Multiliteracies in education: A social movement

Cazden, et al write about relationships of pedagogy (1996) where there is a much greater social emphasis on learning. While their emphasis on education as primarily a job preparation tool is debatable, the idea that “mentoring, training, and the learning organization” (p.66) is becoming more important is reflected in a new multiliteracy world. It is also pointed out by Cazden et al that multiliteracies, language and meaning are dynamic, that is they are created and recreated by users. Perhaps this is no more true than in Web 2.0 where users of multiliteracies are inevitably the creators of the same content they are making meaning out of. When considering multiliteracies impact on education, Jean Piaget’s theory of constructivism takes on greater importance. As students shape the environment from which they are learning, they build and assimilate the experiences into their own learning.

Multiliteracies are especially important to consider in this internet age. Communication between youth has evolved with tools such as mobile phones, instant messaging, and social networks and these forms of communication are a huge factor in how children make meaning from online experiences and interactions (Bowers et al, 2009). However, before children are able to make meaning out of online experiences, they have to become proficient in the technology itself (Carrington, & Robinson, 2009). For someone to be literate in a social networking site, they first have to be computer literate, or smartphone literate. While many students are already technology literate, some students are not and this creates a need for educators to teach technology literacy. The assumption that all children are digital natives based solely on their age can be detrimental to those that have minimal technological (computer or smartphone in this case) experience due to a variety of reasons. Often media containing multiliteracies requires this understanding of technology.

An interesting area to consider when incorporating multiliteracies into education is video gaming. Video games require the user to understand text, images, and sound all at once. They certainly require a user to be multiliterate, and they might even be considered a new literacy all on their own (Gee, 2007; Payne, 2009). Apart from the text, images, and sound there is also a level of interaction that is necessary to understand and take part in to be literate in video gaming. A gamer must interact with their character or avatar, with the game itself, and with team mates or opponents. Whether they play alone or together, video gaming is a social activity since players need to share information with each other in order to understand the game and to advance (Gee, 2007).

One of the greatest areas of potential that video gaming has towards learning is in its ability to create what Gee has termed ‘affinity spaces’(Gee, 2007). Affinity spaces are places where people who have a common affinity towards something can meet and share information and make meaning. Online sites exist for almost any video game where a player of that game can post results or tips, can search for tips, or just communicate with someone who is interested in the same game. These affinity spaces possess huge learning possibilities, but also require people to be multiliterate. Online affinity spaces quickly require users to learn and follow social norms specific to that group (Shaffer, 2005; Foster, & Mishra 2009) and, therefore, require a social literacy that is unique to each affinity space.

The main reason that affinity spaces have significant educational potential is because members of an affinity space automatically have a passion for that specific topic. Users are engaged. While their interaction and communication may be short in these spaces, they can be extremely expressive (van Manen, 2010). Social media websites are examples of affinity spaces where users can write topically and build meaning with other users. Since users are engaged with the media, the media becomes responsive to them (Finlay, 2010). The more time one spends on a social networking site, the more that site meets the needs of that user. Images, texts, groups become more and more what the user is interested in since they are created by people with common interests.

The importance of relationships in multiliteracy learning is high. Relationships can be strengthened through online interaction and gaming. In order to stress the importance of multiliteracies, educators may consider finding ways to incorporate technologies where students are already experiencing multiliteracies into the classroom. Online gaming provides learning environments that allow for collaborative learning (Bowers et al, 2009; Foster, & Mishra, 2009). Purposefully using games in the classroom has the potential to strengthen students’ literacy in an online, multiliteracy world.


Bowers, C., Smith, P.A., and Canon-Bowers, J. (2009). Social Psychology and Massively Multiplayer Online Learning Games. In Richard Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education (pp.702-718). Research Center for Educational Technology Kent State University

Carrington, V., Robinson, M. (2009). Digital Literacies: Social Learning and Classroom Practices. Los Angeles, CA: Sage

Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee. J, et al. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review; 66(1). P. 60-92. doi. 0017-8055/96/0200-060

Dobson, T., and Willinksy (2009). Digital Literacy. In David R. Olson, and Nancy Torrance (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy (pp.286-312). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Foster, A.N., & Mishra, P.(2009). Games, Claims, Genres & Learning. In R.E.  Ferdig, (Ed.) Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education (pp.33-50). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference

Finlay, G. (2010). Implications of Student’s Use of Interactive Social Media. Paper submitted at the University of Alberta.

Gee, J. P., (2007). Good Video Games + Good Learning, Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning and Literacy. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Mikami, A. Y., Szwedo, D. E., Allen, J. P, Evans, M. A., Hare, A. L., (2010). Adolescent Peer Relationships and Behavior Problems Predict Young Adults’ Communication on Social Networking Websites. Developmental Psychology, 46(1), 45-56. doi: 10.1037/a0017420

Payne, M.T. (2009) Interpreting Game Play Through Existential Ludology. In Richard Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education (pp.621-635). Research Center for Educational Technology Kent State University

Shaffer, D.W., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J.P. (2005). Video games and the future of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 104-111. Retrieved from

van Manen, M., (2010) The Pedagogy of Momus Technologies: Facebook, Privacy, and Online Intimacy. Qualitative Health Research, 20(8), 1023-32.  doi: 10.1177/1049732310364990


This entry was posted in Commentary 2. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply