Scroll Top

Blog Posts

Using micro-learning to train educators – a cascade approach to media and information literacy | 2024 EDMO Scientific Conference

Using micro-learning to train educators – a cascade approach to media and information literacy | 2024 EDMO Scientific Conference

Dr Joe Cullen
President, Associação Godinhela – Investigação e Desenvolvimento Social (AGID), Portugal


This post describes the context and research approach of the MIC-MAC project – an intervention aimed at supporting a more resilient global information ecosystem. MIC-MAC uses a ‘cascade’ model to improve the media and information literacy skills of educators working with people vulnerable to disinformation. This work was presented in session 8 (“Dealing with Disinformation: Educational Approaches and Counterstrategies”) of the 2024 EDMO Scientific Conference.

Key words: Disinformation, media and information literacy, micro-learning


Much of the effort and money put into the ‘war on disinformation’ is spent on things like fact-checking websites. These make an important contribution to reducing the spread of disinformation and its toxic effects. But there’s a strong argument that says if you fight the disinformation war armed only with facts, you’ll lose. Many people use information not because it tells them the ‘truth’, but because it reinforces their attitudes, their beliefs and their prejudices. That’s why the ‘Brexit’ campaign for Britain to quit the EU was successful. The ‘Leave’ campaign used half-truths, distortions and downright lies to play on people’s fears around things like immigration, loss of control and being left behind. It worked. The ‘Remain’ side used scientific data to make what it thought was the obvious, logical, irrefutable case for the UK staying in the EU. It failed.

Examples like Brexit, the widespread sharing of – and belief in – ‘deep fake’ narratives about the war in Ukraine, and resistance to public health campaigns on vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the growing problem of an ‘infodemically vulnerable’ population, unable to distinguish between reliable and scientifically grounded information and unreliable and fake information. Some research suggests three categories of the infodemically vulnerable: people confused about what is true and false;  people who select disinformation to reinforce strong ideological positions or pre-existing beliefs, and people who don’t sufficiently reflect about the truth or accuracy of information  Other research links vulnerability to factors that shape access to resources generally – such as low income, gender, ethnicity and residential status

However, research in the disinformation field is under-developed, contradictory and contested. It has been argued, for example, that older adults share fake news on social media more frequently than do younger adults not because of a decline in cognitive efficacy but because older adults have lower media and information literacy skills (M&IL) than do younger adults

This issue of M&IL skills reflects a growing interest in the disinformation field around designing interventions to increase information resilience and hence reduce the spread and impact of disinformation. These interventions broadly divide into two groups: prevention and cure. Preventitive interventions ‘inoculate’ people against the effects of disinformation by increasing their resistance to it, for example through on-line messaging platforms and fact-checking tools. Disinformation cures help online users correct the disinformation they are exposed to, for example by providing guidance on how to authenticate then correct disinformation. The evidence suggests that the most effective ’cure’ strategies combine retraction with alternative explanation. However, meta-analysis of their efficacy suggests that, even though correction of misinformation and disinformation can be effective, it does not necessarily lead to a change in attitudes and behaviour

Attitude and behaviour change are crucial to winning the ‘war on disinformation’. But there is an argument that much of the effort and resources put into the disinformation war is still shaped by thinking derived from the ‘information deficit’ model.  This model has fuelled a long line of policy initiatives in many countries across a range of fields, from public health to job creation, from the 1980’s onwards. The most prominent example of the deficit model is probably the ‘War on Drugs’ declared by the then President of the USA in February 1982 and accompanied by the ‘Just Say No’ campaign launched by the president’s wife. This campaign saturated the educational system and public media with anti-drug messages based on communicating the unpalatable ‘facts’ about drug use and its harmful effects to an ignorant population.

In the disinformation field, the deficit model assumes that if the public were provided with the facts about disinformation, along with the ‘true’ facts about a particular issue, they would change their attitudes and behaviours with regard to that issue. Essentially, the model posits a uni-directional flow of information from experts to public. That flow of information, it is argued, is the trigger that promotes changes in awareness, attitudes, knowledge and skills, which in turn lead to changes in behaviour. Evaluation of the model has consistently pointed to its lack of efficacy – largely because it posits a static, unidimensional view of human neuropsychology and human behaviour. In vaccine policy, for example, the model failed to take account of crucial factors shaping belief formation that contribute to what has been termed the ‘folklore of vaccination’

Even more nuanced applications of the core information deficit model – for example using ‘nudge theory’ – have had a limited effect on promoting attitude and behaviour change  What seems clear is that variations of the information deficit model underestimate the profoundly visceral nature of online discourse and the extent to which social media platforms act as echo chambers for the propagation and amplification of entrenched beliefs, biases and prejudices.

In response to these inadequacies, work on developing disinformation counter-measures has seen a shift in direction towards supporting the acquisition and application of media and information literacy (M&IL) skills.  These skills, it is argued, supplement tools like fact-checking platforms with the attitudes, knowledge and skills – like critical thinking – needed to support real behavioural change. A primary aim is to situate disinformation within its social context so online users can evaluate it more effectively. To do this requires ‘mindfulness’ – the ability to recognise and manage risks and evaluate information authenticity – and the ability to to reflect on information in terms of its ‘environmental sensitivity’.

The problem is, mindfulness, critical thinking and reflectiveness are highly context-dependent. People only respond to behavioural cues when these cues resonate with their lived experience. In addition, research shows that people who are vulnerable to disinformation are more likely to represent ‘hard to reach’ constituencies who have low trust in ‘the system’ and have negative previous experiences of ‘mainstream’ interventions, like public health campaigns

As a result, there have been recent calls in the disinformation field for ‘community-engaged projects’ that work within community structures and with key community stakeholders who already have expertise in digital literacy to support information ecosystem resilience by focusing attention on ‘not just digital spaces, but also the mundane moments in our everyday environments’ . jrurstud.2019.07.001.  These key stakeholders include community activists, local journalist, librarians and – crucially – educators.

MIC-MAC is an example of one of these community-engaged projects. It explores the applicability of a ‘cascade’ approach to developing M&IL competences.  Although the cascade model has been widely used in education and training for continuing professional development, its primary focus has been on supporting the lateral flow of information, knowledge, skills and practices across institutions from colleague to colleague. MIC-MAC investigates whether the model can be adapted to support information flow outwards and downwards to vulnerable learners. Through their practice, it is assumed, educators will pass on enhanced skills to their learners, which will strengthen learners’ critical and responsible use of digital media.  In turn, learner interactions with family, peers and friends, and their activities online, will create a ‘knock on effect’ that will contribute to the wider impact of supporting a more resilient information ecosystem.

The MIC-MAC training programme has been designed using data drawn from baseline research that combined a review of state of the art in the disinformation field (using ‘scientific realist review’) with field work involving educators and vulnerable learners in co-creation activities based on ‘lifeworld analysis’ (LWA). LWA aimed to capture the lived experience of disinformation from the perspective of peole on the ground.  The main drivers of disinformation highlighted by the research highlight a decentralisation of information online; relaxation of formal information control mechanisms; the rise of new makers, shapers and arbiters of information – like social media influencers – and the impact of ‘information bubbles’ and ‘echo chambers’. These drivers link to M&IL training needs that focus on understanding how ‘media’ – especially social media – works;  the causes and effects of disinformation; developing critical thinking, inter and intra-personal competences like empathy; developing fact-checking skills and understanding the ‘lived experience’ of digital life.

The results fed into an M&IL competence framework built around three high level competence domains: Contextual Competences (understanding the landscape of disinformation); Core M&IL Competences (the essential knowledge and skills that support vulnerable people to improve their own media and information literacy), and Techno-pedagogic Competences (the tools to help educators design and deliver effective teaching and learning activities for M&IL). The training programme maps onto the competence framework and uses a novel ‘micro-training’ approach that delivers bite-sized chunks of learning content. It combines text with podcasts, videos, animations and interactive game-based learning to help educators gain the M&IL skills they need. The interactive game simulates the disinformation ‘critical incidents’ and challenges educators are likely to come across in their everyday practice. The training programme is currently being piloted with over 400 educators working with vulnerable learners in Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and the UK.

The MIC-MAC project – “Using micro-learning to train educators – a cascade approach to media and information literacy” – is funded by the European Media and Information Fund (EMIF).