A life-style segment of ‘at-risk learners’: Using mobile media provides educational opportunities

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This presentation will discuss ‘At-risk learners’ from the perspective of lifestyle aesthetics and in the gender perspective. Within this theoretical framework usage date on mobile devices such as mobile phones and portable gaming consoles will be presented and used in order to argue that there are certain risks inherent in the life-styles of young people and especially the ‘at-risk learners’. These risks are highly ambivalent as the ‘at-risk learners’ are facing passive risks like social inequality. Despite of that using mobile media is active risky consumption and offers educational opportunities and positive implications for agency.


1. A life-style of ‘at-risk learners’ who fail in traditional school contexts

Generally ‘at-risk learners’ are considered as pupils with certain distance to school, those who have difficulties in school and thus who face difficulties in integrating into society. The distance to school becomes evident e.g. at truancy although this phenomenon is not specific to a certain sociological group. Pupils with handicaps or disabilities are facing very specific challenges in the educational system, but will not be focussed. The results from the PISA studies encourage to focus on pupils with migration backgrounds, pupils from lower socio-economic levels and pupils who do not successfully graduate from compulsory education after year 9 in Germany. The usual educational track in the German speaking countries would be to enter an apprenticeship or vocational training or continue in secondary education. The lack of a secondary general school certificate in most cases prevents this entry requirement to the job market. Within those groups the special focus lies on the boys as the girls are more successful in the educational system and the boys are rather likely to be unemployed after their time of compulsory eduction. These groups of pupils are identifiable within society. Statistics on school graduation and school achievement, census data and data on social segmentation encourage to focus on this group.
In the United Kingdom, China, South Korea and Japan the term NEET is used to grasp the group of young people who are not in education, employment or training. According to UK’s department for children, schools and families (dcsf.gov.uk) almost one tenth of the “16- to 18-year-olds were NEET at the end of 2007”. (DCSF 2009) For Germany about 8 % of all 16-year-olds do not graduate successfully from compulsory education (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2006) and the PISA studies 2001, 2003 and 2006 suggest that about 20% of the 15-year-olds do not meet the basic level 2 of reading, mathematics and natural science competencies. For Germany one should additionally consider that the school system puts pupils ‘at-risk’ as it provides three different types and therefore levels of schools in parallel after elementary school. Over 80% of the pupils attend the intermediate school (Realschule) and the grammar school (Gymnasium) whereas the rest attends secondary general school (Hauptschule). (Translation from German Embassy London) The ‘at-risk learners’ in Germany are closely related to the the problem of the Hauptschule as almost one third of its pupils have migration backgrounds (just one 4th of the grammar school pupils have migration backgrounds) and the majority of this school’s pupils is male. According to the PISA studies the pupils attending Hauptschule have low socio-economic backgrounds with rather little access to financial resources. Adding to that, the majority of unemployed people in Germany have attended Hauptschule. (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung 2006)


2. The framework of life-style segmentation unveils educational opportunities for ‘at-risk learners’ inherent in their mobile media usage patterns

The presentation will argue that current structures of societies need to be regarded as segmented according to lifestyle (everyday lifestyle aesthetics) as well as according to education, income and social status. This is especially necessary to gain more detailed views on educational (Medienbildung) potentials of digital mobile devices for adolescents.
The group of ‘at-risk learners’ is not only derived from education data and it is not only a group of individuals who fail in school. It seems as if there is an overarching trend in Europe where a certain group of young people fail in traditional school contexts on the one hand, but are successful in their meaning-making with media and especially with mobile technology. The aim is thus to understand ‘at-risk learners’ as a holistic life-style, incorporating patterns of media usage, approaches to education and learning as well as general decision taking, value orientation, the visible and audible style of e.g. clothing and music tastes. The approach of social segmentation or social milieus which is mainly used by the marketing industry seems appropriate to cover (a) the socio-economic backgrounds in the sense of a class system and (b) to cover value orientations and general styles or tastes. Two German research institutes (SINUS Sociovision and SIGMA) offer data on social segmentation covering media usage, general consumption and education.
The presented data was drawn from the German market media study Verbraucheranalyse 2008 II Märkte which carries data in respect to the SIGMA Milieus. The information on informal learning of the Precarious Consumers and Hedonists can be found in the studies on the attendance of further education courses by Rudolf Tippelt, professor for educational sciences at the University of Munich. Those studies were conducted in the perspective of the SINUS milieus and are comparable to each other for those two segments and use the same epistemological model. (Barz/ Tippelt 2004, Tippelt et al 2003)
The most significant social segment in relation to adolescent ‘at-risk learners’ are the Hedonists. They are the greatest youth segment with about one third of all adolescents. It is the mainstream of youth segmentation. Due to the size of this segment there are great intra-segmental differences and the segment differentiates into the youth styles and scenes where these styles and scenes distinct themselves against each others, sometimes quite violently. The main characteristic of this segment is being in opposition to all authorities and mainstream society.
The media usage, leisure time activities and important things in life describe ‘at-risk learners’ as a lifestyle that is shaped by precarious consumption and hedonism.
This includes active risk taking and active risky consumption, e.g. spending money for partying, gaming, ringtone subscriptions, mobile phone contracts, etc. Their active risk taking also happens in school by standing actively in opposition to authorities like school, teachers or the teaching content. The active risk taking is in tension with the passive risk not to graduate from school, risking to descend in society by the lack of certified schooling.
Active risk taking and being exposed to risks seems to be an inherent component of adolescence and especially for young Hedonists. These risks might be seen as unpredictable dangers but can also be seen as uncertainties that have relevance for agency and offer educational opportunities as they offer reflexivity and orientation.
The presentation will demonstrate the educational potentials of active risk taking and the passively being at-risk at the example of selected German mobile media usage and consumption data. The most important results and educational potentials are:

  • The great educational potentials for the boys are in the combination of gaming enabled devices and devices that are able to produce media at an adequate and appropriate quality. This does not necessarily involve a mobile phone.
  • Active risk taking offers spaces for uncertainties where the boys work on educational tasks. These risky spaces also include heavy gaming and recording dubious videos.
  • Educational institutions outside school like youth clubs can offer the secured space for at-risk learners where these media can be tried, discussed and reflected upon and are actually used by the boys for this purpose. Social research just has not yet taken up on these places.


2.1 Who are the Precarious Consumers? Their media and leisure time activities

The Precarious Consumers’ main means for participation is consumption. For them consumption, the purchase e.g. of expensive single media technology means to compensate the lacking access to other cultural resources. Due to the missing financial safety and the high rate of unemployment, this uncontrolled spending of money for goods that promises more proximity to mainstream society, the consumption is per se already risky. The Precarious Consumers are seeking for safety in society, seeking to be a little closer to the mainstream society which shows e.g. in the clothing and music tastes that avoids uncertainties and seeks to be well known. Those are well known fashion brands obviously showing, no matter if they are fake or real. For the music taste that means that international pop music and local pop music is preferred. For the Precarious Consumers it is crucial to buy fashionable and well known brands hoping for the acknowledgement of the others. The risk is not to achieve this acknowledgement, running the risk of descending even more in society and running into even worse financial situations.
The boys within the Precarious Consumers do not own gaming consoles, they do not play online games, buy books or audio books. Very few have personal computers at home and the offline PC usage is just for gaming. Those boys report to use an encyclopaedia on the PC more than once a week. The households do not have internet access and those boys have not used the internet for the last 12 months. Their households do not hold any mp3-players but all of the male Precarious Consumers age 14 to 24 own a mobile phone, all equipped with prepaid cards. Most of these boys (> 90%) use the mobile phone on a daily basis, but 8,4% use the mobile less than once a week. When being asked for the brand of the mobile phone just Philips (8,4%) was named. The other phones were of non specified minor or unimportant brands. Usually the male Precarious Consumers spend 20 to 25 EUR per month or less, all of them read and write SMS texts. Less than 10% take, receive or send photos with or from the mobile phones and less than 10% use the mobile phone as a mp3-player.
All male Precarious Consumers age 14 to 24 name biking as a preferred leisure time activity, presumably because this is their only means of transportation. All do other not further specified sports probably like fitness, bodybuilding, martial arts, although just very few mention playing football, skiing, running or swimming. On the contrary all of them visit sports events like football matches and they like being together with friends. They like listening to music and watching TV, although just very few (less than 10%) mention reading magazines, watching DVDs, visiting POP concerts, eating out, partying or going to pubs or discotheques. Their music preferences concentrates on German and international Pop and Rock music.
All male Precarious Consumers age 14 to 24 mention having many friends, family and partnership, financial independence, having success on the job, being able to afford something, having a save future, being or looking attractive as important things in life. Most of them mention having children, being open for new things, having a fixed job, living in a healthy environment, having a good (job-) education, going on holidays, safety in the home country, living in a nice home or apartment, being sportive and active, eating healthily. Just a few consider self development, having much leisure time, hanging around from time to time, performing well for merit, fun and action, a lot of experiences and good all-round education as important things in life.


2.2 Who are the Hedonists? Their media and leisure time activities

The Hedonists are the greatest youth segment with about one third of all adolescents. It is the mainstream of young people. Due to the size of this segment there are great intra-segmental differences and the segment differentiates into the youth styles and scenes where these styles and scenes distinct themselves against each others, sometimes quite violently. The main characteristic of this segment is being in opposition to all authorities and mainstream society. This includes active risk taking and active risky consumption, e.g. spending money for partying, gaming, ring tone subscription and mobile phone contracts, etc.
Their active risk taking also happens in school by standing actively in opposition to the authority school / teachers / teaching content. The active risk taking is in tension with the passive risk not to graduate from school, risking to descend in society by the lack of certified schooling.

Portable Gaming Consoles
The male Hedonists age 14 to 24 are one fifth (20,5%) of the whole German population age 14 to 24. More than 60 % of them own a gaming console whereas about 38,7 % do not own a static or portable gaming console of the following types: Sony Playstation 1, Sony Playstation 2, Sony Playstation 3, Sony PSP (Playstation Portable), Game Boy Advance, Game Cube, N-Gage (Nokia), Nintendo DS, Nintendo Revolution, Nintendo Wii and X-Box 360. Most of those who own one of the above gaming consoles have a second console (1,84 consoles per capita). The Sony PSP (Playstation Portable), Game Boy Advance, N-Gage (Nokia) and Nintendo DS are portable consoles which have a reach amongst this group of 47,6%, meaning that half of the gaming console owners have a portable one. The most interesting portable gaming console devices are the Playstation Portable, where about 33% of these items are held by the 14-24 year old male Hedonists and 42% including the girls. The Nintendo Gameboy Advance, dating 2001, has the widest share of portable gaming consoles. About one fourth of those items are owned by the 14-24 year old male Hedonists.

Computer and Internet
About two thirds have internet access at home whereas about 24% to 18% (decreasing) of the male Hedonists (14-24 years) has not used the internet in the last 12 months. More than two thirds (69,8%) of those who have internet at home have a broadband connection. About a quarter of the male Hedonists who use the internet go elsewhere to get access. (1.587.000 internet users vs. 1.169.000 who have internet access at home). About half of the internet users play games online. About one third has bought at least one book in the past 12 months and about 10% have bought at least one audio book in the past 12 months which is the second highest rate compared to the other social segments. This means that the male Hedonists have quite a high affinity to audio books.
Their preferred computer activities (offline) are gaming, communicating with others, listening / watching and recording audio and video as well as editing audio and video, and using encyclopaedia. About 14% are working on their own homepages. They have the highest rate in watching TV over their personal computer. The male Hedonists’ preferred online activities are communicating with others via instant messengers, chat and email as well as using online communities. They like downloading free music and videos, watching videos, searching information about TV programmes and music. They have the highest rate in using eroticism and sex offers on the internet.

Mobile phones
About half of the male Hedonists own a separate mp3-player. Just 94,2 % of the 14-24 year old male Hedonists own a mobile phone, meaning that still about 6% of them do not own a mobile phone. About two thirds who have a mobile phone, have a prepaid card, one third has a monthly subscription. About 13 % is using the mobile phone just once a week or less often. About half of the 14-24 year old male Hedonists spend 10 to 25 EUR per month for using the mobile phone and about 7% are spending 40 EUR to more than 50 EUR per month. Their most preferred brand is Nokia (36%), second is Sony Ericsson (21%), third is BenQ (12%), fourth is Samsung (10%). Referring to the gaming consoles it should be mentioned that Nokia offers the N-Gage platform which is currently available (2009 Jan 04th) on the top Nokia n-Series devices. The N-Gage as gaming console has the second highest rate for the male Hedonists compared to the other social segments with increasing rate. The preferred mobile applications are besides SMS texting, gaming, making photos / videos and sending them via MMS, surfing on the internet, using the organizer functions, downloading ringtones and wallpapers. They have the highest rate in using the GPS functions.
The male Hedonists’ between 14 to 24 years prefer mostly as leisure time activities (in ranked order): listening to music, being together with friends, watching television, watching DVDs, using the PC and internet, partying, going to the movies / cinema, playing computer / video games, going to discotheques / clubs, swimming, biking, eating out, playing football, going to pubs. Their music preferences concentrate on Hardrock, Heavy Metal and especially Dance and Electronic as well as Hip Hop and Rap. As important issues the male Hedonists between 14 to 24 mention: having many friends, financial independence, having success on the job, being able to afford something, having a save future, fun and action, having a fixed job and a good (job)- education. Many of them mention family and partnership, having a lot of leisure time, being open to new things, performing well for merit, individuality, being attractive, good versatile education, security in the country, living in a nice home / apartment and hanging around from time to time. In contrast these items were just named by a few Precarious Consumers. In contrast to the Precarious Consumers the male Hedonists rather depreciate having children, going on holidays often and eating healthily.


2.3 Attitudes towards learning

The Precarious Consumers’ attitude towards formal education is shaped by a low expectation. A strong dichotomy between power and powerlessness is expressed by pointing out and claiming to be the important working class on the one hand, but this is immediately depreciated by the feeling to be underprivileged and being treated unequally anyway. This is then also expressed in a depreciation of their own knowledge. The two social segments at the bottom of the social stratification map show a great distance and objection to social segments with higher education. They strongly distinct themselves from the people who have studied and are generally well educated (Barz 2000; Tippelt et al. 2003; Barz, Tippelt 2004). In general education serves to maintain the current social position (Vester 2006) and there is rather no idea of social climbing or a potential of social mobility upwards by entering higher education.

The Precarious Consummers’ informal learning strategies
They are on the one hand very reluctant towards further education and all forms of formal learning. They have made bad experiences in school and were often unsuccessful with their learning. When they were asked for informal learning all participants stated to have learned informally. They have read text books or specialised books, they read magazines or professional journals. Most important seems to be that they reported having been taught by friends, relatives or colleagues. They either watched them doing things and imitated that successfully or they tried things out by themselves and discussed this with others (Tippelt et al. 2003, pp.116, 124).
Although the Precarious Consumers read books and magazines for information retrieval in the sense of further education they had not had the impression having used media for self directed learning. The percentage of Precarious Consumers who were of the opinion that they had learned self directedly using media amounts just 18% (Pietrass et al. 2005, p 419) which is below average of 28% (Tippelt et al. 2003. p. 155). These statements fit into the picture that the Precarious Consumers often are not aware of having leant informally. One interviewee stressed that he or she never attended a computer course, but instead taught all about computers to him- or herself. Quiz shows on television like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are also an integral part of their everyday life in order “to keep the brain going”. This strategy is still two fold, on the one hand the Precarious Consumers would not acknowledge this kind of acquisition as informal learning. On the other hand this kind of learning is very broad, general and target directed. The obvious informal strategy to learn about computers is self directed and motivated out of everyday life needs in order to cope with daily situations. These figures relate to a rather work based learning or to informal learning which focuses on education for Precarious Consumers’ professions. Generally the acquisition of competencies is motivated by the Precarious Consumers’ everyday life needs. In their information retrieval they want to learn things to cope with their sometimes troublesome daily life. The Precarious Consumers appreciate the development of values like staying power or self consciousness – generally, strategies to cope with everyday life.
When it comes to learning for or with a certain given field the Precarious Consumers are described as not investing enough self discipline and lacking effectiveness by selective learning. Thereby things that do not promise enough fun, like the purchased Japanese leaning CD, stay untouched (expressed by a German interviewee). This type of selective learning is in line with the Precarious Consumers’ learning for real everyday life situations. Their informal learning focusses on knowledge which has an immediate applicability in their perspective.

The Hedonists’ informal learning strategies
The Hedonists have a strong attitude towards self directed and informal learning. This fits into the picture that they are in opposition to mainstream society and in opposition to authorities like teachers, to institutions like schools and to the content that authorities chose. In this perspective they appreciate the non-authoritative, non-binding, non-committing and unconstrained character of informal learning. The Hedonists state to grow at the requirements of the daily hard life “in prison”, “on the streets” or at an early being-on-one’s-own. There is a strong influence of the peers, asking the peers, being taught and encouraged by the peers. They try to adopt attitudes of self chosen idols but try to avoid unpleasant consequences, keeping themselves updated and learn self organized in the field of ICT by using online manuals, forums, etc.. The internet is a easy source of information.


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