T is for Transmedia: The Pedagogical Promise of Transmedia Play

(Re-posted from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop blog)

by Rebecca Herr-Stephenson, Ph.D and Meryl Alper

Today we are thrilled to release a new report, T is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play. This report, which we have co-authored along with Erin Reilly, and which begins with an introduction by Henry Jenkins, is the product of a year-long collaboration between the Cooney Center and the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.


Transmedia is an idea that has evolved over the past decade to describe the complex relationships that exist between media texts, media producers, and media audiences who actively and resourcefully engage with characters, plots, and events.  Transmedia storytelling, as our collaborator Henry Jenkins has put forward, is a way for audiences and producers to shape media content and negotiate meanings across multiple platforms, with each unique element contributing to a fuller story world.  We, along with other scholars, media producers, and educators, see great potential in transmedia for supporting learning and literacy development.

In this research, we looked carefully at numerous children’s media properties, play spaces, and play and performance-based programs to tease out the characteristics of transmedia that seem to best foster learning. From Harry Potter to Project Lamp, Story Pirates to Minecraft, we surveyed numerous opportunities for transmedia play currently available, focusing on those designed for children between the ages of 5 and 11. One of the key characteristics we observed in our review of transmedia experiences is the existence of rich story worlds that encourage reading across media and digging deeply into narratives and topics of interest.

T is for Transmedia is our attempt to summarize, synthesize, and spark discussions about children learning through their engagement with transmedia.  As media producers increasingly look to transmedia as part of a strategy for incorporating new media into new and existing properties and as educators look ever more to new media as a site for meaningful learning opportunities, we suggest ways in which transmedia can be a resource for learning in various contexts, including schools, expanded learning programs, and at home.  We promote the idea of “transmedia play” as a way of thinking about children’s experimentation with, expression through, and participation in a transmedia experience that acknowledges their cultural engagement, respects their thoughts and feelings, and builds up and upon 21st century literacies.

While it is clear that transmedia is a regular part of many children’s media ecologies—and, to a growing extent, their learning ecologies—this report is the first to document the characteristics of transmedia play and to consider its role in children’s education beginning in preschool. We hope that the research we present in T is for Transmedia will spark cross-sector, interdisciplinary conversations about the pedagogical promise of transmedia play and welcome your feedback on the report!

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