Following the European VET framework and literature of the field, CT and ML represent a social challenge that requires even more efforts by academics, practitioners, and policymakers. Thisstudy situates into this context with the aim of introducing a novel educational approach for supporting the teaching staff in the promotion of students' CT and ML. This educational approach has been realized by the team of researchers and trainers of the NERDVET project, an Erasmus+ KA3 project devoted to the promotion of new tools and policies for enhancing CT and ML in VET. To pursue this aim, the team has employed the self-nudging model which regards the individuals' set of cognitive and behavioral strategies that individuals can develop to target a specific objective. By framing pedagogical strategies into this perspective, the team realized an initial approach for educational activities and teaching strategies to promote students' CT and ML.


Vocational education and training (VET) programs aim at equipping students and learners with a supply of technical and practical skills aligned with the labor market's needs. This is notable not only in VET pedagogical frameworks, and in the choice of educational modules of VET providers, but also more institutionally in normative definitions and operationalization of VET centers. This is due to the nature of the purpose of VET to equip students with skills as the glue in between the new workforce and the productivity of specific working sectors. The transformations concerning the labor market underline that the labor market benefits more from the VET sector than other educational pathways. However, this entails that the promotion of technical and practical skills can be insufficient with respect to the promotion of additional skills, e.g., critical thinking skills and media literacy. Focusing more on technical skills at the expense of metacognitive skills may compromise individuals' citizenship behavior ( Pfaff-Rüdiger and Riesmeyer, 2016 ; Tommasi et al., 2021a ; Perini et al., 2022 ). The lack of educational models for the promotion of metacognitive competences in VET-led scholarly authors, practitioners, and policymakers to move toward the creation of pathways aimed at the development of these specific components. For example, the European Union (EU) has made skills like critical thinking and media literacy key objectives for the education and training sectors. Following this trend, the EU countries and the European Commission (EC) have used and financed multiple initiatives (e.g., Erasmus+, the Connecting Europe Facility, ( European Commission, 2020b )).

It is in this context that the Think smart! Enhancing critical thinking skills and media literacy in VET (NERDVET, n.d.) project, an Erasmus+ KA3 project co-funded by the European Commission 1 , takes place with the proposition of developing a novel educational program to support VET teaching staff in increasing CT and ML skills of their students. The NERDVET educational program is based on different techniques, among which a novel concept of self-nudging has been developed: according to this new self-nudging concept, teachers and trainers can foster students' capacity to create a set of specific personal strategies to reach a target or to tailor their behavior for a proactive purpose, e.g., behaving critically in a digital environment. Through self-nudging, it is possible to develop the proactive commitment of individuals in the processing of information, also aiming at supporting the creation of specific individuals' strategies to critically evaluate information and adopt a specific behavior.

The aim of this study is to present the NERDVET proposal to use the self-nudging model for enhancing students' critical thinking skills and media literacy. At the base (i.e., ontologically, Creswell, 2014 ), critical thinking and media literacy represent two linked metacognitive competences. On the one hand, critical thinking is a metacognitive competence concerning the knowledge and skills of reflection, analysis, and questioning of information, which results in proactive and citizenship behavior. On the other hand, media literacy as a metacognitive competence includes the knowledge and skills to think critically about media information through understanding media representations, structures, and implications ( Tommasi et al., 2021a ). Studying critical thinking and media literacy via a psychological (behavioral-cognitive) approach finds a connection with the notion of self-nudging, that is the individuals' own set of metacognitive strategies to pursue personal targets ( Hertwig and Grüne-Yanoff, 2017 ; Torma et al., 2018 ). With this framework, we propose indications of possible ways through which teachers and trainers can enhance critical thinking and media literacy among VET students. Our indications serve to create the basis for realizing learning strategies to be implemented within the classroom. Ultimately, this proposal covers both the theoretical background and educational suggestions on implementing exercises whose purpose is the development of these metacognitive competences.

In the following sections, we will first report the current trends for the enhancement of CT and ML in the context of VET. Given the area of intervention of the NERDVET project, we will focus on the European trends for the enhancement of CT and ML in the VET context. Then, we will introduce how CT and ML are considered at the academic level. Here, we will report the definitions of CT and ML as well as an overview of the practices for the enhancement of CT and ML in VET. Second, considering these pieces of knowledge as a reference framework, we will report the self-nudging approach for the implementation of training techniques in the context of VET. We will refer to the ontological similarities between the notions of critical thinking, media literacy, and self-nudging theory to propose a novel approach serving learning strategies within the classroom. Lastly, we will end the discussion of the NERDVET approach for the enhancement of CT and ML by presenting the direct users and beneficiaries of this novel approach for training VET students.

Approaches to critical thinking and media literacy

European trends for the enhancement in the vet context.

The integration of CT and ML in VET curricula is still very scant at the European level, although some preliminary initiatives have been carried out successfully in the last few years. The European institutions have introduced several policies and financial initiatives to support the goal of enhancing CT and ML in the context of vocational training, especially following the COVID-19 outbreak. This is the case of the EC Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, which has outlined a set of eight competencies that all individuals need for personal fulfillment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion, and employment. Similarly, the New Skills Agenda for Europe highlights 10 actions to make relevant training, skills, and support available to EU citizens. The European Trend 2020 strategic framework promotes peer learning, including through the collection and dissemination of good practices in the field of CT and ML, while paying special attention to effectively reaching out to disadvantaged learners and those at risk of marginalization. Also, the Commission's Digital Education Action Plan contains 11 actions to make better use of digital technology for teaching, learning, and developing digital competencies, based on the precondition that digital competence includes the confident, creative, and critical use of information and communications technology, which is also considered a crucial component of media literacy. To promote ML and CT, EU funds and programs, such as Erasmus+, the Connecting Europe Facility, the European Structural and Investment Funds, Horizon 2020, Creative Europe and Europe for Citizens, have been utilized by EU countries and the EC. Overall, experts in the field (e.g., policymakers, practitioners, and researchers) agree on the fact that “critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal […] and its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended based on respect for students' autonomy and preparing students for success in life and democratic citizenship” ( Hitchcock, 2018 ).

In contrast to this background, in the VET sector, there is little to no integration of critical thinking skills and media literacy within VET curricula or competence standards. In contrast to other countries ( Decreto 220, 1998 ; Decreto 254, 2009 ; Australian Government Department of Education Training, 2016 ), VET curricula at the European level rarely contemplate systematic or integrated teaching of critical thinking either as specific content or as a transversal one ( European Commission, 2020a ). The organization of teaching sessions devoted to the development of such competences for students is thus left to VET schools, which–however–do not often have the means and opportunity to do so. Although some transversal skills related to critical thinking are embedded in different subjects and skills, they are neither sufficiently highlighted nor presented in a structured form. The largest part of learning projects remains grounded in implementations meant as a singular intervention and, even when it is not so, it tends to focus exclusively on specific aspects of critical thinking and media literacy. Quite often, these aspects are not treated in an integrated way, but their focus depends on the specific purpose of the project or lesson being carried out ( Bergstrom et al., 2018 ).

Overview of reference definitions and current practices

Notwithstanding the institutional context, academics in the field of VET have produced several contributions to CT and ML in recent years. The term critical thinking regards the human metacognitive ability to think clearly and rationally about something. Through critical thinking, individuals can (a) understand logical connections between ideas, (b) identify and evaluate arguments, (c) detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning and (d) achieve other fundamental aspects (e.g., daily decision-making process) ( Kenyon, 2014 ; Bergstrom et al., 2018 ; Tommasi et al., 2021a , b ). Critical thinking is also crucial to moving through the wide world of news that we read every day and avoiding judgment errors ( Ceschi et al., 2019 ; Ceschi and Fioretti, 2021 ; Tommasi et al., 2021a , b , c ). It also helps us to judge and understand a lot of aspects of what we read in the media. In this context, critical thinking is viewed at the same level of optimal decision-making competence which relates to the ability to avoid cognitive errors and the use of heuristics ( Kenyon, 2014 ). Moreover, it is also an antecedent of positive social skills to critical thinking with issues such as body image, racial stereotypes, and gender ( Bergstrom et al., 2018 ).

As for other terms such as information and digital abilities ( Bolaños Cerda et al., 2020 ; Bolaños and Pilerot, 2021 ), media literacy is also characterized by terminological ambiguity as it has been discussed in a plurality of different forms with multiple arguments on how to improve it ( van Laar et al., 2017 ; Bolaños et al., 2022 ). This partially reflects the lack of consensus on how to enhance media literacy among VET students, namely how to define media literacy in such context and to consider it in line with critical thinking. Arguments have been proposed that media literacy is linked to the notion of critical thinking and regards the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they are sending. Media literacy represents a core characteristic of citizenship behavior as well as an indispensable aspect for dealing with the huge amount of information presented in different shapes. Despite the agreement on its importance, authors reported different definitions and attributes of what media literacy means, such as the ability to critically access, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages ( Banerjee et al., 2015 ; Schilder and Redmond, 2019 ). Other authors considered media literacy as the cognitive awareness of the importance of media messages and their impact on the public. Such awareness is meant to foster individuals' responsibility to critically evaluate media messages ( Geers et al., 2020 ). Moreover, other authors considered media literacy as the ability to reach and understand the information within the media context, although the authors did not provide a clear idea about how such a process is sustained ( Cohen and Mihailidis, 2013 ). In particular, they support the idea that individuals can make meaning of the contents and enhance their ability to make decisions.

However, there is still a certain degree of uncertainty concerning the agreement on what could be done to support teaching staff in the promotion of CT and ML in VET students. With respect to these, there are different ways of approaching CT and ML in VET. Some authors refer to the model of social interactions as a learning process to promote these competences ( Bandura, 1986 ). This theory has been used to support the idea that CT and ML, as learning processes, may be the result of the vision and interaction between students and teachers ( Banerjee et al., 2015 ). Other authors propose a broad social view of the importance of CT and ML, using the human capital theory model to sustain the need to actualize educational models on CT and ML in the context of VET ( Edokpolor and Abusomwan, 2019 ). Similarly, others refer to Watson and Glaser (2002) model to argue that the promotion of critical thinking and media literacy is a consequence of a greater sense of belonging among students and, if promoted, also better active citizenship. Finally, through a cognitive approach, other authors use cognitive psychology models of the so-called debiasing as an intervention tool for the promotion of critical thinking and media literacy in the context of Initial VET (iVET) and citizenship behavior through teaching error recognition and cognitive distortions ( Kenyon, 2014 ).

Such uncertainty is due to the multiplicity and complexity of factors interviewing on CT and ML, which makes it even more difficult to realize effective educational models for their promotion. Reviewing the literature in the field, Tommasi et al. (2021a) argued that there is a wide range of relevant factors for students, teachers, group-class, and communities that scholarly authors have been considering to propose training interventions. These include teaching techniques that, through stimulating reflectiveness, can help promote critical thinking and media literacy, also beyond the iVET context. Although there is not vast literature in this regard, this literature review suggests the existence of possible strategies which allow for improving individuals' disposal, personal resources, and reducing biases and cognitive prejudices ( Noorani et al., 2019 ). In this regard, the teacher's role becomes crucial because they are called to set up the right conditions in the learning contexts to enhance those metacognitive skills. It is important to give appropriate input and tools that can support these processes to offer students the chance to keep implementing those metacognitive competences through personal and self-developed stimuli. Teachers may use significant samples, combined with the possible specific contextualization, to foster the comprehension of the consequent benefits of applying critical thinking and media literacy. In addition, this contribution aims to suggest learning practices and cues for personalizing the interventions toward the enhancement of critical thinking and media literacy in the context of iVET. This entails the importance of focusing on the individual and the comprehension of where to apply those skills in their specific situations.

The NERDVET approach

Considering the very definitions and practices ( Tommasi et al., 2021a ), and the very institutional approaches as well, these can be interpreted through a behavioral-cognitive psychology approach and in particular via nudging and self-nudging models. At the base (i.e., ontologically, Creswell, 2014 ), critical thinking skills and media literacy regard how individuals understand information and concepts as well as promote specific cognitive and behavioral strategies. This echoes both the theoretical and empirical knowledge of the bunch of psychology and behavioral sciences devoted to the study of the human decision-making process ( Cohen and Jaffray, 1980 ; Bell et al., 1988 ). In this, scholars have proposed an approach aiming to make ideal normative decision-makers, considering their cognitive limitations and trying to help them through the implementation of particularly difficult tasks and operations as a reframing action ( Baron, 2000 ). Accordingly, individuals would be equipped with a set of logical abilities linked thanks to their reflective abilities in problem-solving activities, and their comprehension of the causes and effects of possible flawed choices. Trainers are asked to support the decision-making process of individuals with methods that help to reduce or eradicate errors. For example, the observation of commonly used reactions that are inconsistent with certain information for problem-solving can be considered to think more deeply about these inconsistencies, i.e., heuristics and biases, and foster critical thinking ( Cohen and Jaffray, 1980 ; Bell et al., 1988 ).

Practically (e.g., epistemologically, Creswell, 2014 ), behavior economy and cognitive psychology propose training techniques are meant to remove the occurrences of mistakes for decision-making process optimization. The underlying idea of this method is to work with individuals' common cognitive errors indicating logical inconsistencies and inconsistent perceptions of reality (Gerling, 2009). Bias removal (Debiasing) programmers are similar to the prescriptive method and the use of reminders, such as warning individuals to consider the base rate of success in the workplace before concluding. Different problems offered by Soll et al. (2014) include training programs in which students share professional experiences about overwhelming errors (to correct underestimation of rare events) and providing new tips and methods for trained employees to critique. Nudging and self-nudging approaches serve for interpreting the multiplicity of these perspectives for the realization of an educational toolkit for enhancing CT and ML in VET students. In this framework, the urgency is to (a) supporting the use of specific procedures to understand whether the information is fake or real; (b) enhancing the awareness of cognitive errors (e.g., cognitive biases) supporting the idea that all people can be irrational, as irrationality is embedded in humans but it can be reduced by the awareness of biases; (c) enhancing the individuals' tools to develop personal skills and procedural activities to address information.


The NERDVET community builds up on these previous ontological and epistemological interpretations ( Creswell, 2014 ) and refers to the notion of self-nudging as a general behavioral-cognitive process which can be supported among individuals to help them to reach their targets. The self-nudging is a novel notion whose roots are in the nudge theory. This latter is defined as a strategy to design individuals' choice environments, guiding their behavior to increase wellbeing and work efficacy, productivity, and social engagement ( Johnson et al., 2012 ; Lehner et al., 2016 ). The impact of nudges is widely recognized, and authors are even more supportive of the idea that individuals can create a simple set of nudges that can be used to apply specific reasoning and behaviors ( Thaler and Sunstein, 2008 ). The self-nudging concept instead is based on the idea of autonomous implementation of nudges, which are non-regulatory and non-monetary strategies that may change the choice architecture to target behavior in a predictable way, toward their ultimate goals, without eliminating any options or significantly changing personal incentives ( Thaler and Sunstein, 2008 ). Nudges are aids or signals that individuals experience all the time: some are designed to initiate or shape new behaviors; others can be used to provide information or guide thinking. In turn, self-nudging is a behavioral science strategy that focuses on individuals' capacity to define a set of strategies to improve their self-control. The idea behind self-nudging is that people can design and structure their environments in ways that make it easier for them to make the right choices and also to reach long-term goals. Also, self-nudging requires consciousness about a connection between one's behavior and the environment's architecture, as well as knowledge of a procedure that can help to modify that connection ( Torma et al., 2018 ).

Considering the congruency of the understanding of CT and ML as two interconnected metacognitive competences ( Tommasi et al., 2021a ) while assuming the orientation of the self-nudging approach to developing an individual set of behavioral-cognitive strategies ( Torma et al., 2018 ), training bases on eliciting the application of proactive engagement in information processing and also supporting the creation of specific individuals' strategies for critically assessing external information and personal reasoning ( Hertwig and Grüne-Yanoff, 2017 ). By facilitating the use of self-nudge, people have the opportunity, through adequate training, to become architects of their own choices in a fully conscious way. For this reason, it becomes necessary to address people on the causes related to probable behavioral problems and on how to deal with them. According, behavioral researchers are often called to contribute to the change process, but at the same time, they are limited in how they can modify the underlying environment or the entire chosen architecture. Often, they try to push in the context of complex systems in which they can at the most change behavior in a marginal way. Therefore, moving on to reducing “sludge,” like eliminating obstacles that make decision-making difficult, could be more productive, which is indeed the idea behind self-nudging training.

Self-nudging for CT and ML in VET

By raising awareness about individuals' social responsibility, it becomes possible to improve responsible thinking, critical interpretation, and information comprehension. In an educational context, nudges can thus help increase motivation in students, and encourage them to become more interested and involved in the proposed initiatives; moreover, highly motivated peers contribute to promoting the quality of support and discussion between subjects ( Ebert and Freibichler, 2017 ).

According to this definition, a key factor to enhance CT and ML in VET students is identifying which are the learning purposes associated with self-nudging. Specifically, interventions are meant to develop in subjects the competence to autonomously create nudges for the self, addressed to social responsibility. A significant aspect of this process is the maintenance of motivation, which may aid the growth of critical thinking and media literacy. Another relevant factor is the ability of teachers and trainers of managing to influence the habits of students regarding comprehension and interpretation of information. Those who work in these contexts should pay great attention and provide constant support to any thinking process and proactive behavior.

In this framework, we propose that to enhance CT and ML, the teaching staff can follow the self-nudging circuit of behaving and thinking critically ( Figure 1 ).


Figure 1 . Self-nudging circuit of behaving and thinking critically.

The focus is on eliciting the application of CT and ML by supporting students' proactive engagement in information processing and supporting the creation of specific individuals' strategies for critically assessing information and adopting informed behavior. Teachers and trainers represent one of the key elements for students' creation of their cognitive-behavioral strategies. Thus, the circuit comprehends students' ability to understand the role of personal nudges (cognitive strategies) via which activating self-nudging activities influence their behavior. That is, self-nudging as an individual approach to CT and ML leads students to behave critically in a proactive way. In turn, behaving critically and proactively leads to strengthening one's strategies (personal nudges) as well as creating new ones. As noted, individuals can themselves create a simple set of nudges that can be used to apply specific reasoning and behaviors ( Thaler and Sunstein, 2008 ).

Self-nudging techniques

In the digital era, the problem of fake news affects both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the information environments. The challenge of recognizing fake news worldwide can be addressed by developing learners' ability to evaluate and chose better sources of information. In these terms, self-nudging can focus on supporting the use of debunking strategies and the use of reliable sources. This means teaching students how to understand whether the information is fake or real by enhancing their awareness of the relevance of the sources. Thus, teachers can help students to realize specific strategies to control the source of data in reading and choosing information. An efficient way for developing these self-nudging strategies can be supporting the use of debunking by providing resources for students to debunk, such as a guide on how to flag suspicious stories on social media networks and a list of websites that have carried false or satirical articles. Alongside, this approach should also include training on the use of reliable sources, which means teaching students how and to what extent sources of information matter and how to find good sources.

To behave and think critically, individuals also need to avoid their prejudices and irrational beliefs, which may be due to the use of specific cognitive shortcuts, i.e., heuristics and biases. In these terms, the main aspect of reducing the incidence of cognitive biases and prejudices (i.e., irrational beliefs) is to develop awareness about them. Teaching people what cognitive biases are, how to recognize them, and what their effects can be, help reduce their incidence but also, in the view of self-nudging, help support the creation of specific strategies to avoid their use in fast reasoning. As already mentioned, CT is also related to addressing irrational beliefs (i.e., stimulating emotional strategies), which are usually connected to prejudice and emotional judgments ( Kahneman, 2003 ). Applying self-nudging to counter bad heuristics processes could result in both stopping them and creating good ones: in this context, some examples of nudges could be forcing oneself to consider more options, using checklists, activating reminders, and learning to practice rewording in the presence of ambiguous information ( Orosz et al., 2016 ).

Finally, another relevant aspect related to CT is the ability to break down information or problems to solve a small problem or analyze a simpler piece of information at a time. Using self-nudging in this framework would mean helping people to foster their abilities to practice continuous but simpler problem-solving and to constantly check their activities against a prior detailed plan they had formulated.

Direct users and beneficiaries

Following our model, teachers and trainers represent one of the key targets as direct users of the NERDVET approach. The contemporary setup of VET contexts underlines (a) the need for VET teachers and trainers to equip students with critical thinking skills and media literacy as well as (b) the lack of formal training paths on the identified topics, thus supporting teachers and trainers in empowering students to become the future generation of EU citizens. The role teachers and trainers can play has crucial importance as long as they are (1) better equipped and trained, (2) well-aware of the direct benefits for and impact on students, (3) capitalizing on the expertise developed at the European and national levels by other VET peers, having direct access to successful practices and teaching and training methods.

Furthermore, the upskilling proposal is expected to have a direct impact on iVET students as beneficiaries of the NERDVET approach. Motivation and active engagement are two key factors for a successful teaching and learning process, especially in the iVET sector where major challenges derive from the disadvantaged socioeconomic background owned by students. In fact, these pre-conditions affect not only students' performance but also their willingness to contribute to the overall learning process proposed by teachers and trainers. Following a motivational-oriented approach and applying active teaching methods, the target is to put students at the very center of the learning process with a double scope: (1) to equip iVET students with both technical and soft skills that are considered crucial to entering the labor market, (2) to allow teachers or trainers to be perceived as proactive actors–mentors and not as mere instructors–who are capable to turn teaching into a mutual learning process, where dialogue and support pave the way for students' personal and professional development.

Evaluating the NERDVET approach

The NERDVET project is administrated by teachers and researchers to propose forward normative instruments and projects characterized by high effectiveness to promote students learning. Hence, the evaluation of the NERDVET approach should focus on the outcomes of students and teachers involved in the training activities. A valuable pathway for the evaluation of the effectiveness of the NERDVET approach to enhance CT and ML should be based on the use of mix-methods involving qualitative interviews and quantitative instruments for students' performance assessment ( Sartori and Ceschi, 2013 ; Creswell, 2014 ). First, a qualitative evaluation approach could be based on Vergani's (2004) core-methodological perspective. Vergani proposed a system of qualitative evaluation based on viewing the prospects of participants in training activities and creating the evaluation system itself. He suggested considering the point of view of the evaluated rather than applying a standardized system and making inferences on the effectiveness of the training programs (2004). By the explicit comparison between all the data collected, i.e., documents, and interviews, the evaluation of a training project can emerge and core aspects of the students' competence development. Hence, researchers could collect qualitative data after the training in class and in the workplace using interviews coupled with document analysis. Students and teachers can be interviewed with a semi-structured questionnaire about their experience in the study. Moreover, qualitative methods aim to understand the features of the project as a result of the experiential contents, and the comparison with the documents made by teachers and authorities involved.

Second, quantitative methods can be used to assess students' and teachers' competence development ( Sartori et al., 2015 ). To pursue this aim, researchers can develop a new self-report questionnaire for teachers and students. We suggest the use of a self-evaluation tool for allowing teachers and trainers to verify their level of CT-ML, whether there is room for improvement, and whether the task was effective for the learning process. Results would be easily interpreted by looking at the range of the answers by assessing students before and after training to have a quantitative indication of their improvement in CT and ML.

We proposed this contribution to offer initial suggestions on the possibility of applying a novel educational approach. This limits this work to a mere presentation of the state of the art of literature on CT and ML in the context of VET, and the self-nudging approach realized by the NERDVET project. In this framework, our ultimate aim is to offer a link between the social need for the promotion of CT and ML and the progress of research in cognitive-behavioral psychology. Considering the actual limitations in promoting CT and ML in the VET world, this work represents the first step, by setting a theoretical approach that can be further developed and implemented in educational programs. Indeed, the present contribution contains both a terminological orientation and a general depiction of the possibilities of using self-nudging in VET for promoting CT and ML. Future applied research activities may use this work as a starting point to devise training interventions. Similarly, this study can lead to realizing policy recommendations and novel educational frameworks in the field of VET.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author contributions

FT and RS are responsible for the title, the abstract, the general idea of the paper, and wrote the manuscript. FT, RS, AC, and MF developed the concept behind the manuscript. SG and SB provided the literature sources and contributed to the design of the model. AC, MF, SG, and SB edited the final version of the manuscript. MF is, in particular, responsible for the introduction and the conclusion. All authors contributed to the elaboration of the concept to a publishable topic, have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Authors' work on this paper was supported by of the European Union funding for the project NERDVET, ERASMUS + KA3 - Support for Policy Reform, Social inclusion through education, training, and youth.


We gladly acknowledge the NERDVET project's partners, who envisioned the study of critical thinking and media literacy in the context of iVET, as they have contributed to the development of this study. They are representative of the following VET centers in Europe: ENAIP NET (Italy), Centro San Viator (Spain), Stichting Clusius College (The Netherlands), INOVINTER (Portugal), and American Farm School (Greece). We particularly thank Alfredo Garmendia, Ainhoa De La Cruz, Lara Meijer, Ryanne Sandstra, Clara Bovenberg, Yrina Res-Drost, Susanne Libbenga, Paula Cristina Soares Pedro, Susana Isabel Rodrigues Casimiro, Stavroula Antonopoulou, and Erikaiti Fintzou for their comments and discussions on our study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: critical thinking skills, media literacy, self-nudging, vocational education and training (VET), NERDVET

Citation: Sartori R, Tommasi F, Ceschi A, Falser M, Genero S and Belotto S (2022) Enhancing critical thinking skills and media literacy in initial vocational education and training via self-nudging: The contribution of NERDVET project. Front. Psychol. 13:935673. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.935673

Received: 04 May 2022; Accepted: 04 July 2022; Published: 05 August 2022.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2022 Sartori, Tommasi, Ceschi, Falser, Genero and Belotto. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Francesco Tommasi, francesco.tommasi@univr.it

This article is part of the Research Topic

Exploring the Psychology of Vocational Education: From the Perspective of Literacy Promotion

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MIT Sloan study finds thinking style impacts how people use social media

MIT Sloan Office of Communications

Feb 11, 2021

Critical thinkers share higher quality content and information than intuitive thinkers

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 11, 2021 – Social media has become a significant channel for social interactions, political communications, and marketing. However, little is known about the effect of cognitive style on how people engage with social media. A new study by MIT Sloan Research Affiliate Mohsen Mosleh , MIT Sloan School of Management Prof. David Rand , and their collaborators shows that people who engage in more analytical thinking are more discerning in their social media use, sharing news content from more reliable sources and tweeting about more substantial topics like politics.

“It’s important to understand how people interact on social media and what influences their decisions to share content and follow different accounts. Prior studies have explored the relationship between social media use and personality and demographic measures, but this is the first study to show the connection with cognitive style,” says Rand.

Mosleh, a professor at the University of Exeter Business School, explains, “In the field of cognitive science, some argue that critical thinking doesn’t have much to do with our daily life, but this study shows that it matters – critical thinkers are better able to use social media in meaningful ways, which has become an important part of modern life.”

In their study, the researchers measure Twitter-users cognitive style using the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), which is a set of questions with intuitively compelling but incorrect answers. For example, participants might be asked” If you are running a race and you pass the person in second place, what place are you in? The answer that intuitively comes to mind for many people is “first place,” however “second place” is the correct answer.

Mosleh points out that there is disagreement in the field of cognitive science about the relative roles of intuition and reflection in people’s everyday lives. Some say humans’ capacity to reflect is underused, and that critical thinking is mostly used to justify our intuitive judgments. Others maintain that critical thinking does have a meaningful impact on beliefs and behaviors and that it increases accuracy.

Their Twitter study confirmed that critical thinking has a significant impact on how users interact on social media. People in the sample who engaged in more cognitive reflection were more discerning in their social media use. They followed more selectively, shared higher quality content from more reliable sources, and tweeted about weightier subjects, particularly politics.

The researchers also found evidence of cognitive “echo chambers,” says Rand. “More intuitive users tended to follow similar types of accounts, which were notably avoided by more analytical users. They also tended to share content related to scams and sales promotions.”

He notes, “This study sheds light on how misinformation and scams are spread on social media, suggesting that lack of thinking is an important contributor to undesirable behavior. It also highlights the type of users at risk of falling for scams.”

As for the importance of cognitive style for everyday behaviors, Rand call this an “important new piece of evidence for the consequences of analytic thinking.”

Rand and Mosleh are coauthors of “Cognitive reflection correlates with behavior on Twitter,” along with MIT Research Associate Antonio Arechar and University of Regina Assistant Professor Gordon Pennycook,which was published in Nature Communications.

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Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

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Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions. Employers prioritize the ability to think critically—find out why, plus see how you can demonstrate that you have this ability throughout the job application process. 

Why Do Employers Value Critical Thinking Skills?

Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and offer the best solution.

 Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions independently, and will not need constant handholding.

Hiring a critical thinker means that micromanaging won't be required. Critical thinking abilities are among the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace. You can demonstrate critical thinking by using related keywords in your resume and cover letter, and during your interview.

Examples of Critical Thinking

The circumstances that demand critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:

  • A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job.
  • An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.

Promote Your Skills in Your Job Search

If critical thinking is a key phrase in the job listings you are applying for, be sure to emphasize your critical thinking skills throughout your job search.

Add Keywords to Your Resume

You can use critical thinking keywords (analytical, problem solving, creativity, etc.) in your resume. When describing your  work history , include top critical thinking skills that accurately describe you. You can also include them in your  resume summary , if you have one.

For example, your summary might read, “Marketing Associate with five years of experience in project management. Skilled in conducting thorough market research and competitor analysis to assess market trends and client needs, and to develop appropriate acquisition tactics.”

Mention Skills in Your Cover Letter

Include these critical thinking skills in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, mention one or two of these skills, and give specific examples of times when you have demonstrated them at work. Think about times when you had to analyze or evaluate materials to solve a problem.

Show the Interviewer Your Skills

You can use these skill words in an interview. Discuss a time when you were faced with a particular problem or challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking to solve it.

Some interviewers will give you a hypothetical scenario or problem, and ask you to use critical thinking skills to solve it. In this case, explain your thought process thoroughly to the interviewer. He or she is typically more focused on how you arrive at your solution rather than the solution itself. The interviewer wants to see you analyze and evaluate (key parts of critical thinking) the given scenario or problem.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Top Critical Thinking Skills

Keep these in-demand critical thinking skills in mind as you update your resume and write your cover letter. As you've seen, you can also emphasize them at other points throughout the application process, such as your interview. 

Part of critical thinking is the ability to carefully examine something, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. People with  analytical skills  can examine information, understand what it means, and properly explain to others the implications of that information.

  • Asking Thoughtful Questions
  • Data Analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Questioning Evidence
  • Recognizing Patterns


Often, you will need to share your conclusions with your employers or with a group of colleagues. You need to be able to  communicate with others  to share your ideas effectively. You might also need to engage in critical thinking in a group. In this case, you will need to work with others and communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems.

  • Active Listening
  • Collaboration
  • Explanation
  • Interpersonal
  • Presentation
  • Verbal Communication
  • Written Communication

Critical thinking often involves creativity and innovation. You might need to spot patterns in the information you are looking at or come up with a solution that no one else has thought of before. All of this involves a creative eye that can take a different approach from all other approaches.

  • Flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Imagination
  • Drawing Connections
  • Synthesizing


To think critically, you need to be able to put aside any assumptions or judgments and merely analyze the information you receive. You need to be objective, evaluating ideas without bias.

  • Objectivity
  • Observation

Problem Solving

Problem-solving is another critical thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, generating and implementing a solution, and assessing the success of the plan. Employers don’t simply want employees who can think about information critically. They also need to be able to come up with practical solutions.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Clarification
  • Decision Making
  • Groundedness
  • Identifying Patterns

More Critical Thinking Skills

  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Noticing Outliers
  • Adaptability
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Brainstorming
  • Optimization
  • Restructuring
  • Integration
  • Strategic Planning
  • Project Management
  • Ongoing Improvement
  • Causal Relationships
  • Case Analysis
  • Diagnostics
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Business Intelligence
  • Quantitative Data Management
  • Qualitative Data Management
  • Risk Management
  • Scientific Method
  • Consumer Behavior

Key Takeaways

  • Demonstrate that you have critical thinking skills by adding relevant keywords to your resume.
  • Mention pertinent critical thinking skills in your cover letter, too, and include an example of a time when you demonstrated them at work.
  • Finally, highlight critical thinking skills during your interview. For instance, you might discuss a time when you were faced with a challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking skills to solve it.

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critical thinking skills enabling the development of independent judgments about media content

What is critical thinking and how can it be improved?

Helen lee bouygues.

updated Feb. 6, 2023

what is critical thinking?

The term “critical thinking” is used a lot: by educators, politicians, journalists, and the general public. But what is critical thinking? When it comes to defining what critical thinking is – and is not – vagueness and confusion ensue. 

What is critical thinking?

Although it’s complicated and multi-faceted, critical thinking can be defined.  As cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham writes, critical thinking can be divided into three areas: reasoning, making judgments, and problem-solving. Critical thinking means becoming skilled in all three areas. In layman’s terms, it means thinking well.  

So how can we think better? What does improved critical thinking look like? Because good thinking is so entwined in our daily lives, acquiring critical thinking skills is not as straightforward as becoming better at math or tennis. The exact skills depend on the stage of development as well as the domain in which the thinking skills are applied.

Moreover, critical thinking involves certain dispositions – curiosity, humility, independence – and values – openness, fairness, diversity – that make it more complicated than a more straightforward area of study.

All that said, there are some general components of critical thinking that will help clarify what exactly it means to become a critical thinker.

How To Improve Critical Thinking Skills

Below we expand on the definition of critical thinking by outlining three areas where we can all improve our critical thinking:

  • Reflective thinking or what’s sometimes called “ metacognition; ”
  • Objective thinking, which requires an ability to manage emotions and recognize biases;
  • Analytical thinking, which involves skills in logic and argumentation.

You can also check out our SHARP Thinking method .

What Is Reflective Thinking and How Does It Relate To Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking starts with reflection. Indeed, the American philosopher John Dewey often referred to critical thinking as “reflective thinking .” He contrasted reflective thinking, in which thoughts are consciously ordered and follow each other in a sequence, from idle thinking where our thoughts meander from point to point without any structure.

Put differently, reflective thinking involves thinking about our own thoughts in such a way that we can intentionally improve, order, and regulate them. This practice is often referred to as “metacognition.”

Metacognition involves seeing our thinking from the outside. The approach includes observing our own thought processes and thinking habits. It requires us to evaluate and employ different thinking strategies reflectively, and to notice when we are thinking irrationally or unproductively.

Reflective thinking involves thinking about our own thoughts in such a way that we can intentionally improve, order, and regulate them. Tweet

Metacognition is also crucial for learning. Some research suggests that metacognitive or reflective skills can be as important as raw intelligence in predicting student success. Children become capable of reflecting on their thinking in this way at around four, and metacognitive awareness increases with age up until early early adulthood. 

Metacognition also depends on education and practice. There’s a lot of evidence that much like riding a bike, metacognition can be learned. One way metacognitive skills can be nurtured is by writing. For example, journaling about thinking can be extraordinarily useful.

Asking a lot of “why” questions can also promote metacognition: Why am I doing this? Why am I thinking this? These sorts of practices pull us outside of ourselves and give us the perspective from which we can reflect on and improve our thinking.

critical thinking skills enabling the development of independent judgments about media content

What is Objective Thinking?

When people think of “objectivity,” they usually imagine cold-blooded and perfectly rational thinking, almost like a computer processing data. But the truth is that being objective requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, and honesty about our own biases.

First of all, a balanced emotional foundation is necessary for sound reasoning. Critical thinking requires both confidence and humility— the confidence to think independently of group pressures and the humility to acknowledge that we might be wrong or biased. If we’re either too susceptible to a need for peer approval or too arrogant to consider others’ opinions, we are bound to fail at being objective.

It is therefore crucial that emotional management skills be developed at a young age, and renewed continually throughout our lives. Trying new activities and taking on new challenges — like learning a new language, for example — may seem far removed from critical thinking. But they are crucial to developing feelings of competence, openness to challenges, and the ability to cope with failure which is crucial to high-level reasoning across all domains.

Another substantial barrier to objectivity is bias. We are all inherently limited by our own experiences and backgrounds. But these subjective biases do not need to determine how we think. To be more objective, we must learn to identify particular thought patterns that lead us into error or misinterpretation.

Biases include not just those derived from our personal experience, but general cognitive biases we all suffer from. For example, it is easy to think that past events were easily predictable all along (hindsight bias) or that if a coin turns heads five times in a row, it’s more likely to be tails next time (Gambler’s fallacy). The only way to overcome cognitive biases is to be educated about them , and strive for objectivity.

Objective thinking builds on reflective thinking. We have to be able to see our thinking from the outside, if we are to learn to control biases or emotions that can distort our reasoning. With practice, we can learn to adjust our thought processes and see the world more as it is. We are all inherently limited by our own experiences and backgrounds. But these subjective biases do not need to determine how we think. To be more objective, we must learn to identify particular thought patterns that lead us into error or misinterpretation.

We are all limited by our own experiences and backgrounds. To be more objective, we must learn to identify particular thought patterns that lead us into error or misinterpretation. Tweet

What Is Analytical Thinking?

The ability to plan and regulate one’s thinking and to manage emotions and biases are necessary preconditions for higher-level logical analysis. These skills allow critical thinkers to build and evaluate information and arguments step-by-step so they can persuade others of their positions and criticize mistaken arguments. This is known as analytical thinking. 

Young children, of course, usually aren’t ready to tackle formal logic, but there are plenty of ways that parents and other adults can help stimulate their analytical thinking. They can ask them to give reasons for their opinions or how they might criticize someone else’s argument.

Later on – in high school, college, and beyond – training in formal logic can help adults think more about how arguments are structured, whether conclusions follow from premises, and how to use logic to evaluate others’ arguments. 

Learning the logic of conditional (if-then) statements, for instance, can help students think more precisely. To take one example, the logical rule known as modus tollens states that if a conditional statement (“if p then q”) is true, and we know that the consequent (q) is false, then we can infer that the antecedent is false, too.

So if it’s true that “If there is smoke, there is fire” and there is no fire, we can conclude that there is no smoke either. By contrast, we cannot conclude from the statement that just because there is fire, there must also be smoke.

This close attention to the logical connections between statements is necessary for students to be able to reason well about complex issues like climate change or the size of government.

Logic and Critical Thinking

However, it’s important to keep in mind that, while logic is a crucial part of critical thinking, there is more to critical thinking than mere logic. Critical thinking also requires argumentative skills that go beyond logic.

In a political debate, for example, two opponents may both have perfectly logical arguments but differing relative values as starting points – leading to vastly different conclusions. Similarly, if an airtight logical argument is not advanced with any rhetorical skill, it is unlikely to be persuasive.

In other words, just as objectivity requires skills in both reasoning and emotional management, analytical or argumentative thinking requires both logical skill and an ability to understand and empathize with one’s audience. 

Keep in mind that, while logic is a crucial part of critical thinking, there is more to critical thinking than mere logic. Tweet

Parting Thoughts 

Critical thinking is, therefore, never a mere intellectual exercise, but requires an all-around ability to put reasoning into practice. It goes well beyond raw intelligence or logical skill, and involves the virtues of practical reasoning like self-awareness, humility, independence, and empathy that are cultivated and deepened throughout a lifetime. It is not a stretch, then, to say that learning to think critically can make you a better person. 

To sum up, critical thinkers can reflect on and correct their thought processes, remain objective even in overheated or deceptive circumstances, and cogently analyze the information as well as the structure and logic of arguments. These skills require commitment and dedication, but the rewards — sounder judgments, better decisions, more productive work, and even healthier relationships — are well worth it.

Helen Lee Bouygues is the president of the Reboot Foundation

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How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills


Do you react to situations based on your emotions or personal biases? Are you looking for ways to improve communication and the flow of ideas with those around you? There are skills that have the capability to greatly improve your capacity to make objective, effective choices and arguments, and those are critical thinking skills. Without these skills, arguments can often be one-sided. Criticism can feel like a personal attack on your character rather than an opportunity to open up dialogue and communicate productively.

Related: 8 Ways to Master the Art of Communication

Let’s take a look at how to develop critical thinking skills so that you can walk into any situation with the tools needed to set intense emotions aside and make insightful decisions .

1. Become a self-critic.

The very first and most important step for developing critical thinking skills is becoming a critic of your own thoughts and actions. Without self-reflection, there can’t be growth. You can break down your own thoughts by asking yourself why you believe something. When you do this, you need to clarify your thoughts by assessing this information objectively and finding a solid logic to what you believe, rather than just a muddled idea. Why do I believe this? Can I think of examples in my life when this proved true or false? Am I attached to this idea emotionally? Why? When we self-reflect, we are able to observe how we respond to a situation, in our minds and out loud.

Another aspect of becoming a self-critic is acknowledging your strengths , weaknesses, personal preferences and biases. When you know this information, you can understand why you approach certain situations from a specific perspective, and then you can step around that viewpoint because you are aware of its presence.

2. Active listening.

Thinking and listening are nearly impossible to do at the same time. To become a critical thinker, you need to be able to listen to others’ ideas, arguments and criticisms without thinking of your response or reaction while they are speaking. You can’t properly absorb the information someone is trying to convey to you if you don’t take the time to truly listen. Listening allows us to feel empathy. We hear someone else’s story, struggles, ideas, successes and passions, and how they reached them. When we hear their perspective, we can take that information and analyze it. When we use active listening skills, we can fully understand what someone is trying to tell us because that conversation continues until all parties can reiterate what the other is trying to say.

3. Analyzing information.

Analyzing information is paramount for critical thinking. No one thinks critically at all times. Sometimes our joy, anger, sadness or other emotions are too great, and other times we struggle to focus on the central issue at hand. To reach success , we need to analyze the information before us, whether it is information in our mind or being shared by others. We can break it down by assessing what is being said, and ensuring that we clearly understand what it is that needs to happen. Then we can dissect and appraise all arguments, including our own, and think about how the decisions would impact others, as well as the bottom line. When we can step back and analyze an argument, it allows us to approach it from an objective viewpoint.

4. Nonviolent communication.

Critical thinking isn’t much help if you can’t communicate in a nonviolent, productive way. When listening and analyzing different arguments, you first need the ability to recognize valid logic . Then you need to be able to communicate with other people in a productive way. The basis of nonviolent communication is compassion, observation and collaboration. When we approach any scenario with compassion, we are already in a peaceful mindset , rather than a defensive one. When we observe, we can observe our arguments and others without judgment and evaluation. We can detach our emotions from an idea. He doesn’t like my idea, so he must not like me. And collaboration naturally happens when everyone comes into the process with a compassionate, open mind, with the focus on solving the objective at hand rather than protecting anyone’s ego.

5. Developing foresight.

The ability to predict the future impact of a decision is foresight. Foresight is a critical component for success in all aspects of your life. When you move somewhere, you plan ahead to see what the job outlook is and the safety of a neighborhood. If you are moving a business, it is wise to examine the impact of that decision. Will it be too far for some of your talented employees to drive? Will you lose business because of the change? What will you gain? Every decision should be weighed carefully, with consideration of how the choice affects your bottom line, but also for the people who are working toward success alongside you.

Critical thinking requires the ability to reflect on one’s own beliefs, as well as someone else’s ideas, and then see the connections between those things. It requires the ability to actively listen to others, to assess, dissect and appraise arguments, and to separate intense emotions from the topic at hand.

Related: 10 Ways Successful People Make Smart Decisions


Sam Milam is a freelance writer hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Her focus is on discovering passions, developing skill sets, and honing the best, most productive version of ourselves. She loves to travel, meet new people and do yoga.

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