The medium is more than the message

The following blog was written by Daren Okafo, Innovations and Research Manager at National Adult Literacy Agency

Applying the lens of Critical Pedagogy in our efforts to consider any set of potential roles for social media in adult learning obliges us to consider what Freire referred to as reading both the word and the world (Freire, 1998, 2000; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Kahn & Kellner, 2007). The word of social media roughly equates to its ‘texts’ – what Manovich describes as the video/image/sound/text based meta-media artefacts that permeate our presence online (Manovich, 2001). However, reading the world of social media calls us to comprehend deeper realities of the medium itself. Who builds and maintains this medium, what ideologies are central in that process, what ways are they encoded into its being and in what ways does this subjectify us to its encoded intent? When we call on learners to utilize these new networked tools in adult education, can we ensure that they (and we) are aware of, and in critical dialog with both of these concepts. That is, are we not obliged as educators to facilitate learning that encompasses both the media and the medium itself?

The work of British cultural theorist and adult educator Raymond Williams can shine a useful light on the possibilities of viewing the products of our technologically mediated efforts as educators and learners as driven in part, if not primarily, by agency – that we can intervene as active participants and drive technological change to reflect our own desires and needs. In contrast to technological determinism – that is, the application of new technologies in society is prescriptive and its impact is predetermined and mostly beyond our interventions - Williams (and a number of more recent thinkers in this space such as Giroux, Sandlin, Fuchs, Hands, etc.) saw cultural materials as emergent properties of our engagement with technologies and as such, enables us to consider agency as central to what is created as opposed to prescribed by the medium. As adult educators, can we then take heart in the fact that despite the ideologies encoded in the new social media, our informed and critically conscious efforts can reshape it to better reflect what we and our learners want the world online to be?

I recently witnessed this clearly demonstrated in the work of some educators at a local adult learning centre in Ireland. As part of the Erasmus+ IDEAL project, Niamh Maguire and Kathie Orr worked with adult learners to explore new and innovative approaches to using online, social platforms, both from a facilitation perspective and interestingly, from the learners’ perspective. They aptly noted that not only did learners use the technology within the scope of the facilitated work to complete program objectives, but once empowered with this knowledge, some learners began to experiment and create their own products and resources. Engaging with the medium itself, they produced novel artefacts that reflected their own interests, producing knowledge that was deeply grounded in their own lived experience and concerns. I believe that this type of engagement with social media – with the world along with the word – can help us enable learners to move from being clients and customers of these monolithic and pervasive platforms, and into the role of owners, creators and innovators.    



Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Rowman & Littlefield.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Reading the word and the world. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007). Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich: technology, politics and the reconstruction of education. Policy Futures in Education

Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. MIT press.


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