Media Literacy and Digital Natives

“Digital native” is a term often applied to the so-called “Millennial” generation, those people born in the 1980s and 1990s who grew up and came of age in a time of rapid digital growth. Millennials, particularly the younger half, have been exposed since childhood to computers, the Internet, cell phones, video games, and electronic gadgets, creating the expectation that  they have a natural fluency and ease with digital devices and environments. Indeed, many have taken on expertise that surpasses their parents’, to become the technological advisors of their household. This has led to several assumptions about Millennials: that they can process and sort information easily, can do anything online more easily than previous generations, and that they are always online, creating and consuming content.

Current perspectives on Millennial media use show us a more nuanced picture. Here are three points that can help us approach how we teach the Millennial generation:

  1. First, the way Millennials approach media is not wholly different from previous generations: for entertainment, access to information, consumption and creation of content, and social interaction. What sets apart younger generations is that all these things can now be accomplished online, where previously they might have been found through television, radio, telephone, and previously print-only media. (Kilian, Hennigs and Langer)
  2. Second, not all Millennials are equally active in their use of online media. Kilian, Hennigs and Langer have estimated that the largest subgroup (45%) are in fact “Restrained” users of online media, and use blogs and social media infrequently or passively. Restrained users are also the most frequent readers. The next largest group (35%) are “Entertainment-Seeking”, and turn to their social networks, blogs, and media channels purely for fun.  It is the smallest group (20%) that are “Highly- Connected”. These Millennials are typically young, male, and are high users and creators of blogs and Wikis as well as network builders.
  3. Third, although Millennials are fluent in navigating online environments and customizing social environments, these skills do not always translate into information literacy necessary to analyze the breadth of information online. Considine, Horton and Morman argue, “Millennials are open to manipulation and misinformation” online. It remains important to teach students strategies to “compare, contrast, critique and analyze texts.” (Considine, Horton and Morman, 476)

In the next few years we will see the cusp of the next generation (Generation “Z”, born in the late 1990s) enter university.  At UofT, our students will be affected by more than just the digital landscape of their generation. Family environments, transition from high school, commuting and responsibilities to work, home, and co-curricular activities will all affect their orientation to academic life.

As our teaching environments adapt to allow students and faculty to connect through online and mobile methods, we will need to continue to emphasize media and information literacy. As digital media evolves, our students will adapt, and earn their degrees through the ability to evaluate, analyze and apply their knowledge within an ever-changing online environment they have grown up with.


David Coletto and Jaime Morrison, “R U Ready 4 Us?: An Introduction to Canadian Millennials”, Abacus Data Inc. (2012) <>

David Considine, Julie Horton and Gary Moorman, “Teaching and Reading the Millennial Generation through Media Literacy”, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52 (2009), 471-481.

Thomas Kilian, Nadine Hennigs and Sascha Langer, “Do Millennials read books or blogs? Introducing a media usage typology of the internet generation”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 29 (2012), 114-124.