Blog Post

The educational role of traditional media in the lifelong learning era


Hello HASTAC Scholars! My name is Ava. I am a first-year PhD student at the University of Sydney and I am looking forward to exchanging ideas with you this year! In my first blog entry, I would like to introduce my project and research questions. Any suggestions or ideas are welcome!


The Information Revolution

New media technologies have led to an educational revolution which challenges the traditional marriage between learning and schooling. Education is now perceived as a lifelong enterprise, as learning occurs more and more outside school, through online learning, home schooling, workplace learning, distance education, learning centres etc. (Collins & Halverson, 2009). Even school-aged children now learn important skills outside school curricula, through interactive technologies such as computers, the internet and video games. Moreover, this type of technology-driven learning is often perceived as more engaging and motivating than traditional classroom learning (Gee, 2004). Contrary to traditional schooling, which is characterized by uniformity, authoritative instruction and teacher control, technology-driven learning is characterized by customization, interaction and learner control. Media and education researchers are currently exploring the educational potential of these interactive media technologies.


An anachronism?

Where does that leave television (and other traditional media such as print or radio) in terms of education? Previous research shows that television has the potential to teach (Cahn, 2011; Klein, 2011; Lesser, 1975; Noble & Noble, 1979; Pepper, 2011; Tulloch & Lupton, 1997; Tulloch & Moran, 1986). Like new media technologies, television can teach outside school and promote lifelong learning. But if interactive technologies are the driving force behind the Information Revolution, the idea that television could contribute to this revolution seems anachronistic. Through customization, interactivity and user control, new technologies are able to teach the thinking skills that children and adults need in the digital era. Television, on the other hand, is not an inherently interactive medium: its content is not easily customized or controlled by viewers and it does not offer any feedback. If television teaches, it does so by simply transmitting facts through unidirectional communication, in a more traditional and “authoritative” manner.


How can we integrate television in current education?

Studies show that the medium of television is still present in children’s lives (Ofcom, 2011). What is uncertain is whether it can contribute to the digital age Information Revolution, and how it can be integrated into modern education. My research project, entitled “Television as a teacher” aims to understand the educational function of television in the lifelong learning era. In particular, I am interested in finding ways to use television in the modern classroom which fully exploit this medium’s potential. I will also examine TV professionals’ discourses of teaching and how they perceive their educational role and social responsibility.

In order to determine whether and how television can play a role in current education, it is important to fully grasp its educational potential and to understand its curriculum as well as its pedagogy. My thesis addresses the following questions: What does TV teach? Does it merely transmit facts or does it also teach how to think? How can it promote critical thinking in a way that is relevant in our current era? And how does TV teach? Does it teach exclusively through unidirectional instruction? How can television become an interactive medium? More importantly, how can TV viewing become an interactive educational activity, outside school and in the classroom?





Cahn, A. (2011). Using Entertainment Media to Empower a Generation. Learning From Hollywood, from

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology. New York

London: Teachers College Press.

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. London: Routledge.

Klein, B. (2011). Entertaining ideas: social issues in entertainment television. Media Culture Society, 33(6), 905-921. doi: 10.1177/0163443711411008

Lesser, G. S. (1975). Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Vintage Books.

Noble, G., & Noble, E. (1979). A Study of Teenagers' Uses and Gratifications of the Happy Days Shows. Media Information Australia(11), 17-24.

Ofcom. (2011). Children's media literacy in the nations: Summary report (pp. 1-23).

Pepper, S. D. (2011). Public Service Entertainment: Post-Network Television, HBO, and the AIDS Epidemic. Doctor of Philosophy, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.   (3279605)

Tulloch, J., & Lupton, D. (1997). Television, AIDS and Risk: A Cultural Studies Approach to Health Communication. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Tulloch, J., & Moran, A. (1986). A Country Practice: "Quality Soap". Sydney: Currency Press.




I was just pondering some of these questions, myself!

I'm hoping to find support for screening Michael Wood's "A History of England" for English, History, and even Classics students at UNC.  Your post helps me think about how and why showing that series is important. I'm thinking, too, about what difference it might make that students watch as a group instead of individually, and what role interaction plays--before, after, or even during the show.



Thank you for your comment, Rebecca!

Currently, there is a lot of research on how to teach about television and more generally on teaching media education as a separate course, but I believe that we also need to think about ways to integrate television (or other media technologies) within other subjects (such as English or History for example).

I think that making students watch a programme as a group does make a difference, since dialogue and social interaction around the content have an educational value. Outside school, learning through television is often a collective process which occurs during informal discussions conducted among friends (or, for younger children, with parents). Talking about the content of a programme (whether it’s a casual chat outside school or a more structured debate in the classroom) allows viewers to generalize their thoughts and reflect on them. In addition, collective viewing sometimes gives access to other people’s point of view, thus opening up new possible readings and interpretations. I think that what new technologies and television have to offer to educators is linked to interactivity (in the broad sense of the word). In fact, some studies show that students value school over more informal sites of learning precisely because it enables face-to-face conversation, in-depth discussion, and allows them to ask questions. 


What an interesting project, Ava -- especially since it's so easy for people to dismiss television as a leisure activity.  I'm mulling over what you've said about television's unidirectional authority, both in your original post, and in your reply to Rebecca -- because though television programs tend to be authoritative, they're also nonconfrontational -- there's less intimidation involved in disagreeing with a television program than there is with a live instructor standing in front of you.

I don't think the idea that television can contribute to lifelong learning has to be anachronistic. Sure, it's not new, and not interactive in the way that some tech is (though there are certainly plenty of instances of "text ##### to vote for your favorite _____!) I think there's value in the fact that television is so familiar that it can blend into the background of many (if not most) homes. And though I don't often see this discussed, I'm coming to think that such familiarity and unobtrusiveness is actually a key condition in learning.


You make an interesting point about the familiarity of the TV set. I also wonder if familiarity with the content itself ( with TV characters or TV personalities for example) can facilitate learning as it reinforces processes of identification and emotional engagement.