Nine recommendations for designing media literacy interventions in the Baltics
Over the last four years, IREX has worked to equip youth across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with the skills and knowledge to navigate an information space polluted with disinformation. Participants of the Media Literacy in the Baltics program—including partners and stakeholders from universities, local NGOs, and youth—shared their insights in a study aimed at evaluating IREX’s work in the region. As a result, we gathered the following recommendations for creating more effective media literacy activities and establishing partnerships with universities in the Baltics.
The program assessment report, conducted by market and public opinion research company Latvian Facts, revealed how media literacy efforts in the Baltics can be expanded, both for IREX and other program implementers. The report concluded that Media Literacy in the Baltics is the most significant education initiative to date for media literacy and information resilience in the Baltics, providing specialized courses for over 1,500 future journalists and teachers and developing an online media literacy course with over 3,300 registered users.
In addition, partners shared recommendations for further innovations in media literacy programming, including developing additional course materials for differing skill levels, updating select course content and improving mobile-friendly features of online courses.
Collaborating with universities
Working with 13 flagship universities across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Media Literacy in the Baltics program developed specialized coursework for communications and teacher-training students based on IREX’s proven media literacy methodology, Learn to Discern (L2D). Results of the study showed that university faculty and program leaders evaluated the program and the L2D methodology as high quality. “The course gave me academic knowledge and helped to ‘frame’ it in a clear and comprehensible structure,” noted a student journalist participant.
But perhaps most importantly, the study’s quantitative data shows clear improvement in students’ skills. For example, 47% of the journalism and 43% of the teacher-training students reported they are more likely to cross-check information, 31% of teacher-training students say they are now more likely to seek fact-based information, while 38% of journalism students think they are better able to recognize misinformation. There was an increase not only in self-assessment, but also in media knowledge and analysis skills when giving students practical exercises.
Recommendations for university courses
Besides showcasing the growth in student learning, the evaluation also highlighted several recommendations from program faculty who facilitated the courses.
1. Implement long-term programs
Participants noted that the Baltics lack a systemic, long-term approach to media literacy education and that IREX often filled that role, especially in regions bordering Russia such as Latgale in Latvia and Narva in Estonia. To take advantage of the high interest in and demand for IREX program materials long after the end of the course, it would benefit implementers to create long-term program implementation to provide more stable, consistent results.
2. Separate course curriculum materials by skill level
University partners noted that the “Journalism in the Era of Disinformation” course as presently structured is most well suited for first-year students but can be used for all specialties and proficiencies. To attract a broader audience and tailor the learning experience, implementers can modify the curriculum based on skill level, providing advanced students with more specialized information.
3. Measure long-term impact
Participants of the study noted that media literacy habits do not change overnight and suggested that checking results immediately after finishing a course might not portray objective results, as it is a result of short-term activities. To gain a more accurate representation of long-term behavior change, implementers should reassess learning after some time has passed to more accurately measure impact.
4. Collect all successful media literacy projects in a database
During the course, some students and faculty developed media literacy curriculum for people of various ages, as well as social media content, games, articles and other resources. Creating a database collecting useful resources made by both university staff and students could be an opportunity to share ideas and good practices across program partners. “It is a pity that the projects developed by students, which are created within the program, become unnecessary…at the end of the program,” said one faculty member. “I would really like [them] … to be maintained, updated, [so] future students could use them. This would ensure the continuity of the program.”
5. Update content regularly to stay relevant
Many participants suggested topics that would be useful and relevant to develop more materials on. Taking these into account, implementers can review content and update as needed. Some of the topics mentioned were recognizing risks and opportunities created by various emerging technologies like generative AI, recognizing PR content, as well as tips on educating others on media literacy effectively.
Designing impactful online courses
Media Literacy in the Baltics also adapted IREX’s Very Verified online media literacy course to the Baltic context and languages. Covering everything from free speech to reverse image searches, the course combines interactive learning methods such as videos, animations, articles, and quizzes. In collaboration with six youth organizations, IREX rolled out the course both for independent users who took it on their own and as part of live, blended learning trainings for Baltic youth.
Interviewees found the course clear and adaptable, with information explained in a comprehensive way. “Very Verified is a very useful material, topical for youth, especially in rural areas,” a youth organization representative said. Participants also appreciated that the material is available in several languages and uses country-specific examples.
Since the Very Verified course was designed for a more general audience, a larger increase in skills and self-assessment was observed because the baseline was likely low. Notably, media analysis skills demonstrated by doing practical exercises increased 20% on average after interacting with the educational content on VeryVerified.eu, showing that participants were able to identify facts from opinions and evaluate the quality and diversity of sources used in articles and social media posts. Furthermore, the self-reported likelihood of cross-checking information increased 60% on average, and the ability to recognize misinformation increased 41%.
Recommendations for online courses
Though skills increased through participation in the online courses, interviewees noted some areas for improvement:
1. Prioritize ease of use and differentiate by skill level
Some interviewees saw the blended learning curriculum as too intensive, noting that frequent quizzes might discourage some learners. At the same time, other participants noted they would like content that covers specific topics more in depth. Like university courses, this suggests the need for simpler and shorter interventions with optional modules for those seeking additional information on various media-related topics.
2. Raise awareness about online courses
While the course was popularized through social media, influencer, targeted e-mail and poster campaigns, there may be different avenues programs could explore for placing ads. Interviewees suggested paying more attention to popularizing online courses and expanding the channels where the information is published.
3. Consider course design and user experience
interviewees noted that the current version of VeryVerified.eu seemed easier to use on laptop. Since many youth prefer to access materials on their phones versus a laptop computer, future versions of a course could include easier navigation by mobile phone. Participants. also noted that there should be more information about the course functions once participants start using it. Implementers could create user resources, such as an explanation on course navigation, to help participants navigate the course and troubleshoot when issues arise.
4. Diversify the language offerings
Some interviewees noted that new language versions would be useful and appreciated, expressing interest in a Polish version of the Very Verified course to reach audiences beyond those that use any of the five most popular languages in the Baltic region. Implementers can determine common languages learners speak and offer the course in those languages to increase program impact.
There are several ways media literacy program implementers can create effective programs in the Baltics. By adopting a long-term approach, creating materials for different skill levels, regularly updating content for it to remain relevant, and more, program implementers can support participants in recognizing misinformation and becoming responsible media creators and consumers.
Media Literacy in the Baltics is a program of the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX. The program has been working in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania since 2019. Recently, in the EU National reports on the application of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2020-2022 the program was mentioned among the most influential media literacy players in the country reports of Latvia and Estonia.