Media analysis as critical reflexology in exploring adult learning theories

Media analysis as critical reflexology in exploring adult learning theories

Holly M. Hutchins1

Laura Bierema2


New Horizons in Adult Education

& Human Resource Development 25 (1) 56-69

58 New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 25 (1)

58 New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 25 (1)

Examining media artifacts as a learning method has received little attention in human resource development (HRD) despite it being a predominate form of information and influence in popular culture. As Giroux (2002) opines, media functions as a form of public pedagogy by offering situations and contexts through which viewers can vicariously experience, critique, reflect, and learn about individual and group differences. Although adult education has a long history of using popular culture to examine and teach critical pedagogical practices, its focus within the HRD literature and practice has been limited. Our summary article will synthesize the student-authored articles’ results using themes found in Wright and Sandlin’s (2010) review of adult education and media analysis literature. We then discuss the student-author experiences of interacting with their media artifact and the relative implications for instructional practice and furthering research on critical HRD, adult learning, and media analysis.


Adult learning, critical HRD, media analysis

Through this issue, the authors introduce and extend the analysis of popular culture to the human resource development (HRD) and adult education (AE) disciplines. The first stirrings of a critical review of HRD core areas and popular culture appeared in Callahan and colleagues’ ADHR (2007, 9:2) issue on leadership development, suggesting that media served as both a pleasurable and instructional tool for developing professional competencies.Although exploring critical media analysis has a solid grounding in the adult education literature (i.e., Tisdell, 2008; Wright, 2010) as evidenced by Wright’s (this issue) comprehensive review of popular culture and learning, HRD has been slower to engage in critical analysis perhaps due to its burgeoning focus on learning for performance (Bierema &

1University of Houston Corresponding Author:

Holly M. Hutchins, University of Houston, 110 Cameron Building, Houston, TX, 77204, USA

E-mail: hmhutchi@Central.UH.EDU

Copyright © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company

Cseh, 2003). In addition, few instructional practice articles exist in the four Academy of HRD sponsored journals where mentions of article practical implications focus almost exclusively on workplace practitioners, thus leaving HRD faculty with few outlets to explore critical workplace and academic pedagogical issues.

In an attempt to bridge both the research and practical gap of using popular culture as a form of critical instructional practice, the student authors in this issue (Sharma; Morntountak; Koenig & Smith) used learning theory as a lens to examine how characters and settings are representative of different adult learning concepts. Specifically, the authors used adult learning and development theories and concepts presented in a graduate adult learning course to examine the selected media artifacts. The purpose of this summary article is to synthesize common themes found across the issue articles, compare these with existing research in adult education and media analysis, and explore the authors’ own interaction with the media during their research.

Article Organization

In this summary article, we review and synthesize common themes found across the issue student articles resulting from their assignment and compare these with existing research in adult education and media analysis. We situate the review using two studies that have examined adult learning through media, and chose these studies based on their comprehensive methodology and expertise in researching this topic. First, we categorize the article results based on Wright and Sandlin’s (2009) six research areas of adult education and media analysis. The authors conducted an integrative literature review of over three decades of research on how media has been used to examine adult education concepts and theories.

The second part of the study focuses on the student author’s own experience of interacting with the media to examine potential outcomes of using popular culture as reflective practice, an area that has been limited in the adult education and HRD literature (Storey, 2006; Tisdell & Thompson, 2009; Wright & Sandlin, 2009). We use Tisdell and Thompson’s (2009) findings on how popular media shape group identity to explore the narratives of the issue authors’ experience interacting with their media artifact and completing their specific article. We position this article—and the issue in general—as a way of promoting what Yang (2004) suggests as a more “holistic and dialectical” (p. 135) perspective of learning and development whereby HRD and adult education practices find common ground and expression. We also offer this issue as a hopeful beginning of more research on HRD pedagogical practice.

Adult Education and Media Analysis

Adult education researchers and practitioners have a noteworthy history of exploring adult learning and development through media analysis. From descriptive and critical analyses of consumerism (Sandlin, 2007), gender (Walker, et al. 2010), and sexual orientation (Battles & Hilton-Morrow, 2002) in popular media to examining labor issues in historical and contemporary texts (Thompson, 2007), adult educators have highlighted media analysis as a potent tool for examining individual learning, cognition and identity formation. For example, Wright (2010) examined various television narratives (e.g. FOX News, The Daily Show, The Weather Channel) for examples of representative acts of resistance and neoliberal and conservative agendas. As Shapiro (2009) suggests, media can have an altering effect on an individual’s perception by offering altered viewpoints that may fundamentally challenge the viewer’s initial reaction to a character, group, or situation.

To develop a critical approach toward consuming media, students were asked to explore how the characters and situations reflected or challenged societal norms. Commensurate with the “disorienting event” and culminating with the “regeneration of perspectives” innate in Mezirow’s (1991) transformational learning, a radical change in individual sense-making can influence learning at both the cognitive and emotional levels. Merriam (2004) actually positions transformational learning as representative of a higher level of cognitive development, as evidenced by critical reflection of self and other’s values and beliefs, engaging in rational/reflective discourse without premature judgment, awareness of self prejudices, and examining alternative perspectives. Put simply, developing critical media literacy allows learners to question tacit assumptions perpetuated by popular culture and develop an informed awareness of conscious interpretation.

Drawing on decades of media research in the field, Wright and Sandlin (2009) conducted an integrative literature review of articles spanning three decades and identified six major themes and contributions of adult education and media represented in the literature. Of these themes, we found the articles included in this issue representative of three of these areas: (a) representations of adult learning and adult development in popular media and, (b) effective classroom practices involving popular media. The third area, self-reflexive practices involving popular culture, will be examined later through the narrative experiences of the issue authors in completing their articles.

Representations of adult learning and development in popular culture

Media artifacts often reflect and direct representations of what it means to be an adult in a given context. As Giroux (2002) opines, media functions as a form of public pedagogy by offering situations and contexts through which viewers can vicariously experience, critique, reflect, and learn about different social phenomena. In their review, Wright and Sandlin noted how popular television shows (e.g., Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are common and useful narratives to examine representations of adult learning theories. Some examples include selfdirected learning (e.g., Home and Garden TV), gender identity theories (e.g., Will & Grace, Modern Family) and race and class perspectives (e.g. Ugly Betty; Desperate Housewives). The issue authors used several adult learning theories and concepts to examine the characters in their selected media artifact. Across the articles, six major learning theories were identified (Table 1), with social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1976), experiential and constructivist learning (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985; Jarvis, 1987; Piaget, 1972) and transformational learning (Meizrow, 1990) represented in most of the articles.

Although the texts may have afforded other learning theories, the authors mostly examined how the characters underwent change and the role of learning through self and others’ experience in their selected artifacts. For example, in Sharma’s review of American History X, she finds Derek’s journey of recognizing his biases and influences of his racist views an altering experience indicative of each of Mezirow’s (1991) steps in the transformative learning process. She notes how Derek’s change begins when we realized that he was now the “other”, the target of oppression by his own people, thus prompting his resistance of “the old system and deriving a more inclusive perspective on racial quality and diversity” (p. 29) that was far removed from his initial views. Morntountak (The Shack) also examined Mack’s reconciling his grief over his daughter as a spiritual awakening characteristic of transformational learning. In both articles, the authors demonstrate how sudden change can alter an individual’s learning and development at a much deeper level when critical reflection occurs.

Although similar learning theories were represented across the articles, only Koenig and Smith examined adult development concepts in their review of Benjamin Button. The authors explored how Benjamin’s cognitive development was counter to his physical aging, highlighting the important contributions of cognitive models (King & Kitchener, 2004; Piaget, 1972) as well as the role conflict that occurs when an individual is “off time” (Neugarten, 1976) or out of sequence in role development (i.e., physical and chronological age). The authors position Benjamin’s cognitive development as central to their analyses, and note how the influence of experience and context shape his response to his physiological changes. In each of these examples, the characters forge their identity in response to and as a reaction against societal expectations. Similarly, the developmental process of Derek (Sharma, this issue) and Mack (Morntountak, this issue) are also representative of cognitive development, as both characters move from dualistic thinking to a more autonomous and dialectical thinking as part of their transformative experience.

Table 1. Representations of Adult Learning Theories and Concepts in Selected Popular

American History X Rossiter & Clark (in press) Social learning, behavioral modeling


Bandura, 1977)

Kellner (2003); Merriam, et al,( 2007).
The Shack Mezirow (2000) Mezirow (1990) Jarvis (1987) Bennet & Bennet, (2007);

Merriam et al (2007)

Benjamin Button Sense-making and social

constructivist experiences.


Marquardt & Waddill,



Piaget (1972)

Role conflict (Katz & Kahn,


Informal learning (Marsick

& Watkins, 2001)

Age-graded model


Levinson & Levinson,


; Cognitive develop

ment (Piaget, 1976); Reflec-

tive Judgment (King &

Kitchener, 2004)

Transformational Learning Experiential/Constructivist


Narrative Learning Social Cognitive Learning Self-Directed Learning Spiritual Learning Critical Theory Adult Development

Effective instructional practices involving popular media

The issue articles also make a direct contribution to the literature examining effective learning practices using popular media, and specifically for exploring topics important to HRD. Wright and Sandlin (2009) acknowledge the use of media to engage learners in the classroom with proximal and familiar forms of content such as preferred music, novels, video games, television programs, and film. These forms of “personal media” might be especially useful for learners who are easily disengaged from and perhaps distrustful of formal educational settings. For example, Heur (2007) used varied forms of media in a professional development program on literacy skills. Heur and colleagues facilitated workshops to assist teachers in making class content relevant and engaging for students in an alternative high school. Examples included adapting a class module summary exercise into a Jeopardy game and viewing the video Who Moved My Cheese to examine teacher concerns around an impending organizational change. Both activities were effective at reinforcing the utility of media as a familiar form of learning, and engaged the teachers in examining their own skepticism toward professional development programs. Although learners may initially view media for pleasure, adult learning facilitators can engage learners to consider both the conscious and unconscious message emanating from the characters and story (Tisdell, 2007).

The issue authors offer several suggestions for leveraging media in formal and informal learning sessions, involving both individual and group reflection opportunities. These activities include guided questions and discussion, autobiographical responses to text through journaling and story-telling, directed research projects, and critical reviews of media selections. The authors position these activities as useful for HRD academic and professional practice to explore learning theories, but also to address issues such as coping with change, generational differences, critical thinking, and diversity and culture. For example, Sharma (this issue) and Morntountak (this issue) suggest using autobiographical practices such as journaling and storytelling as a way for learners to explore their emotions and learning during periods of change. Using media as a direct or indirect immersion into a topic of change can result in self-reflection and a helpful process of sense-making around difficult issues. In studies on the influence of organizational change on emotions, Kieffer (2002) found that employees experience an array of emotions when they experience change events relating to their work tasks, their personal situation, social relationships, and to the organization as a whole. Rather than attempting to manage emotions, Kieffer suggests organizations need to first understand the positive (e.g., excitement about new opportunities) and negative (e.g., distrust of the organization) emotions employees are experiencing, and then how to target interventions that could help employees express and understand these in relation to satisfaction and subsequent performance. Thus, using media might provide a safe context for individuals to examine their emotions around personal or professional change.

Several of the authors suggested using guided discussions that promote individual and group critical analyses. Koenig and Smith (this issue)recommended questions to explore generational issues influencing organizational culture that involve perception of age and assumptions concerning performance, factors that influence role conflict, and representations of social learning and cognitive development. Generational differences continue to be a vexing issue for organizations around issues of employee engagement and work-life integration (McDonald & Hite, 2008), and leveraging media might be an effective way to explore stereotypes interfering with group cohesion, individual motives, and overall performance in a less threatening context.

Although each of the authors offer a descriptive analysis of learning theory and concepts across the articles, a few authors invite learners to take a more critical perspective on their media artifacts. For example, Sharma (this issue) offers specific scene selections and questions to assist learning facilitators in exploring Derek’s identity formation around issues of race, diversity and class issues. She encourages facilitators to preselect scenes that represent different learning theories, but also encourage learners to identify the scenes characteristic of learning concepts that they relate to personally. Luke (1999) describes this form of critical media literacy as text-meaning practices— decontextualizing the ideological perspectives within the media and examining both explicit and implicit messages concerning individual and group differences. Similarly, Morntountak (this issue) suggests learners examine Mack’s change process as a way to both deepen understanding of transformational learning and to examine perspectives on western-based religious symbolism that is predominately white and male. While media can be used to highlight personal perspectives on group differences, it could also be used as the primary text to question the effects of popular culture on reinforcing the dominant views of group identity (Tisdell, 2007).

Outcomes of Media Analysis on Adult Learning

A second goal of our summary article was to explore the issue authors’ interaction with the media and potential outcomes of using popular culture as reflective practice. One of the themes identified by Wright and Sandlin (2009) was to examine the effect of popular culture on adult learning. To explore this with the issue authors, we used Tisdell and Thomspon’s (2007) results from a qualitative analysis (within a mixed methods study) on how media consumption influences views of self and others. Specifically, they found that interacting with (i.e., viewing, reading, observing) popular culture resulted in participants finding alternative narratives of themselves and others in the community, expanded thinking about marginalized “others”, and furthered interaction and discussion of social relations as portrayed in the media artifacts.

We used Tisdell and Thompson’s (2007) findings to develop semi-structured interview questions with the issue authors to explore their experiences in completing the media analysis assignment. A trained graduate student interviewed each of the four authors individually, and our specific questions focused on how the authors related to and were influenced by the characters or situations in the media artifact. We also explored the extent their experience in completing this assignment stimulated discussions about the role of sharing media and adult learning with others, and how their media analysis assignment experience influenced their viewing of popular culture. The first author and the interviewer reviewed the responses separately and identified emergent codes within the responses. We then used content analysis procedures to examine the codes and emergent themes, agreeing on 90% of the results. To ensure clarity and interpretation of participant meanings, we also checked back with participants regarding their responses. The main themes identified were finding confirmative and alternative narratives, promoting dialogue with others about learning theory, and developing analytical and critical perspectives when viewing media.

Finding confirmative and alternative narratives

We asked authors how they connected to their selected media artifact, both in the way they related to the characters or situations and how they used that experience in their own life. Aliki, an international student from Greece, discussed how the experiences of Mack helped her acclimate and cope with the new experiences of living in a different country.

It was my first semester at the University, and in America in general, so this book gave me the strength to experience everything from a different perspective. Actually, I was not looking for the religious teachings of the book but when Mack was engaged in difficult situations for example, the loss of his daughter, it was like that’s how I felt at the time. I lost my family and my friends but at the same time, my good relationship with my family (like Mack’s relationship with his family) gave me the strength to overcome all of this and just view my whole experience as a challenge for personal growth.

Several students also related to hardships or feeling like the “other” for choices they made about relationships or concerning work or family. For Sonia, a student from India, her analysis of American History X aligned with her growing awareness of how restrictive social stereotypes can influence one’s identity concerning relationships. She spoke candidly about her experience of marrying a person that violated many of the expected norms of her culture and the subsequent repercussions of her choices.

…the caste system in India still exists today. In fact, when people are looking for life partners, even today, their preference is to marry someone from the same caste or race. My husband and I come from two different races, two different castes, two different states and cultures, totally diverse groups, and it shouldn’t be a big deal really but it actually still is back in my home country. So basically, as far as the connection is concerned, I could relate to the main premise wherein people of one race/ caste make assumptions about the other, look down upon other groups. (They) don’t want to even make an effort to understand or connect to the other group. The people who do make an effort are also looked down upon or made fun of and that’s what I too experience when I am in my home country.

As the authors indicate, they personally connected with the media, viewing themselves and their larger social culture through the lens of the characters. Rather than finding alternative narratives (i.e., vicariously experiencing another perspective on their life, Tisdell & Thompson, 2008), the experiences of characters confirmed the authors reflections on their own life. That is, the experience of the authors was also in finding confirmativenarratives in the media by finding a sense of connection or perhaps “normalcy” with characters that were in similar situations to what they had experienced. One author also discussed how she related to Benjamin and Daisy given her experience in an interracial relationship that was shunned by her family:

I have experienced issues with dating a person outside of my race and felt judged and disapproval from my family, …an issue that drove a wedge between us and ultimately prevented us from being together. Daisy and Benjamin had a difficult time getting together because their appearances were so different and they were concerned about how their relationship would be viewed by others. It was very difficult to deal with at times as I felt as though I wasn’t accepted by certain people because of who I chose to be with. So, I could certainly relate to this part of the story.

The authors also spoke to now having a greater awareness, appreciation and acceptance for those whose life choices were different from theirs, supporting the use of media to enhance understanding of the complexity of living as a marginalized “others” (Tisdell & Thompson, 2007; Tisdell, 2008). For example, Smith (this issue) reflects on her own tolerance and judgment of people who appear different:

It did not influence my views on a particular group of people, but it (analyzing the film) strengthened my patience in understanding and dealing with different groups of people in a way that everyone has his or her own perspective or personal dilemma. So, realizing that made me want to understand what people were going through and not criticize them.

Promoting dialogue with others about learning theory

Most students felt inspired to share their assignment with others in relaying the actual story or through discussing the adult learning theories they applied in their media analysis. Many students gained insight from others concerning the different viewpoints expressed in the film, especially in how the characters or events represented the adult learning theories. A few of the authors explained how they used specific scenes to explain what and how adult learning theories were represented:

I discussed this experience [with the assignment] with my friends, family and classmates. The discussions I had with my fellow classmates were much more of a conversation, as they already had an understanding of the adult learning theories. We also talked about how, in general, all of our media artifacts had so many relevant examples to use in our assignment and how having this option of analyzing media artifacts made the assignment much more fun and interesting to write and to present.

In conversations with my friends and family who had seen the movie, I picked a few select theories

and related them to our media artifact, to show them what I meant by relating our classroom concepts to scenes from the movie. I think having a concrete example for them to reflect on helped them make the connection between the empty words of theory and what the theory really stood for.

Tisdell (2008) suggests that the analysis of media is one experience of learning, but the greater understanding often occurs in the discussion with others about the particular representations of gender, class, identify, and race. The authors extended their analysis by sharing perspectives with others, likely deepening their understanding of how learning theory can be used to explore universal themes in stories.

Developing analytical and critical media perspectives

Commensurate with Tisdell and Thompson’s (2007) finding that developing media literacy is an incremental but evolving process, many of the authors described a heightened tendency and ability to analyze media. In fact, many authors spoke about involuntarily analyzing the media even though their initial reason for selecting the media was for pleasure. Several authors shared examples of identifying different applications of learning theory in media they had viewed since completing their articles. Examples included popular films and television shows such as Avatar (social cognitive learning, indigenous learning, transformational learning), Food Network programs (self-directed learning, social cognitive learning) and Castaway (constructivist learning, critical theory, transformational learning). Most of the authors shared that using media to explore adult learning theories was a useful way to broaden their understanding of the learning theory and consider its application in common narratives and across learning situations.

Similarly, many authors developed a broader critical perspective in questioning the hegemonic representations of class, gender, race, and sexual orientation portrayed in their media artifact. One author discussed her experience in taking a more critical perspective on The Truman Show.

For example, one weekend my mother and I were casually (re)watching The Truman Show. She laughed when I pointed out that there were examples of adult learning orientations and cognitive development. Truman learned his behavior, attitudes, skills, knowledge, beliefs through the world he lived in like any typical adult. He modeled his behavior after others around him like always greeting those around him, which showed his social cognitive orientation to learning. I described examples of Perry’s developmental scheme and King and Kitchener’s reflective judgment model as Truman reconsidered his source of knowledge and truth.

Not only did the authors consider how adult learning could be explored through popular culture, but also how the experience informed their own development in the process. One obvious contribution of this experience was in the authors’ actualizing the learning theories through their media artifact. That is, they not only explored the role of learning theories in their artifact, but were influenced by the experience in developing a more critical perspective. One of the authors shared that she developed of a more critical approach in watching movies since completing her analysis:

I have definitely noticed that I have a more critical eye when seeing certain movies or television shows after doing this project. I find myself thinking about specific scenes and thinking about how it could be used to teach a certain idea or concept. I just saw the movie Avatar not too long ago and I remember while watching that movie thinking about social learning theory and how the humans had to learn how to act and speak just by watching the Avatar people in their own environment. Things like that definitely stick out in my mind more now that I have this knowledge from this assignment.

Amulya (2006) describes this process as reflective practice, as an individual actively witnesses his or her own experience in order to examine it in greater depth, thus engaging in purposeful learning where the narrative is the individual experience. In her cross-sectional study of her accrued research on conducting media analyses, Tisdell (2008) suggests that transformational learning is a sufficient outcome of taking a more critical perspective on our interaction with media, thus promoting an advanced level of cognitive development. As Merriam (2002) suggests, a higher level of cognitive development is often represented through critical reflection and discourse, suggesting that a learner’s reflective practice involves unpacking, questioning, dialoguing and reflecting on how media influences consumer’s perspectives of themselves and others.

Using Media as Critical Practice for HRD: Implications for Practice and Research

Based on our review of the student issue articles, we suggest three major implications of using media analysis to explore learning theory in HRD. First, there is a need to question and interrogate lived experience and the prevailing social order in both teaching and research. Second, media analysis is potentially a form of critical pedagogy that develops key competencies for becoming critical thinkers and conscious consumers. Finally, the experience of media analysis may potentially result in new thinking, critical thought, changed minds, new behaviors, and transformed social systems. Each of these implications will be discussed.

Questioning and interrogating lived experience and prevailing social order in teaching and research

Our world is significantly diverse, increasingly global, technologically connected, and continually blitzed with media. A major contribution of this issue is increased awareness of how popular culture may be leveraged to explore different adult learning concepts, both conceptually and through practice (i.e., curricula and instructional activities). Media analysis provides not only a common experience for learners to examine HRD concepts such as adult development, diversity, marginalization, and power differentials, but also affords learners the capacity to become critical, conscious consumers of media. Sharing the common experience of watching a provocative movie gives learners a stage from which to interrogate reality through questioning dominant practices and assumptions. Critically examining media provides an opportunity to consider and critique social arrangements and asymmetrical power relations. It is also important that learners become more critical of the constant media messages we are bombarded with through advertising and begin questioning and challenging the hegemonic and oppressive messages they convey.

Media represents an important unit of analysis in research. As evidenced in the work of several adult educators (Tisdell, 2007; Tisdell & Thompson, 2007; Wright & Sandlin, 2009) noted here, media analysis offers scholars another vantage point to examine social phenomena through a medium that is often more accessible and perhaps more attractive than a formal learning experience. Many movies address organization and human relations issues. Through research we can explore how the performative and patriarchal ideologies dominate popular culture and translate into everyday practice. Potential research opportunities include deconstructing media messages, questioning assumptions underlying media portrayals, challenging social arrangements, and proposing alternatives, many of which were demonstrated by the authors’ critique of their media artifact, and in their own lived experience interacting with the stories

Alvesson and Deetz (2000) suggest that critical approaches to research produce insight, critique, and transformative re-definition. Producing insight involves interpreting dominant knowledge and creating awareness of how such “metanarratives” are not immediately obvious. For instance, the movie “Supersize Me” helped generate insight about the dominant and deleterious practices of consuming fast food that many of us never give a second thought.

Insight in both a hermeneutic and archaeological sense detaches knowledge from the ahistorical

‘truth’ claim and reopens a consideration of its formation thereby reframing knowledge and giving

choices that were previously hidden by the accepted knowledge, standards, practices, and existing concepts. The production of insight establishes the possibility of competing discourses through the recovery of conflict and choice. (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000, p. 142).

What Alvesson and Deetz advocate is that we expose other truths, thus destabilizing the dominant truth to open new understandings and knowledge development. This is the beginning of insight into the issue.

Once insight into dominant discourse and practice is attained, the next element in critical research is critique, or the problematizing of the dominant meanings, material arrangements, and social orders (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000). Critique involves disconnecting prevailing power relations from a unitary view of “truth.” In other words, critiquing thought and practice and showing that there have been hidden voices and texts that provide alternative views. Subjects that are critiqued might include male domination, distortions in communication, asymmetrical power relations, or conflicts of interest. Media analysis provides an outstanding platform for critique. Returning to the film “Supersize Me,” we learn about how the dominant food industry fights the release of dietary information that would negatively affect corporate profit, yet this distortion and withholding of information is hurtful to small business and threatens individual and public health.

Transformative re-definition seeks to undermine the robustness of the dominant thought and action by providing alternative constructions of reality (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000). Transformative re-definition results in thought and action grounded in the new knowledge and understandings discovered in the first two steps. Transformative redefinition is the process of creating alternative approaches, discourses, understandings, and practices. Returning to “Supersize Me,” a transformative re-definition would be to change our feelings about fast food and adjust our diets accordingly.

Developing key competencies for critical thinking and conscious consumption through critical pedagogies

Media analysis not only gives us a stage from which to examine lived experience, but also provides an opportunity to develop critical thinkingSince the media is a form of public pedagogy, developing critical medial literacy is an important aspect of adult learning and development. Critical media literacy is a developmental process that is learned and a higher order type of learning and cognitive development (Merriam, 2002). It involves not merely consuming a movie or other form of the media (advertising, music, pop culture), but also deconstructing media for its marginalizing and oppressing messages. Popular media also provide a starting point for dialogue, learning, and change.

Media analysis also provides a platform from which to develop key learning competencies of critical thinking, reflexivity, and discourse. Educators play an important role in cultivating critical medial literacy through the creation of critical pedagogy for formal learning and facilitation of activities and conversations that promote critical thinking and reflection. Brookfield (1987) suggested that critical thinking is developed through identifying and challenging assumptions, situating our understanding of thought and action within specific social context, exploring and imagining alternative social arrangements, and developing reflective skepticism. “Reflective skepticism” means that learners do not simply allow media messages to wash over them without a healthy level of distrust and scrutiny. Brookfield makes several suggestions for cultivating critical thinking in the classroom using creative thinking. Creative thinking involves:

1. Rejecting standardized problem solving formats

2. Exploring widely (interests, fields)

3. Taking multiple perspectives

4. Viewing the world as relative and contextual instead of universal and absolute

5. Using trial-and-error in experimenting with alternative approaches

6. Holding a future orientation

7. Embracing change

8. Trusting one’s judgment and having high self-confidence (Brookfield, 1987, pp. 115-116.)

Brookfield also offers several strategies for helping learners imagine alternatives such as brainstorming, future search, developing preferred scenarios, and artistic interpretations. Similarly, Callahan and Rosser (2007) suggest reflective practice activities that can support affective learning and critical thinking. The authors, in describing leadership development curricula using popular culture artifacts, suggest engaging learner reflection through reflective writing activities that are short (just a few minutes) through which learners can share their insights about their learning and potential change that may not be necessarily associated with stated objectives or goals.

Developing a critical pedagogy involving media analysis also requires that learners have the tools to effectively engage in discourse around assumptions, disagreements and questions. Teaching learners how to have a conversation with someone they disagree with is an important competency to facilitate the medial analysis and learning process (Brookfield, 1987; Ellinor & Gerard, 1998). Many of the issue authors shared that their media paper was a useful leverage point for engaging others in discussions about how the character(s) supported or violated different learning concepts, suggesting that critical media analysis assignment can serve as a pedagogical bridge to engaging students in reflective discussions and dialogue. Media analysis provides an excellent springboard for critical examination of lived experience and the opportunity for educators to facilitate learning using critical pedagogies. Such a combination has powerful potential to stimulate new thought and action.

Media analysis promotes new thought and action

This issue also contributes to the burgeoning area of Critical HRD in that it urges us to view and use media as a new medium for developing more critical thinking and awareness in teaching and research. A unique contribution of this issue is that it merges adult learning theory and principles with the critical application of media analysis to HRD. The HRD field lacks a critical perspective in its academic programs (Bierema, forthcoming) and this issue offers a framework and critical pedagogies to open the conversation on challenging organization issues that relate to equality, diversity, power, marginalization, and other challenges. This issue adds to the small, but growing cache of innovative ways of teaching adult learning concepts that also support a critical perspective in the HRD curriculum.

Another contribution of this article is that we examined the authors’ own experience of completing the papers in how they viewed the characters, the stories, and how this analysis prompted new ideas and behaviors within each of them. Tisdell (2007) points out that this is a glaring gap in the literature, and that we need to focus more on how adult learners change through their interaction with popular culture. Although the authors deliberately analyzed their media artifact through the lens of adult learning concepts, they also experienced changes in how they viewed alternative representations of the “other”, how they understood different learning concepts, and how their own media consumption was influenced. These results suggest that media analysis is a powerful pedagogy for fostering critical reflection (Brookfield, 1987; 2000) and potentially transformational learning (Mezirow, 1991).

Finally, we posit and promote this article and overall issue, as a contribution to critical HRD research and practice by using popular culture as representative of prevailing social and power relations in workplaces and society. Critical HRD provides a theoretical framework from which to interrogate asymmetrical power relations, dominant culture and discourse, and unquestioned assumptions (Fenwick, 2005; Sambrook, 2009) that are regularly portrayed in the media. Human resource development research and practice has been described as lacking in critical analysis (Bierema & Cseh, 2003). Through this work, we are heeding the call for more critical HRD research that examines issues of power, inequity, and the field’s overreliance on instrumentalist, performative frameworks.

Summary and Conclusion

Media analyses provides the opportunity to examine lived experience, implement critical reflection and pedagogy in our teaching, discover a new medium for conducting research, and potentially change individuals, organizations and social systems. A primary contribution of this issue is in the in-depth analysis of media using adult learning concepts, targeted reflective questions and scene depictions that can guide facilitators in teaching about adult learning, change, and critical reflection through popular culture. In our closing article, we provide an overview of learning concepts represented in the issue articles and describe the authors’ experience with interacting with their selected media artifact. We position this closing article as both a synthesis of the issue contributions and as a resource for how HRD academics, practitioners, and researchers can leverage media as a learning tool.


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