Using Digital & Media Literacy to Make Decisions

How can we use media literacy education to help students make positive decisions? We already know that incorporating digital and media literacy into our classrooms is vital. Before understanding how this is possible, one must have basic understanding of nudge theory. It is the claim that the use of positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can positively influence the way people makes decisions. Nudge theory “proposes that that the designing of choices should be based on how people actually think and decide (instinctively and rather irrationally), rather than how leaders and authorities traditionally (and typically incorrectly) believe people think and decide” (Business Balls, 2013). Media literacy educators teach and encourage habits of mind, which can help to encourage these positive decisions.

In the above video, Dr. Joe Arvai discusses how to make better decisions. He notes that we don’t often see values when we make decisions, but that our decisions are like mirrors that reflect our values. When people are asked to pause and reflect prior to making a decision, the process often aligns better with values. By its very nature, digital and media literacy education teaches students to do just this. The analysis, reflection and creating that is inherent in DML education “is an example of a decision making tool that elucidates basic (and unending) steps that help individuals make choices- and whether one decides to act or not, one sees how a choice is made” (Center for Media Literacy, p. 10, 2015).

For example, using NAMLE’s Key Questions in the classroom when analyzing media messages is one way that nudge theory and DML education intersect. These questions relating to authorship, format, audience, content and purpose “allow students to gain a deeper or more sophisticated understanding of media messages” (Schiebe & Rogow, p. 37, 2012). The habits of mind encouraged through lessons such as these give students the opportunity to question, gain feedback and see the relevance of media to their daily lives and in turn to make decisions that align with their values.

Another interesting way to get students to stop and reflect before making decisions is to use optical illusions to show them that the brain does not always see what is right in front of it. In the example below, most students will read this sentence as “A bird in the hand” neglecting to see the second “the” in the last line.

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Ask students what they see in the image below and inevitably some will answer rabbit and some will answer duck. This image can be used to illustrate that core concept that some people experience the same media differently.

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Do you believe it is ethical to use nudge theory and digital and media literacy education to help students make decisions? How would you incorporate this in your classroom?



Center for Media Literacy. (2015). Heuristics, nudge theory and the internet of things. Connections, 73, 2-8.

Scheibe, C., & Rogow, F. (2012). The teacher’s guide to media literacy: critical thinking in a multimedia world. Corwin: Thousand Oaks, CA.

TEDx Talks. (2014, 8 December). How to make better decisions. [Video file]. Retrieved from



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