Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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The work on this site is licensed under a CC-BY-NC. If you share or re-use any work found on the site, please credit the original author and the Digital Youth Project and link back to the Digital Youth Project.

Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.

Research Areas

This section describes the focal questions of the ethnographic inquiry, based upon our literature review that assessed gaps in the published literature on kids, learning and digital media. The ethnographic findings are intended to determine how these emergent behaviors might be linked to learning, formal and informal.

1. How are communications networks - the mobile phone and the Internet - changing the scale, scope and dynamics of kids' social worlds?

The mobile phone and the Internet are changing the scale, scope and dynamics of kids' social worlds. Kids use these new social networks to build identity and reputation, to share ideas and solve problems. Is it possible to adapt these tools and practices to promote learning?

  • How do kids create and sustain private social worlds using digital media, such as by text messaging on mobile phones or blogging on the Internet?
  • What are the broader implications of "always on" pervasive digital media and communications for kids' relationships with the traditional places and institutions that have provided social contexts for learning and development - with peers, in families (with siblings, parents, relatives), in community activities and in and around schools?
  • How do kids use these new kinds of social networks for learning - building reputation and social capital, and finding and exchanging information, building knowledge?
  • Will the convergence of technologies into more cost effective platforms (such as smart phones with cameras and email) change the shape of the digital divides, by providing new modes of access and participation? How will kids from different backgrounds adapt these technologies to their local cultural requirements?
  • How does the global reach of the Internet affect kids' learning, if it does? What does the use of the Internet by immigrant kids teach us about this? What are the significant research findings from other countries that might help guide American research?

2. Technologies of the Imagination: Production and Consumption of Knowledge

Accessible multimedia authoring tools join with networked online environments to create new opportunities for young people to produce, exchange, and consume culture and knowledge. Blogs, wikis, web communities, file sharing, and auction sites combine the publication of content with interpersonal communication and exchange, as authors receive comments from their audience, link to one another, and exchange their works. Young people are beginning to experiment with these tools by creating online journals, fan sites, and sites to showcase and exchange their own music, writing artwork, or collections. At their best, these environments empower young people to gain their own sense of authority, voice, and knowledge within loosely structured and often mixed-aged peer learning communities.

  • What kinds of learning skills and knowledge practices are digital media bringing to kids' natural environments, their new modes of consuming and creating culture in informal spaces and times?
  • How are digital authoring tools enabling kids to create new kinds of cultural products? How do kids use Internet publication, distribution, and trading sites to distribute, interact, find community, and create reputations around this cultural content? How are these emergent practices tied to changing models of learning, community, assessment, leadership, and identity for young people?
  • How do kids use new media for information retrieval and research, and how might their information management practices be improved?
  • How do kids use technologies of personal communication and online publishing for discussion and analysis of mass culture, and to create new kinds of narratives ('fan fiction') by appropriating mass culture?
  • How skilled are kids at using digital media to design and construct new ideas, how do they learn design skills, and what do they learn from these activities?

3. Play and Gaming

Consistent with the first two themes, we will look at gaming both as an activity that forms and engages kids' social networks and as a way that kids produce knowledge. This knowledge is about game content, at one level, but it is also about learning from video media, about using game engines to create new games and new media, about how games are modified, designed and constructed. That is, we will not look at games from the point of view of the entertainment industry, but ethnographically from kids' point of view, to see if it might be possible to link the social dimension of games and play to more substantial kinds of learning and knowledge.

  • What do kids think that they learn from games, and how do they think that these skills transfer to other learning places, including schools - if they do?
  • How do games and gaming motivate kids? Are these motivational factors transferable to learning?
  • What do kids learn from participation in gamer communities and communication? What cultures are growing around mobile gaming devices? What are the benefits of gaming for the development of collaborative and communication skills, and kids' fluency with other information technologies? Do these social skills affect their participation in other learning environments, or their social development?
  • What do kids learn from different kinds of games, and how do games with different kinds of content and media representations affect kids' learning practices in other contexts?
  • What design cultures are growing around games (mods, flash, and so on)? How are digital tools enabling kids to create new kinds of cultural products from game technology - such as online journals, 'mashups', game 'mods', amateur comics and fan fiction?
  • How do kids use Internet based peer-to-peer publication, distribution and trading sites to distribute, interact, and create reputations?