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Digital media literacy programs: the most effective methodologies

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.

When designing a digital literacy program, it is important to tailor the materials and methods to the specific needs and characteristics of the target audience. Whether the program is aimed at adults, children, or elderly individuals, understanding their unique learning styles, preferences, and technological proficiency is paramount.


Andragogy is the practice of teaching adults, distinct from pedagogy, which focuses on teaching children. The methods employed for adult education differ from those used for children, recognizing that adults often have established careers and need specialized instruction to enhance specific skills. Six principles guide andragogy, which are: emphasizing the “why” of learning, acknowledging the significance of experience, recognizing self-concept and autonomy, ensuring readiness for workforce applicability, maintaining a problem-oriented focus, and fostering intrinsic motivation.


Adult education prioritizes assisting them in developing new competencies, acquiring skills, and gaining knowledge relevant to their current or future careers and needs. Such education often emphasizes creating a supportive and engaging learning environment tailored to the unique needs of adult learners. This involves incorporating interactive and experiential educational activities, as well as real-world examples and case studies relevant to their experiences and interests.


Typically, it can be asserted that an instructor or teacher doesn't merely “teach” adults; instead, they facilitate and support their learning process.


Methodologies and learning theories

Creating a digital literacy program is not an easy task. Implementing effective methodologies to create digital literacy programs is critical to supporting optimal learning outcomes. Effective methods not only empower learners with the competence to navigate the vast online landscape but also cultivate their ability to discern credible sources, evaluate information reliability, and engage in responsible digital citizenship. Moreover, these methodologies stimulate motivation and engagement, as learners can benefit from multimedia formats that cater to diverse learning styles, enhancing comprehension and retention.

Among learning theories and curriculum models, as well as a very large number of teaching strategies, methods and techniques used in education, several stand out as particularly noteworthy for the course on disinformation and FIMI being developed.

A combination of the modular curriculum, where each module focuses on specific topics to ensure precise learning outcomes, and the spiral model is advisable. Disinformation is a multifaceted topic, and a spiral curriculum enables learners to revisit and deepen their understanding of key concepts over time. This approach ensures that the topic is not forgotten soon after the lesson is over, as it returns in further material.

MODULAR CURRICULUM is broken down into distinct modules or units that are typically self-contained and can be arranged in various sequences or combinations. This allows for flexibility in learning paths, as learners can choose modules based on their interests or needs and they can build their knowledge step by step, mastering one module before progressing to the next. Modular courses are adaptable and can be easily updated or expanded. If there are emerging trends or developments in the field, new modules can be integrated without disrupting the entire curriculum.

PROS: Flexibility - a modular curriculum allows for flexibility in learning. Each module can be a standalone unit.

Customization - it enables customization of learning paths. Learners can choose modules based on their interests, needs, or prior knowledge, creating a personalized learning experience.

Targeted learning - modules can be designed to address specific learning objectives or skills, ensuring that learners focus on targeted areas of knowledge.

Adaptability - easy to adapt and update. If there are changes in content or new information becomes available, modules can be modified without restructuring the entire curriculum.

CONS: Fragmentation - the modular approach might lead to fragmented learning experiences if not well-coordinated. Learners may struggle to see the bigger picture or understand the connections between different modules.

Lack of cohesion - there is a risk of lacking cohesion and continuity in learning. If modules are not carefully integrated, it may result in a disjointed educational experience.

SPIRAL CURRICULUM is revisiting fundamental ideas throughout the curriculum cyclically for deeper understanding and effective teaching of complex subjects. In practice, this could involve referring to the topics of previous modules in subsequent courses.

PROS: Reinforcement of learning - concepts are revisited and reinforced over time, leading to better retention and understanding.

Progressive complexity - the spiral model progressively introduces topics, allowing learners to build on their existing knowledge and delve deeper into subjects gradually. 

CONS: Time constraints - covering all topics in sufficient depth within a limited timeframe can be challenging.

Curriculum planning - careful planning is required to maintain coherence and logical progression while revisiting concepts.

In terms of learning theories, constructivist learning appears to be the most fitting. Disinformation often requires critical thinking and the interpretation of information, making constructivist learning, where learners actively construct their knowledge through exploration and reflection, a valuable strategy for developing skills in analyzing and understanding disinformation.

Also, integrating transformative learning into a course holds significant value. Transformative learning involves the critical questioning and internal transformation of previously assimilated assumptions, beliefs, values, and perspectives. The emphasis on critical reflection encourages learners to reevaluate their assumptions, fostering increased self-awareness and a nuanced comprehension of complex issues.

CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING emphasizes the importance of learners actively constructing their understanding and knowledge through experiences and reflection. In practice, the use of constructivism involves e.g.: hands-on learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, collaborative learning, reciprocal teaching/learning, flipped classrooms, role-playing, and mind maps.

PROS: Constructed knowledge - engages students using prior experiences to confirm and actively build new understanding.

Long-term retention - concepts are often better remembered when students build connections between new knowledge and existing understanding.

CONS: Dependence on beliefs and attitudes - the effectiveness of a constructivist approach is influenced by students' beliefs and attitudes, which may vary.

This approach can be time-consuming.

TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING is a process involving the critical questioning and internal transformation of previously assimilated assumptions, beliefs, values, and perspectives.  It focuses on challenging and changing learners' existing perspectives and assumptions and involves a deep, often personal, reflection that leads to a shift in understanding and worldview. In practice, this could involve reflective exercises, e.g., using a forum or in the form of open/open-ended questions that prompt learners to critically examine their existing beliefs and perspectives on the topics covered. Integration of real-world case studies related to disinformation events, allows learners to analyze complex situations and consider multiple perspectives. Development of online simulations that replicate scenarios involving disinformation campaigns, allowing participants to make decisions and observe the consequences. Simulations can enhance critical thinking skills by immersing learners in realistic, dynamic situations. Including presentations from an expert in the field of cybersecurity, disinformation, or related areas to share their experiences and insights. This can provide a practical perspective.

PROS: Involves the internal transformation of adult learners, leading to more open and validated perspectives. Enhances the understanding of the world through transformative learning processes. Personal growth - transformative learning fosters personal growth and self-reflection, encouraging learners to reevaluate their perspectives and beliefs. 

CONS: Subjectivity- effectiveness may vary based on individual attitudes and beliefs.

Demanding process - sometimes requires adult learners to critically question their perspectives, which can be challenging and demanding. Some learners may resist transformative experiences, preferring the comfort of familiar beliefs, leading to potential resistance and discomfort.

It is also worth considering using scaffolding, an instructional method that supports students until they are independent in a given topic, skills etc. This concept mirrors the training wheels on a bicycle, assisting until learners achieve autonomy. Positive reinforcement as well is advised throughout the course, as it serves as a good practice for maintaining learner motivation.

SCAFFOLDING in education often involves supporting learners and gradually reducing that support as they become more capable. This can include offering more complex examples, tasks, or challenges as students demonstrate readiness for them. The goal is to help learners build their skills and understanding incrementally, allowing them to reach higher levels of proficiency over time.

PROS: Progressive learning - supports learning progression in stages, from guided to independent instruction.

Fosters independence - facilitates the development of independent learning skills as learners gain confidence and competence in handling tasks on their own. 

CONS: Time-consuming - implementing scaffolding can be time-consuming for educators, especially in one-on-one or small group settings, which may be challenging in large classrooms. The transfer of skills learned with scaffolding to new, unassisted situations may pose challenges, affecting the generalization of knowledge.

Mismatched support - instructors may struggle to accurately gauge the appropriate level of support, providing too much or too little assistance based on individual learner needs.

Adapting the approaches mentioned above involves using further methods, strategies and techniques in teaching, an important element of which is to involve participants in practical activities or real-life problems. Among them are:

Problem-based learning (PBL) is presenting learners with real-world scenarios of disinformation and encouraging them to analyze, apply critical thinking skills, and propose solutions to foster a practical understanding of the subject matter. This approach aligns with an emphasis on practical application.

PROS: Real-world application - promotes the application of knowledge to real-world problems, enhancing the relevance and practicality of learning.

Critical thinking - develops critical thinking skills as learners actively engage in problem-solving, analysis, and decision-making.

Motivation - increases learner motivation by presenting challenges that encourage curiosity and a desire to find solutions.

CONS: Time-intensive - can be time-consuming, requiring sufficient time for in-depth exploration and resolution of complex problems.

Resource demands - requires adequate resources, including time, technology, and materials, which may pose challenges in resource-limited environments.

Learning by doing - emphasizing active engagement over passive learning, this approach allows students to apply knowledge through practical exercises. Creating scenarios where learners actively engage with disinformation concepts reinforces their understanding and analytical skills. Thanks to active involvement, students not only deepen their knowledge but also improve their analytical skills in effectively identifying and mitigating disinformation threats.

PROS: Enhances understanding through hands-on experiences, allowing learners to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations. Engagement - promotes active engagement, reducing the likelihood of passive learning and fostering a more participatory educational environment.

Skill development - facilitates the development of practical skills.

Long-term retention - increases the likelihood of long-term retention as learners associate concepts with experiences.

CONS: Resource Intensity - requires sufficient resources and materials.

Logistical challenges - planning and organizing hands-on activities may involve logistical challenges, particularly in large or online courses.

Time constraints - some hands-on activities may require more time than traditional instructional methods.

Safety concerns - in certain fields or disciplines, hands-on activities may involve safety concerns, requiring precautions.

Inquiry-based learning encourages students to explore and deepen their understanding through active questioning, investigation, and collaborative discussions. 

PROS: Encourages the development of critical thinking skills as learners actively explore and analyze information, fostering a deeper understanding. Sparks curiosity and intrinsic motivation as learners take on an active role in seeking answers to questions or solving problems. Promotes the application of knowledge to real-world situations, enhancing the transferability of skills to practical contexts.

Universality - applicable across various subjects for independent research.

CONS: Varied student engagement - effectiveness depends on student motivation and engagement. Assessment challenges - traditional assessment methods may not align seamlessly with the open-ended nature of inquiry-based learning, requiring innovative evaluation strategies. Effective implementation relies on educators who are skilled in facilitating inquiry-based approaches, necessitating proper training and professional development.

Interactive modules/lectures encourage learners to actively engage with content through drag-and-drop activities, clickable hotspots, and decision-making scenarios can be highly effective.

PROS: Increased engagement - interactive lessons capture and maintain student attention, leading to increased engagement in the learning process.

Active participation - encourages active participation, collaboration, and communication among students, fostering a dynamic and participatory classroom atmosphere. Often provides immediate feedback, allowing students to assess their understanding in real time and facilitating a quicker correction of misconceptions. 

CONS: Resource dependency - effective implementation may require access to specific resources, technology, or materials, which could be a challenge in resource-limited environments. Designing interactive lessons can be time-consuming for educators, especially when creating activities that align with specific learning objectives.

Game-based learning and gamification - introducing gamification elements allows the course more engaging. Elements such as challenges or simulations related to disinformation can boost learner motivation and participation.

PROS: Enhanced engagement - gamification makes learning more engaging and enjoyable, capturing the interest of students and motivating them to participate actively. Incorporating game elements encourages healthy competition, fostering a positive learning environment.

Immediate feedback - games often provide instant feedback, allowing learners to assess their performance in real-time and learn from their mistakes.

Skill development - games can facilitate the development of various skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making, in an interactive and immersive way.

CONS: Not all students may respond equally well to gamification, and preferences for certain game elements may vary among individuals. Designing effective game-based learning experiences requires careful planning and may pose challenges for educators unfamiliar with gamification techniques. Excessive focus on the game aspect may distract students from the educational content, impacting the effectiveness of learning.

Microlearning - breaking down concepts into smaller, focused modules supports better retention. Microlearning allows learners to absorb information in short, manageable segments, fostering a deeper understanding of specific aspects of disinformation. Integrated with online training, it removes constraints, ensuring practical knowledge applicable to individual needs.

PROS: Time-efficient - microlearning delivers information in small, focused units, making it time-efficient and allowing learners to easily fit learning into their schedules.

Improved retention - bite-sized content is easier to digest and enhances retention as learners can focus on one concept at a time, reinforcing their understanding.

Flexibility - microlearning modules are flexible and can be accessed from various devices, providing learners with the freedom to choose when and where they engage with the content.

Targeted learning - microlearning allows for targeted learning experiences, enabling learners to address specific knowledge gaps or acquire precise skills. 

CONS: Limited depth - due to its brief format, microlearning may provide a superficial understanding of complex topics, lacking the depth that more extensive learning approaches can offer.

Fragmented learning - continuous exposure to short, isolated modules might result in fragmented knowledge, making it essential to ensure proper sequencing for comprehensive understanding.

Not suitable for all topics - some subjects or skills may require a more extended and immersive learning approach, and microlearning may not be suitable for covering them comprehensively.

Flipped classroom is where basic knowledge is acquired before class through the resources provided, and classroom time is devoted to practical exercises, as a kind of flipped homework.

PROS: The flipped classroom promotes interactive and collaborative learning experiences in which classroom time is devoted to activities and problem-solving. Students can learn at their own pace outside the classroom, ensuring they understand basic concepts and can expand their horizons with relevant materials. This approach often increases student engagement because students are actively engaged in applying knowledge rather than passively receiving information.

CONS: Some students may resist the transition from traditional lecture-based learning to a more self-directed approach and complain about lack of time for such activities. Students need reliable access to online resources.  Implementing a flipped classroom requires significant time for instructors to prepare for selection, create high-quality online content, and plan meaningful classroom activities.

Blended learning seamlessly integrates both online and in-person learning methods. Blended learning maintains the crucial human element of interaction, supporting motivation and effective learning.

PROS: Accessibility – students can access course materials and resources at any time, fostering a more accessible and inclusive learning environment.

Flexibility – blended learning provides flexibility in content delivery by combining on-site and online methods to accommodate a variety of learning styles and preferences. Cost efficiency and personalization – blended learning can reduce the costs associated with traditional classroom layouts while maintaining valuable face-to-face interactions.

CONS: It requires effective integration of on-site and online components, requiring meticulous planning and seamless coordination to maintain a consistent learning experience. Technical challenges - technology dependence can pose challenges including technical difficulties, connectivity issues, etc. It requires resources and is more time-consuming compared to the asynchronous method.

Alongside the above, the inclusion of reflective activities in the course would provide opportunities for learners to reflect on their evolving thoughts about disinformation, fostering metacognition and self-awareness. Such reflective practice could be seamlessly integrated as part of the feedback mechanism for each lecture, encouraging students to reflect on questions such as: What did you learn? What was new? What was most surprising?


In the quest for a methodology, educators must weigh the balance of cost, time, and quality within their program, with a focus on achieving accessibility, engagement, and relevance. Attention should be given to factors like the frequency, duration, and intensity of the program, and strategies should be devised to ensure continuous feedback and support. As mentioned, it is important to combine an interactive, experiential and reflective approach, as well as to adopt learner-centred approaches, tailoring interventions to students' experiences, motivations, and interests, thereby fostering autonomous learning experiences.

A carefully selected mix of methodologies is important in developing effective educational approaches to disinformation and media literacy. Initial selection includes a modular and spiral curriculum ensuring precision and repeatability. Constructivist learning takes centre stage, engaging students in critical thinking and knowledge construction. Transformative learning facilitates detailed understanding by encouraging re-evaluation of assumptions.

Scaffolding and positive reinforcement provide support and motivation, while active learning strategies – problem-based learning, action learning and inquiry-based learning – offer hands-on engagement. Interactive modules and gamification increase the dynamics of learning. The microlearning and flipped classroom approach breaks down complex concepts, making them easier to remember and apply. Blended learning seamlessly integrates different learning methods, and reflective activities encourage metacognition.

The overarching emphasis is on a student-centred approach, tailoring interventions to individual needs. However, it is essential to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success, stressing the importance of tailoring curricula to specific circumstances and needs, facilitating the acquisition of the knowledge necessary to navigate the complex landscape of disinformation.

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