top of page

Digital media literacy programs: overview, good practices and potential problems

The publication was prepared as a part of the American Spaces Digital Literacy and Training Program. This is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by PH International and its partners the Georgian Centre for Strategy and Development and Read more about the project here.

In an era marked by the influence of digital information, the importance of digital and media literacy has never been more pronounced. With the proliferation of disinformation posing a significant threat to informed discourse and societal well-being, initiatives aimed at combating this phenomenon have emerged as vital pillars of contemporary digital literacy efforts. Through a review of existing literature and program materials, this paper identifies key strengths observed in various disinformation mitigation programs.

Mapping of the available media literacy programs

In total, 69 existing media literacy courses, PDFs, guides for Media and Information Literacy (MIL) teachers, games, and various reports have been analyzed.


Programs are available in multiple languages and aim for diverse demographics. Almost half of the content has a non-specific approach, targeting a broad spectrum of age groups, while the rest of available ML programs/initiatives include materials intended for high school and undergraduate students, adults, educators, and media literacy trainers. The localization efforts include adapting programs for specific regions or countries, such as the adaptation of the Very Verified program for Baltic states, Russia, Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia.

In terms of the inception year, the majority of the analyzed materials and programs were published in 2022, with a notable secondary presence observed in 2020. Due to this trend, it is noteworthy to mention that the exploration of AI's influence on the creation and dissemination of disinformation remains largely unaddressed within educational curricula.

Topics of the programs/initiatives

Introduction to disinformation and social media, bots and trolls are very common in analyzed materials. Many resources offer insights into the nature of disinformation, its impact, and strategies for countering it. Very Verified and Young African Leaders Initiative provides written materials and videos explaining the creation, spread, and impact of disinformation. Go Viral and Bad News are interactive games that simulate the creation and spread of disinformation. Spot the Troll presents scenarios where users must identify and report troll accounts online.


Lead-Online Hate Out! game and Croatian Gong Infographics provide interactive experiences and informative graphics to understand and combat hate speech, while educational resources from UNESCO and Facebook offer guidelines and strategies for addressing hate speech online.


More efforts are needed to address the impact of AI on online content and the Foreign Interference and Information Manipulation as these topics are not sufficiently covered.  A recent publication by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offers initial insights for comprehending foreign disinformation, but comprehensive training for the role of a Foreign Interference and Information Manipulation (FIMI) analyst needs to be done from the ground up.

Chart 1: Topics covered
Chart 1: Topics covered

Formats of the programs

Various formats are being employed to tackle the issue of disinformation across different demographics and educational levels. These formats include written materials, games, multimedia platforms, info charts and interactive courses. Various initiatives offer written content supplemented with quizzes, expert videos, and interactive elements.


In the analyzed sample on the topic of combating disinformation, several platforms and initiatives stand out. For instance, the Very Verified project provides comprehensive materials in multiple languages, including quizzes and expert videos, tailored for high school and undergraduate students, with a focus on interactive learning and certification. Platforms like Checkology and First Draft offer comprehensive curricula and resources for both educators and learners, providing valuable free online courses, toolkits and resources.


Chart 2: Most common formats of the analyzed materials
Chart 2: Most common formats of the analyzed materials

Additionally, resources such as the ASEAN Digital Literacy Program  provide structured courses covering various media literacy topics, offering potential models for program and platform development, as it offers a very clean, simple and intuitive user-friendly platform.

The written format involves the creation of educational materials in text form- articles, guides, handbooks, or manuals. Typically, they offer a comprehensive and detailed exploration of the topic, allowing learners to study at their own pace and refer back to the content as needed. 

The Media Literacy Resource Toolkit is a comprehensive collection of resources aimed at enhancing critical thinking and media literacy skills among visitors to American Spaces. It includes various components such as VOA News Literacy Lessons, consisting of seven four-minute videos with transcripts and key vocabulary. Additionally, it includes a Video and Discussion Guide focusing on media literacy education in Washington State schools accompanied by a PBS News Hour video. The toolkit also features the Stop. Reflect. Verify. campaign materials, which feature three short videos with transcripts in multiple languages. Furthermore, it offers the Share America Recognizing Disinformation video available in several languages, and resources like the Movie Programming Kit related to the film Shattered Glass and the True or False? Assessing the News Program Kit. These resources aim to equip individuals with the skills to navigate and critically evaluate media content effectively.

Documents such as Montenegrin Media Institute’s Handbook for Teachers offer detailed curricula and guidelines, particularly emphasizing engagement strategies and media landscape awareness, suitable for adult learners.  The Learn to Discern (L2D) Media Literacy Trainer's Manual provides adaptable materials for workshops and learning. UNESCO's detailed curriculum and glossary serve as valuable resources for designing media literacy programs.

Guidelines provided by organizations like ERGA offer practical advice and insights into good media literacy campaigns.

Gamification seems to be a powerful tool in improving critical thinking and identifying manipulation techniques in social media posts. Games that allow users to simulate the creation and spread of fake news provide a unique and interactive learning experience. Games such as "Bad News" and Harmony Square take a gamified approach to the inoculation theory to educate users on spotting manipulation techniques in social media posts and understanding the impact of disinformation on society. These games simulate real-world scenarios and provide users with opportunities to practice critical thinking and media literacy skills in a controlled environment.

Platforms like Be Internet Awesome focus on younger audiences, while resources like the European Commission's guidelines and UNESCO's detailed curricula target educators, providing structured approaches to teaching media literacy and tackling disinformation.

Lastly, the Media Development Foundation's innovative games combining classic gameplay with fact-checking demonstrate the potential for educational games to merge entertainment with learning, with scope for improvements in content variety.

Innovative approaches, such as the European Association for Viewers Interests (EAVI) infocharts presentations using food menus to represent different information manipulation forms, showcase creative ways to engage learners and enhance understanding.

Some programs, like the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), focus on video explainers to teach countering disinformation. The course, basic in its core, delves into the impact of disinformation on societies, highlighting its role in manipulating populations. Through three concise 10-minute videos, it covers essential topics: defining disinformation, exploring its origins and propagation, and analyzing the actors behind disinformation campaigns. Explainers are followed by a quiz and a certificate.

Overall, leveraging a combination of resources, formats, and methodologies is key to designing effective media literacy programs that address the diverse needs of learners and combat disinformation effectively.  

Best practices

●      Varied Formats for engaging audience

A noteworthy observation is that many programs offer a diverse range of formats, including written materials, games, videos, and infographics. This multifaceted approach accommodates diverse learning preferences and engagement levels among participants.


●      Focus on Practical Skills

The analyzed programs prioritize the cultivation of practical skills, including fact-checking, critical thinking, and media literacy, aimed at equipping users with the tools to navigate the digital realm adeptly. Particularly for adult learners, the inclusion of practical tips proves indispensable, with writing tasks and discussions serving to deepen comprehension and enhance engagement.


●      Platform

It's worth exploring successful examples such as the ASEAN Digital Literacy Program, Checkology, First Draft, MilLab and Veryverified. These platforms stand out for their user-friendly interfaces and intuitive navigation, as well as toolkits, materials and guides, which contribute to an engaging learning experience. 


●      Platform enhancing materials

Certain reviewed materials and platforms utilize pre-recorded expert videos, quizzes, and glossaries to ensure a balanced and effective learning experience. As we need to develop a platform that will encapsulate all of our curriculum, maybe a good approach would be to record expert videos and have a tab with the MIL and FIMI glossary. A good example of a glossary can be found in UNESCO’s Media and information literate citizens: think critically, click wisely! Utilizing pre-recorded expert videos, quizzes, glossaries, and additional resources may lead to a balanced and effective learning experience.


●      Gamification

Gamification emerges as a viable strategy for enhancing critical thinking and discerning manipulation tactics within social media contexts. Noteworthy games like Cat Park, Harmony Square and BadNews offer immersive experiences that simulate the creation and dissemination of fake news, aligning with the active inoculation theory. However, replicating the depth and complexity of these games would require substantial resources and localization efforts.


Streamlining gameplay duration, ideally within 5-10 minutes like Fakey, would ensure user engagement. Fakey is a fast-paced, dynamic game where users assess articles based solely on headlines, images, and descriptions, flagging suspicious content for fact-checking. Developing a similar game with diverse country-specific case studies and fact-checks would offer a good educational tool based on real-life examples. Another noteworthy example is the First Draft News verification challenge, providing practical exercises in verifying information authenticity.


●      Certification

The provision of certificates upon completion in certain programs serves as a significant motivator for learners (especially 18-30 audiences who are in search of a job opportunity) and enhances the credibility of the training. These certificates not only acknowledge the participants' efforts and achievements but also validate the skills and knowledge they have acquired throughout the program. By offering tangible recognition of their dedication, certificates incentivize learners to fully engage with the material and complete the training.


●      Take an apolitical approach

Many young individuals may not consider themselves interested in politics and thus perceive themselves as immune to malicious content. Incorporating more of an apolitical context and content into a game/quiz, could serve as a more engaging and impactful educational tool.


The concept of the Disinformation Nation quiz of selecting from food to fashion preferences before receiving results on how susceptible to propaganda the player may seem could be an interesting approach for gamified activities aimed at engaging young people. Quack Hunter, a game developed by MilLab, offers a unique blend of fact-checking and duck-hunting mechanics, resulting in an engaging experience for players. Its dynamic gameplay contributes to its appeal, providing some replay value by ensuring that statements do not repeat even after multiple playthroughs.

Potential issues

Several challenges and limitations have emerged from the review of media literacy programs. These include issues such as oversimplified narratives, lack of cultural relevance, and limited evaluation metrics, as well as the risk of oversimplifying complex topics. Addressing these challenges requires careful consideration and the development of mitigation strategies to maximize the impact of the program.


●      Localization and content adaptation

Adapting content to different languages and cultural nuances requires additional resources and expertise. Without localization, it can limit its effectiveness when implemented in diverse cultural contexts. One of the discussed options was to search for credible local fact-checkers and use their content for the localization of the program, as ensuring accessibility across different languages and cultural contexts is crucial for the effective dissemination of information.


●      Issues with online experience

When considering the online experience component, there's a notable risk that individuals might rely on external sources such as Google for quick answers. The courses are likely to be attended by volunteers, so the mere fact that they are taking part should indicate their motivation, which in a way reduces the risk of them cheating. Still, consulting Google poses a potential threat to the evaluation process, as it could distort the efficacy of the program.


●      Too complicated/not user-friendly platforms

When developing the e-learning platform, it's essential to prioritize user-friendliness and simplicity. While platforms like NewseumED offer an abundance of lessons, materials, and information, their complexity can hinder user navigation. Therefore, the program author/provider must ensure that the platform strikes a balance, providing comprehensive content without overwhelming users with unnecessary complexity.


●      Time constraint

Balancing the multitude of potential questions and discussion opportunities within each lesson (both during face-to-face and online approaches) presents a significant logistical challenge, particularly given the time constraints. Effectively planning and striking a balance between facilitating discussions and delivering lectures is essential to maximizing the efficient use of time.


●      Be careful with resources (games & platform)

Developing and implementing certain aspects of the programs, such as online platforms and games can be resource-intensive. This includes the financial resources required for development, as well as the time and expertise needed to create engaging and effective content. It is suggested to find a middle ground between complex games such as Bad News/Google’s Interland and Fakey/First Draft News game which are more on the simpler side.


●      Don’t overuse stock footage

Incorporating pre-recorded expert videos or any form of video material into the platform requires careful consideration to avoid overreliance on stock footage and animations. These generic elements have the potential to fail in captivating learners' attention effectively. The visual presentation, including editing, graphs, and other visuals, appears outdated and lacking in appropriate design elements.


●      Outdated or Irrelevant Content

Many programs showcase content that could now be outdated or irrelevant to a target audience. This encompasses examples, case studies, and references that may no longer align with current events or technological advancements, especially considering that these programs were developed several years ago. There's a critical need for ongoing updates to ensure the material reflects future trends and evolving issues, thus maintaining its relevance and effectiveness over time.


●      Lack of Engagement Strategies

While some programs offer interactive elements like quizzes and games, others may lack engaging strategies to maintain participants' interest and attention throughout the learning process. This can lead to decreased effectiveness, especially among younger audiences.


●      Bias or Partisanship

Some programs may exhibit bias or partisanship in their content, potentially undermining their credibility and trustworthiness among participants. It's essential to ensure that educational materials remain impartial and objective in presenting information about disinformation.


●      Privacy Concerns

If the program author or provider collects user data for evaluation or customization purposes, it's important to acknowledge that this may raise privacy concerns among participants. To mitigate these concerns and maintain trust, clear communication about data usage and protection becomes paramount.


●      Oversimplification

Some programs may oversimplify complex topics related to disinformation, such as the motivations behind online trolling or the mechanisms of social media manipulation. This can result in a superficial understanding of the issues among participants.


The success of the program depends upon the adept implementation of diverse methodologies and formats, localization of content, and the relevance of subject matter and examples.


The identified deficiencies in coverage, notably in areas such as the influence of artificial intelligence on the generation and dissemination of disinformation, as well as the responsibilities and work of a FIMI analyst, underscore the necessity for a contemporary, comprehensive and effective media and digital literacy initiative.


As articulated at the outset, this paper has undertaken a review of existing initiatives, extracting best practices, assessing available resources, and identifying areas where additional enhancement could be used. Concurrently, it has mapped out deficiencies and potential challenges to inform strategic planning and optimize program planning.


It is important to acknowledge the constraints while writing the paper, such as its deadline, which may have impaired an extensive review of all available and public initiatives and programs. Furthermore, the predominantly English-focused search parameters may have inadvertently restricted the scope of the findings. Nonetheless, it is important to underscore that this analysis has encompassed some of the most influential programs and organizations in the field, encapsulating the essence of the task at hand.

bottom of page