Living and Learning with New Media

A white paper summarizing the results of a three-year ethnographic study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, of participation in the new media ecology by U.S. youth was released today.  From interviewing and observing young people on social networks, video-sharing sites, gaming sites, cell phones, and ipod-like gadgets, the researchers unpacked behaviors and learning in every day activities that run contrary to common adult perceptions about what is a waste of time.

Some highlights I found worth digesting for improvement of program/product designs:

  • Drivers of self-motivated learning coming not from institutionalized “authorities” but from peer networks.
  • Different sets of hierarchies and politics in the online world creating opportunities for youth to exercise adult-like agency and leadership.  Ownership of their own self-presentation, learning, and evaluation of others.
  • Recognition, reputation, and sense of appreciative community as motivating forces for participants.  Underlying everything, there is a social context for sharing knowledge/interests.
  • The networked and public nature of these new media making the “lessons” about social life more consequential and persistent.  Friendship, social status, and informal forms of social evaluation are more explicit and visible in new ways.
  • Emergence of interest driven passions that require more far-flung networks of affiliation and expertise. At the same time, new media being integrated within everyday hangout practices that provide ways for young people to extend and enhance those networks across space and time.
  • Taking a serious look at “Hanging Out”, “Messing Around”, and “Geeking Out” as degrees of commitment to media engagement. 

There is also an online version of an associated book incorporating the insights from 800 youth and young adults and over 5000 hours of online observations.

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