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The HSP and Digital Media Literacy

Digital Media Literacy is almost a live-and-learn lesson, literally. It is also the topic that most parents avoid because parents of school-aged children today are generally millennials and most millennials grew up when the digital age boomed leaving a love – hate relationship with the digitization of life as we knew it. Navigating the world of digital media is a daily battle for parents in a digital age; leaving parents looking for answers. This poses the question than: what could learners (learners of digital media that is) do when they are both new to the digital age yet desire to become digitally minded and literate citizens? This post will share ways to overcome the digital media literacy slump.

More of a side note, this post will also share a part of my story – discovering that I am an HSP or as the name has been reframed to: having sensory processing sensitivity. I was enrolled in a graduate course entitled Digital Media Literacy when I first discovered Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person.

Do any of these images ring familiar? Strike a familiar cord, maybe, a nerve or two? Maybe not? If you have discovered that you are bothered or feel overwhelmed by the thought of sorting through so much information found in the news and social media outlets then maybe you are a Highly Sensitive Person or, an HSP. For the Highly Sensitive Person, (HSP) these images are familiar and not fondly, according to Dr. Aron in her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, (Aron, 2019).

The HSP makes up a small percentage of individuals. Interestingly, common themes are seen in the personality and overall disposition of an HSP. Aron (2019), explains how conscientiousness and sensitivity to a variety of situations from relationship matters to loud noises, are examples (Aron, 2019). Digital media is among many contexts that may overstimulate the HSP depending on the delivery of the content, as one matter of discussion.

In most learning settings, being a digitally literate citizen (ISTE Standard) is a prerequisite, there is no longer a paper application to mail in or paperback textbooks for your college course. But digital media literacy is not just knowing “how” to use technology either or having documents online and sent electronically; it is also asking questions about the information, or decoding. Being a literate citizen of digital media requires being inquiry-minded, thinking critically, and being conscientious about the responsibility right at our fingertips (Project Look Sharp, 2022).

Decoding information can be done in a variety of ways whether through analysis of questions asked and perhaps not for the answer necessarily but for inquiry sake, or, as a means to think critically about the topic being decoded.

Another way to decode digital information is to ask “how the message makes you feel”, and to discern what effect the information has on you? Digital Media managers construct messages to trigger a certain emotion or reaction from the audience. Just a few examples of ways for the HSP to counteract the manipulated constructs of digital media (Project Look Sharp, 2022).

According to the ISTE Standards, Knowledge Constructors, will “critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.” (ISTE, Standard 1:3, n.d.). Therefore, then, self-awareness and awareness of the nuances of media, how it is constructed, the intended message, and so much more are important considerations for the HSP, and especially as a learner in a digital world. The HSP must guard against overstimulation or, cognitive overload (Jong, 2009).

What is cognitive overload?

Cognitive overload is when too many cognitive processes are operating at lower levels rather than operating with fewer at higher levels (Gallagan, 2013). For example, if there is too much text on the screen this can create cognitive overload. Consequently, hindering working memory where knowledge is no longer constructed. Remembering that cognitive overload impacts the workings of actual knowledge attainment and working memory (Springer, p. 23, 2013) is important to the HSP and educators of potential HSPs.

Educators, it is noble to recall that media constructs information to influence the reader depending on the intent or motive of the creator (Project Look Sharp). Thus, one way to avoid cognitive overload is to design learning material differently. Construct digital media, with room left for the HSP learner to explore ways to decode and break down all the information. Furthermore, create a curriculum that respects different learners. An example of this for the HSP would be pressured in a classroom setting while being watched by peers or evaluators to perform certain activities but with the background noise of their peers talking and giggling. This would be cognitive overload and lessen the learning experience for the HSP (Springer, p. 22, 2013).

Practical tips for the HSP when navigating digital media:

  1. Decoding with questions.

  2. Think critically, stop, calm down and then take in the information one bite at a time (Technology & the Interrupted Brain).

  3. Limit the amount of media intake in all formats but especially digitally (Aron, 2017).

Finally, consider Aristotle’s thoughts on learning,

Be a free thinker and don’t accept everything you hear as truth. Be critical and evaluate what you believe. Aristotle


Aron, Elizabeth. (2017). The Highly Sensitive Person. Broadway Books.

Galagan, Pat. (2013). Technology and the Interrupted Brain. cqtus-Technology_and_the_Interrupted.pdf

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). ISTE Standards. ISTE Standards: Educators | ISTE

Jong, Ton de. (2009). Cognitive Load Theory, Education Research, and instructional design: some food for thought. de Jong Cognitive Load (1).pdf

Project Look Sharp (2022). Categories and Samples Questions for Media Decoding. Key-Questions-for-Decoding Dec-21.pdf

#parenting #digitalmedia #Learning #cognitiveoverload #HighlySensitivePerson #mentalhealth #decode #digitalmedialiteracy #technology #thinkcritically #instructionaldesign #sensitivities #educators #criticalmedialiteracy #learningdesign #learner #narcissists #decoding

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