Friday, 18 May 2012 08:00

Multiliteracies Theory

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There is a new buzz-word out there and it’s called multiliteracies. This word has made its way into media, communication, the classroom; and it lends its way not only into how we interact but also how we learn. We want our learners to become successful critical thinkers and problem solvers in the context of their community, society, and culture—and multiliteracy paves the way.

Due to technology and globalization, the ability to connect has expanded into realms of communication formerly inconceivable. With this global immediacy comes new ways of approaching and negotiating sociocultural norms and problems. This allows interaction and learning to become a more pluralistic experience, chock-full of critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to traverse between and among various perspectives and modes of thinking.

The theory of multiliteracy encourages the engagement with multiple literacy methods – linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial, and multimodal – to learn and communicate. In reading, we don’t just read letters; we understand how they are arranged to convey meaning. In the context of technology, we are no longer just readers; we are users and navigators. “Reading” as an act no longer is simply the comprehension of words but a method of navigating through various methods of understanding. If you think about it, most ways of communicating are multimodal and understanding these kinds of communication involved becomes a multiliterate experience: speaking is both linguistic and auditory, while body language is at once gestural, visual, and spatial. In the context of engineering, “reading” math uses spatiality as well as linguistics and visuals.

While we may have a new title for it, being multiliterate is not anything new; what is new, however, is how technology, like the multimodality of the Internet, brings these literacies and people together. Online social networking promotes flexibility with various types of (often collaborative) communications, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, wikis, and so on.

Due to the regular contributions on these online multimodal tools, it is generally expected—in the workforce, in the classroom—that we become adaptable and receptive problem-solvers through a diverse means of communication. The best way to promote this functionality this is through multiliterate learning.

Theory Framework

Theory Framework

The multiliteracy framework breaks down into four segments: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice; however, they by no means must be done in any specific order as these practices are all parts of a whole. When all of segments are employed in conjunction, learners will become further encouraged to develop their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and will be able to focus their learning styles in a more beneficial and constructive way.

The segments break down as follows:

Situated Practice:

  • Allows learning in authentic situations with practical application
  • Promotes in-depth focus on mastery, immersion, and collaboration
  • e.g. discussing or analyzing a real-life case

Overt instructions:

  • Instructor scaffolds learning and encourages critical understanding by providing direction and sources
  • e.g. supplying articles/websites/videos/etc. with background information on a new topic before beginning the unit

Critical framing

  • Learner analyses information in an unfamiliar context to link understanding
  • e.g., having learners relate an abstract topic to their everyday experiences.

Transformed Practice

  • Learner engages in reflective practice derivative of personal goals and values
  • e.g., learners design a personalized research project on a specific topic (The New London Group, 2000)

For a more detailed look at how technology is affecting communication watch “A New Literacy: Making Connections in Electronic Environments.”

What are your thoughts on multiliteracies theory? Share your ideas, questions, and thoughts in the comment section below.


The New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Litearcy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 9-39). Youth Yarra, Australia: MacMillan.

Speakwrite41. (2011). A new literacy: making connections in electronic environments. Retrieved from

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Christie Robertson

I remember what it was like being a new instructor: too many questions and too many resources to sift through. My goal as a writer for Learning Connections is to help instructors with common teaching issues, whether they are f-2-f, blended or online. I want answers to those frequently asked question to be easy to find!