Whitepaper: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture

Peter Morville found an interesting whitepaper by MIT’s Henry Jenkins about media education, entitled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” (pdf, 354 kb, 70 pages), on the website of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning Initiative (see also here).

Here is what Morville wrote about it:

Henry presents eleven new skills or literacies

  • Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
  • Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking – the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

…and three concerns:

  • The Participation Gap – the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  • The Transparency Problem – the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.
  • The Ethics Challenge – the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

Henry also argues that “textual literacy remains a central skill in the twenty-first century” and that traditional research skills “assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians into the more open space of the web.”

In considering goals and challenges regarding the education of our two daughters over the next decade or so, this feels like a pretty good roadmap.


  1. If you haven’t read it, Henry Jenkins’ book “Convergence Culture” is well worth picking up, and expands on these ideas in a lot more detail.

  2. […] In a recent MIT white paper ‘Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture’, H. Jenkins uses the term ‘affinity groups’ to describe informal, virtual learning environments like blogs (especially the Live Journal type), fora, and other online communities. These present enormous advantages, which students like me back in the 80’s didn’t have. These are also certainly playing a key role. […]

  3. […] Virtual affinity groups – The importance of forums, blogs and sites is huge. Teachers only barely understand how important this really is. For more about how virtual learning groups work, see the MIT white paper by Henry Jenkins et al,  ‘Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture’ – these groups switch around roles of teacher and student, cross boundaries like age, year of course, in- or outside the school. […]

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