“Educomunicación”: The Media Education (and literacy) Approach from Latin America

For several years I was unaware of “educomunicación” (in Spanish), a rich tradition and diverse movement of media literacy education that originated in Latin America in the 20th century and that continues to resonate today through the projects of many grassroots communities, social organizations, and the work of researchers and media educators (“educomunicadores“) in countries like Colombia, Argentina, Brasil, and Mexico. Recently, I published an article about this Latin American tradition and movement in the Flow Journal, and made a call to recognize this Global South approach to media literacy education and to move towards an ecology of media literacy knowledges and practices that avoids universalism. In this entry I would like to extend this discussion providing more context and sharing some references to key educomunicación works.

While I was growing up in Bogotá in the 80s I never heard about “media education” and “media literacy” at primary and secondary school. I learned about these fields of knowledge and practice at university while I was trying to understand the relation of media technologies with ideology, democracy, and the socialization process of young people. I encountered these terms in English language while reading the works of media and communication scholars such as Marshal McLuhan, Sonia Livingstone, David Buckingham, Neil Postman and Henry Jenkins. Later, while I pursued postgraduate studies in the U.S., I took deep dives in the fields of media literacy and media education through workshops, seminars, conferences, and my doctoral comprehensive exams. One of the objectives of my dissertation was precisely to understand the new media literacy skills developed by a group of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth and how these abilities supported their assimilation to the new country. Moreover, during grad school and postdoctoral work I had the opportunity to work in initiatives like the Project New Media Literacies, the Connected Learning Research Network, and BKC’s Youth and Media where I not only researched how youth acquired media literacy skills, but also designed learning resources for supporting media education and the development of media literacies. Although I gained ample experience and knowledge on these fields –and I am grateful for the inspiring and generous mentors and colleagues I had for more than a decade–, my approach to media education and literacy was quite biased towards Global North scholarship and the anglo-centric media literacy tradition.

“Media education” and “media literacy” are English terms that in their Spanish translation (“educación en medios de comunicación,” and “alfabetización mediática”), still today, have not fully entered the public discourse nor become part of the national curricula of most Latin American countries. Despite the efforts of international organizations like UNESCO to promote media and information literacy, the terms have not been fully embraced by educators, policy makers and other stake holders in the region. For instance, in countries like Colombia where digital transformation has become a central theme of governments’ agendas, I found quite surprisingly that media literacy education has not been the focus of public interventions, research projects and educational policies. For many years I thought this was an issue related to lack of access to knowledge. However, during the past two years I have discovered that this issue is related to the translation of the terms “media education” and “media literacy” into Spanish, and the little efforts to connect them with the particular Latin American approach to media literacy and education. As a matter of fact, media literacy education has existed for many years in Latin America but it has used a terminology that does not match the literal translation of these terms from English.*

Educomunicación (a portmanteau word that combines education and communication) is the media education literacy movement from Latin America and it has been developed since the 1960s by scholars, activists, educators, students and researchers. Educomunicación assumes that education and communication are interrelated, part of a transformational and liberatory process that is dialogical, critical, relational, collaborative, and participatory. In this approach learners and educators not only interrogate political, economic, cultural, social and ethical issues, but also express and listen to multiple points of view. It has deep connections to Educación Popular (popular education) and to social justice. It is perhaps due to this radical approach to media education, and to its emphasis on pedagogy and social change, that educomunicacion has been ignored by the policy makers from Latin American countries. In contrast to utilitarian, functional and tool-oriented approaches to media education (for instance those that focus only on digital tools), educomunicación places the emphasis on dialogue, reciprocity, critical thinking, participation, and awareness. Its major goals are to empower individuals, particularly those that have been oppressed and marginalized, and to foster social and cultural transformation.

As I argued somewhere else, “We find the roots of Educomunicación in the works of Paulo Freire (1973, 1974, 1976), a Brazilian pedagogist who proposed an alternative model of education that could replace the european-industrial-modern one. Instead of assuming education as an unidirectional process where learners are passive receptors of content and knowledge, Freire proposed a dialogic model based on reciprocal, interactive, and horizontal relationships among learners, educators, and the world.” This model, also known as “dialogic pedagogy” (pedagogía dialógica), has been developed through many educomunciación interventions, research projects, and initiatives in the Latin American region. The community and popular radio projects developed in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru during the 20th century, for example, are great examples of how this approach has empowered indigenous, rural, women and youth populations and fostered sociocultural change (Montoya 2010). Grassroots audiovisual collectives of youth and victims of war in Colombia (González, A. y Rodríguez, C. 2008), and several interventions in public schools in Brazil and Mexico (Soares 2009; Ojeda et al. 2015; Lugo 2018) are also examples of the kind of educomunicación projects that have thrived in the region.

Re-discovering educomunicacion is important for moving towards an ecology of knowledges and practices of media education and media literacies. This ecology should embrace the diversity of approaches to media literacy education and find points of intersection and collaboration between Global North and Global South traditions. It should also recognize linguistic diversity and embrace the use of terms in languages different to English. Below I would share an initial map of educomunicación research, projects, and theories that can be useful for us building bridges and fostering a plural ecology of media literacy education.

* Educomunicación, as a term, has mutated, evolved, and adopted different names in Spanish and in Portuguese. Scholars like Trejo Quintana, J. (2017), Aparici (2010) and Barbas (2012) have identified three branches: 1) Education for reception and for critical audiences (Orozco 1989, 2001, 2008), 2) Communication in education (Alfaro 1993, 2006, 2008; Martin-Barbero 1996, 2002, 2000; Soares 2000, 2009; Prieto 1998) and, 3) Education and new technologies (Gozálvez, V. & Contreras, P. 2014; Valderrama, 2000; Piscitelli 1999, 2010; Prieto 2006; Ferres & Piscitelli, 2012).


Aparici, R. (2010). “Introducción” in Educomunicación: más allá del 2.0. Barcelona: Gedisa.

Barbas, A. (2012). “Educomunicación: desarrollo, enfoques y desafíos en un mundo interconectado,” Foro de Educación, (14), 157-175.

Ferrés, J. & Piscitelli, A. (2012). La competencia mediática: propuesta articulada de dimensiones e indicadores. Comunicar, 38, 20.

Gutierrez, E. (2019). “De la educomunicación a la comunicación-educación en la cultura. Invisibilidades, saberes emergentes y metodologías en construcción,” Chasqui. Revista Latinoamericana de Comunicación, (141), 365-376.

González, A. & Rodríguez, C. (2008) “Alas para tu voz. Ejercicios de ciudadanía desde una emisora comunitaria del Piedemonte Amazónico”, in Lo que le vamos quitando a la guerra. Bogotá: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Gozálvez, V. & Contreras, P. (2014). Empoderar a la ciudadanía mediática desde la educomunicación [Empowering Media Citizenship through Educommunication]. Comunicar, 42, 129-136. https://doi.org/10.3916/C42-2014-12

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Freire, P. (1973). ¿Extensión o comunicación?: La concientización en el medio rural. México: Siglo XXI.

Hleap, J. (2014) “Diez lecciones aprendidas en cuatro décadas de educomunicación en América Latina,” Revista Nexus Comunicación, Edición 14 (Julio – Diciembre 2013) Universidad del Valle, Colombia.

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Lugo, J.L. (2018) “La educomunicación como herramienta de alfabetización mediática: El caso de Brasil y Mexico“. Tecnoutopias. Junio 14, 2018.

Martin-Barbero, J. (1996)  Heredando el futuro. Pensar la educación desde la comunicación. Nómadas (Col), núm. 5, 1996. Universidad Central: Bogotá, Colombia http://nomadas.ucentral.edu.co/index.php/inicio/44-comunicacion-educacion-una-relacion-estrategica-nomadas-5/681-heredando-el-futuro-pensar-la-educacion-desde-la-comunicacion

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Méndez Ojeda, J. I., Luque Ortiz, S., & Pérez Curiel, C. (2015). LA EDUCOMUNICACIÓN APLICADA EN TELEVISIONES LOCALESANDULI, Revista Andaluza De Ciencias Sociales, (13), 13–28.

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Mignolo, W. (2005). The Idea of Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell.

Montoya, A. (2010). Logros y desafíos de la educomunicación desde la razón y la radio popular en estas últimas tres décadas. Cedal. Comunicacion Educativa. Revista No.51.

Piscitelli, A. (1999). Post-Televisión. Ecología de los medios en la era de Internet. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Paidos-Ibérica

Piscitelli, A. (2010). 1@1 Derivas en la educación digital. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Santillana.

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Orozco, G. (2008). Mediaciones tecnológicas y des-ordenamientos comunicacionales. Signo y Pensamiento, 21, 21-33. Recuperado de http:// www.javeriana.edu.co/signoyp/pdf/4103.pdf

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Trejo Quintana, J. (2017). “Apuntes sobre la incorporación del término alfabetización mediática y digital en América Latina,” Píxel-Bit. Revista de Medios y Educación, 0(51), 227-241.

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