Living and Learning with New
Media: Summary of Findings
from the Digital Youth Project
youth use online media to extend friendships
Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships
that they navigate in the familiar contexts of
school, religious organizations, sports, and other local
activities. They can be ï¿½always on,ï¿½ in constant contact
with their friends through private communications like
instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in
public ways through social network sites such as
MySpace and Facebook. With these ï¿½friendship-drivenï¿½
practices, youth are almost always associating with
people they already know in their offline lives. The majority
of youth use new media to ï¿½hang outï¿½ and extend
existing friendships in these ways.
A smaller number of youth also use the online world to
explore interests and find information that goes beyond
what they have access to at school or in their local community.
Online groups enable youth to connect to peers
who share specialized and niche interests of various
kinds, whether that is online gaming, creative writing,
video editing, or other artistic endeavors. In these interest-
driven networks, youth may find new peers outside
the boundaries of their local community. They can also
find opportunities to publicize and distribute their work
to online audiences, and to gain new forms of visibility
youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.
In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity,
youth create and navigate new forms of expression
and rules for social behavior. By exploring new interests,
tinkering, and ï¿½messing aroundï¿½ with new forms of media,
they acquire various forms of technical and media
literacy. Through trial and error, youth add new media
skills to their repertoire, such as how to create a video
or game, or customize their MySpace page. Teens then
share their creations and receive feedback from others
online. By its immediacy and breadth of information,
the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning.
Some youth ï¿½geek outï¿½ and dive into a topic or
talent. Contrary to popular images, geeking out is highly
social and engaged, although usually not driven primarily
by local friendships. Youth turn instead to specialized
knowledge groups of both teens and adults from
around the country or world, with the goal of improving
their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers.
While adults participate, they are not automatically the
resident experts by virtue of their age. Geeking out in
many respects erases the traditional markers of status
New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy
for youth that is less apparent in a classroom
setting. Youth respect one anotherï¿½s authority online,
and they are often more motivated to learn from peers
than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed,
and the outcome emerges through exploration, in
contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set,
New media forms have altered how youth socialize
and learn, and raise a new set of issues that educators,
parents, and policymakers should consider.
adults should facilitate young peopleï¿½s engagement with
Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online,
youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they
need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting
barriers to participation deprives teens of access to
these forms of learning. Participation in the digital age
means more than being able to access serious online
information and culture. Youth could benefit from educators
being more open to forms of experimentation and
social exploration that are generally not characteristic
of educational institutions.
given the diversity of digital medi a, it is problematic to develop
a standardized set of benchmarks against whi ch to
measure young peopleï¿½s technical and new medi a literacy.
Friendship-driven and interest-driven online participation
have very different kinds of social connotations. For
example, whereas friendship-driven activities center
upon peer culture, adult participation is more welcomed
in the latter more ï¿½geekyï¿½ forms of learning. In addition,
the content, behavior, and skills that youth value are
highly variable depending on with which social groups
in interest-driven participation, adults have an
important role to play.
Youth using new media often learn from their peers,
not teachers or adults. Yet adults can still have tremendous
influence in setting learning goals, particularly on
the interest-driven side where adult hobbyists function
as role models and more experienced peers.
to stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions
need to keep pace wi th the rapid changes introduced by
digital medi a.
Youthsï¿½ participation in this networked world suggests
new ways of thinking about the role of education. What,
the authors ask, would it mean to really exploit the
potential of the learning opportunities available through
online resources and networks? What would it mean to
reach beyond traditional education and civic institutions
and enlist the help of others in young peopleï¿½s learning?
Rather than assuming that education is primarily about
preparing for jobs and careers, they question what it
would mean to think of it as a process guiding youthsï¿½
participation in public life more generally.
More information about the study and the MacArthur
Foundationï¿½s digital media and learning initiative can
be found online at www.digitallearning.macfound.org/