The life-style of ‘at-risk learners’ at the example of mobile technology. Interdependencies between patterns of media use and learning in ‘at-risk’ youth cultures

Published in Danish as:

Rummler, K. (2010). “Udsatte elevers” livsstil: Indbyrdes afhængigheder mellem mønstre for mediebrug og læring i “udsatte” ungdomskulturer. Læring og Medier (Learning and Media - LOM), Læring i videnssamfundet. Om vidensformidling, videnskonstruktion og vidensdeling (Learning in the Knowledge Society)(5). Retrieved from


The debate about learning with new digital media like the computer has long included mobile phones in its discussion. The term m-learning or mobile learning expresses this new trend. But unlike the computer the mobile phone systematically combines most current media technology in itself and thus interconnects different users’ life-worlds.
This article will discover certain interdependencies between different life-styles, patterns of usage of mobile technology and learning at the example of ‘at-risk learners’. Studies on social segmentation in relation to media usage, learning and education helps to find conclusions for mobile learning outside school. The life-style and media usage of the ‘at-risk learners’ thus suggest that self constructed learner groups with individuals equipped with portable digital storage might enhance their leaning opportunities.


1. ‘At-risk learners’, the core target group of pedagogic engagement are a life-style which is characterised by precarious consumption with distance to school

The debate about learning with new digital media like the computer has long included mobile phones in its discussion. The term m-learning or mobile learning expresses this new trend. But unlike the computer, the mobile phone systematically combines most current media technologies in itself and thus systematically interconnects different users’ life-worlds. For the discussion of learning with mobile phones it is considered necessary to be aware of diverging usage patterns, habits, likes, dislikes and tastes of people towards certain media, brands or technologies. Education and pedagogy should thus for example not expect every user to have the same mobile phone if any at all. Unlike schools and education the media and advertising industry has a clear understanding of target group marketing and is thus able to reach the different audiences very precisely as these audiences are shaped by their different tastes and styles. Data from target group marketing will be related to education data in this article, in order get a differentiated notion about target groups in school and their attitudes towards media usage and education, aiming to determine how media education can enhance the meaning making (and thus learning) of the special target group ‘at-risk learners’ in school and outside school.

Peoples’ different tastes, likes and dislikes as well as socio-economic positions in society form a set of life-styles that each imply different patterns and habits of media use, information retrieval and attitudes towards education and learning. In other words this means: there are cultural differences in society and in the attribution of the cultural situation ”learning ”and the meaning making with cultural resources. From the pedagogical point of view it seems necessary to look for ‘at-risk learners’ for whom we assume that their meaning making with cultural resources is not in balance with or does not relate to their success in the cultural situation of school learning.

Generally ‘at-risk learners’ are students with a certain distance to school, those who have difficulties in school and thus those who face difficulties in the integration into society. 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.

For Germany about 8% of all 16-year-olds do not graduate successfully from compulsory education (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung. Page 89) 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. Other German studies have shown that young pupils who leave school without a degree hardly have any chance to enter proper job positions which thus leads to unemployment.

One should additionally consider for Germany 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)[1]. 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.[2]

For the educational system and from the viewpoint of media education it seems necessary to have a closer systematic look to determine where in society the ‘at-risk learners’ are. As mentioned, the media industry and consumption research is successfully using the concept of target group marketing. Therefore the tools for determining target groups will be used, also in the sense of analysis of social structures, in order to identify ‘at-risk learners’, to reveal their media usage patterns. As with the differences in taste, media use and life-style pupils in school have to be regarded as segmented in terms of attitudes towards education and learning, too. The tool social segmentation might help to concretise these terms in a socio-cultural perspective. The analysis of social structures in the perspective of life-style or consumer habits is used since the 1970ies under the term psychographics by graphically explaining psychological traits in relation to consumption (Vyncke 2002). The concept of social segmentation will be used in order to describe social structures and to reveal inequalities in society. One of these inequalities is the unequally disseminated access to education and to media which is seen as crucial to the appropriation of literacy, numeracy, generally cultural resources and thus the participation in society.

1.1 Social segmentation in Europe: identifying ‘at-risk learners’

The concept of social segmentation used here consists of two axes between which the map of the social space (Bourdieu 1984) is expanded. The vertical axis represents the rough level of education, the job or profession and the income of an individual or a household. This is the axis on which social classes would usually be defined and where for instance the working class is the lowest level at the bottom within society. The horizontal axis represents dimensions including life-style, taste, desires, goals, attitudes, spirituality, daily routines or value orientations. These values vary from traditional on the left side to post-modern on the right side. This means that society is not only structured by income, heritage, or class position but rather structured by everyday life-style aesthetics (Flaig / Meyer / Ueltzhöffer 1993). Social segments or milieus combine people of similar lifestyle and habitus that form a certain entity in society (Schulze 1992 and 2000). Each segment represents a certain pattern of everyday life-style orientation by which people distinct themselves from others, individually forming clusters within society on the map of the social space. The following map represents this social space divided into seven meta milieus of central Europe including UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain.[3] In order to identify at-risk segments and in order be able to use a proper and overarching wording which is powerful enough to describe these at-risk segments, the following section compares the maps of social segmentation from Germany, UK, France and central Europe. This comparison concludes with the combined terms of ”’Traditionals”, ”Precarious Consumers” and ”Hedonists” as the descriptive English names for the relevant social segments of the ‘at-risk learners’.

[[Image:everyday-life-segmente_EN.png]]The ‘at-risk learners’ who are affected by social inequality and disadvantages, who have a low income and a poor education concentrate at the bottom of the map of social space. One of the two relevant leading German institutes that offer data on social segmentation is SINUS Sociovision in Heidelberg. On the bottom of their map[4], on the left bottom corner there is the segment named ‘Traditionally Rooted Milieu’. Dominant for them is abiding duties and preserving traditions or the current state. In the middle of the bottom level there are the ‘Consumer Materialists’ who are dominated by individualization, self realisation and enjoyment. Overlapping and located further to the right are the ‘Sensation oriented’ or ‘Hedonists’. This segment is shaped by re-orientation, multi-optionality, experimenting, paradoxies, self orientation, fun, action and sensation.

The other relevant German institute SIGMA developed slightly different terms to describe the social segments. In the lower left corner the segment is differentiated with the term ‘Traditional Workers Milieu’.[5]

The SINUS map for France equally considers the lower conservative segment separately and calls it “Populaires Précaires”. Here the term of precarity is explicitly used. The middle lower segment here is called “Consommateurs Populaires”[6]. Again for this segment the dimension of consumption seems to be important.

On the SINUS map for the United Kingdom the lower conservative segment is named “Traditionals”. The segment covers the lower level and overlaps to a great extend into the middle level of society. The lower middle segment in the UK is called “Precarious”[7]. The SIGMA map for central Europe uses the term “Traditional blue-collar” segment for the lower conservative segment and the lower middle is explicitly called “Underprivileged Segment” (Ascheberg 2005. Page 7).

1.2 Identified ‘at-risk learners’: traditionals and precarious consumers

The maps of social segmentation for Germany, France, the UK and central Europe identify a low traditional working class segment which is described by names and adjectives like traditional and precarious. As a unique naming this segment will therefore be called “Traditional workers” (short ”Traditionals”) collecting the above attributed in itself.

The lower middle segment of the social map is shaped by consumption and inequality, expressed by the name “underprivileged” and will thus be named ”Precarious Consumers” for the further consideration. The adjective precarious is explicitly used in the SINUS map for France and is used here to overarchingly describe the situation of that segment. The segment on the most right, most modern and sensation oriented side of the map are called ”’Hedonists”’. The SINUS map for UK calles them “pleasure seekers”, in the map for FRANCE they are called “tonique frustrée” and the map for central Europe describes them as “counter culture”. The further discussion will focus on the Precarious Consumers with reference to the Traditionals.

2. The life-worlds of ‘at-risk learners’ in the perspective of media use and education

In the context of this research and focussing on ‘at-risk learners’, two segments were identified which were additionally assigned new, more explicit names: The traditional workers or Traditionals and the Precarious Consumers. In order to have a closer look at these segments the first part (2.1) will explore their life-worlds and their demography to get an overview and the an idea of the relevance for learning and media use. Section 3 focusses on the meaning making (Kress 2003) with cultural resources of these two segments. Lothar Böhnisch (1994. Page 32) and Albert Scherr (2001. Page 525) explain, in the perspective of educational sciences and German sociology, that consumption has the special relevance as a form of taking part in society. For the discussion of media use patterns of how people deal with finances, buying books and reading, the use of television, the use of the cultural resource ICT and the use of mobile phones will be developed according to the referred studies on social segmentation. Section 4 explores what school types people in the two segments have attended and their attitudes towards informal learning and education. This section recurs on two studies on further education for adults between the age of 19 to 69 conducted in the Germany cities of Freiburg and Munich during the 1990ies. Although the data is rather old and considers adults, the data reveals deep insights into the cultural differentiation of learning and education as cultural situations.

2.1 General life-style: The life-world of the Traditionals and Precarious Consumers

The life-style or life-world of the Traditionals” ”is shaped by preserving traditional morals and discipline. They seek to preserve the current state and their current status in society. They are minor employees, workers, farmers who seek acknowledgement in the nearby social environment. They thus live close to home and have small spacial range, meaning that their radius of activity is limited. Their pattern of consumption is thrifty and reluctant.

The Precarious Consumers are trying to compensate their social inequity by consumption. Their professional opportunities are low and there is a high rate of unemployment. They do have the feeling that society is not treating them equally and they have a high distrust against the higher segments of society. The Precarious Consumers are seeking entertainment, distraction, action and fun. But there is this constant discrepancy between their hopes and wishes and their reality or future. They hope to win the lottery and be rich, on the other hand this utopia will hardly ever come true and their status will remain as precarious as before.

2.2 Demography – relevance of the social segments for school

The Traditionals make about 5 – 10 % of the German population and they are mostly are Survivors of the World War II, they are pensioners with an average age of 70 years. In this segment there are therefore mostly women. Although the average age is so high, there are nevertheless some few children in the age of 6-13 years in this segment. The number of adolescents age 14-19 is much lower with just about 0[8] to 1 %.[9]

The demography of the Precarious Consumers is much more wide spread. There is a wide range of age and an average gender distribution. This segment makes about 10 % of the German population. About 7-11% of the population are children (Feierabend / Klingler 2007) and about 10 % of the adolescents age 14 to 19 are in this segment. We can assume that some adolescents whose parents or grandparents were considered to be within the Traditionals are allocated to the Precarious Consumers. This means that if there is a social mobility within the model of social segmentation it goes from conservative to modern and from bottom to top. The social mobility moves counter-clockwise on the map (Geißler / Meyer 2006. Page 257).

3. Meaning-making with cultural resources: The ‘at-risk learners’ patterns of media usage

3.1 Cultural recources: Financial possibilities, media and other leisure time activities

This section focusses on the financial situation of the two considered segments at the bottom of the map of social space. The financial situation of the lower conservative Traditionals can be described as modest according to the typology of financial resources was developed by the Sinus Sociovision institute[10]: they are not reluctant but very distanced. They keep the little money they have together and do not spend extra money. The segment of the Precarious Consumers is described as overstrained: They act very protective, frustrated and resigned in respect to their very low budget. For them money is never enough and it is hard for them to make a living. The discrepancy is that although money is never enough they make spontaneous decisions to buy goods that they would rationally not need. They wish to be able to spend money without having to care and by spending money they try to be a little closer to the middle class. The most modern segment on the right bottom (Hedonists) are described as “Squanderer”. These are the ones who are carefree and planless. They do not see any use in saving money or making plans on saving insurances.

Looking generally at media activities of the Precarious Consumers age 6 to 13 it gets evident again that television, watching videos and playing computer games is very important in their lives. Playing video consoles and portable video consoles like the Gameboy is preferred to an average extend. Again reading is not popular, as well as listening to dramatized audio books or mp3 (Feierabend / Klingler 2007). Considering the affinity of the Precarious Consumers to gaming and entertainment the average usage of consoles, especially the rather expensive portable consoles including the Sony Playstation portable should be given attention and should be treated as a possible link to strategy and problem solving for their processes of meaning making and thus learning.

3.2 Cultural resource: Children and youth books, newspapers and audio

In the year 2007 the German head organisation of book shops published results of their study on the consumption of children’s and youth books in relation to social segments (Wippermann / Wippermann 2007). For the Traditionals the study shows that it is the grandparents who buy books as presents for their grandchildren. The books sold to that segment hardly relate to school. The preferred genres are picture books, narrations and books directed to young children for playing and learning. The youth books for adolescents from the age of 12 and older are sold quite rarely to this segment. The Traditionals try to give their grandchildren a little education by giving them “nice” books which they consider valuable.

The Precarious Consumers are not relevant for the book market. They have the lowest market reach with just 15% of the segment who are buying children and youth books. In relation to the whole population this is just a 5 % share. This is especially precarious considering the high rate of children (~ 10%) in this segment for whom reading is relevant.

Generally it is interesting that children in the age of 6 to 15 years buy only for themselves whereas adolescents age 16 to 19 years buy for themselves and for others and thus consider books as proper presents for their relatives and peers according to the study.

Cultural resource: Audio books and newspapers
Traditionals generally have the lowest rate in reading for information with the exception that they have quite a high rate in reading newspapers. In this perspective 98 % read a newspaper at least once per month which is 4 % above the average.

The Precarious Consumers generally have a very low rate in reading but they do not even read for entertainment and even the rate of reading newspapers which is 90%, is much lower than the average. In contrast to that, with 18% the Precarious Consumers have the highest rate of all segments in listening to Audio books. The average audio books usage is 14%. In respect to listening to audio books Christoph Kochhan and Kristiane Schengbier state that segments that have a close affinity to the internet are likely to prefer audio books. The market of audio books is just starting to grow (Kochhan / Schengbier 2007).

3.3 Cultural resource: Television

According to the ongoing television usage study by SevenOne Media (Dannhardt et al. 2007) the German Traditionals watch about 4 hours and a quarter of television per day. This is 30 minutes more than the average and also due to the high average age of this segment. They watch German public TV channels and prefer the news shows, news magazines and reports by the public TV channels which they trust most. In relation to fiction the also prefer the pubilc TV and watch the fiction series and movies.

This is a contrast to the Precarious Consumers who watch preferably private channels. As they are seeking action, fun and distraction they prefer entertainment in TV. Even the news they watch have to be entertaining like the news show on the private channel RTL2. Their daily amount of TV usage is even higher than the Traditionals’ with about 4 hours and 20 minutes.

3.4 Cultural resource: ICT

The following section focusses on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the sense of using the computer and using the internet. The use of mobile phones, which may also be considered ICT are covered in section 3.5. Generally there are just very few Computers in the households of the Traditionals. They barely have any own internet access and they barely use the internet.

For the Precarious Consumers gaming is in the foreground. Their use of mobile phones is reluctant and the rate of computers in the households is quite low. Accordingly the rate of internet access is very low too. Despite these low figures 76 % of the 6 to 13 year olds of this segment are computer users and almost half of the children in this segment use the internet (40% internet). But as there are just a few computers that also have internet access (60 %) of these children have to use the computer elsewhere (Feierabend / Klingler 2007).

The quality of internet access is crucial to the pattern of using the internet. After the introduction of broadband internet access studies have shown that users with broadband access who do not have to pay by the minute remain twice the time on a single web page. Also the duration of time spent per internet session rises per double. Broadband access makes it possible to download files at a reasonable speed and security. The relation between broadband internet access and social segments shows a clear digital divide for central Europe. The traditional lower and middle segments have half as many broadband subscription as the modern and post-modern segments. The two considered segments Traditionals and Precarious consumers have the lowest rates of broadband access (Ascheberg 2006. Page 24).

Cultural resource ICT: Computer and internet activities of the 6 to 13 year old German Precarious Consumers
Meaning making and learning with mobile phones often, if not mostly involves some kind of computer or internet usage. Therefore detailed findings of computer and internet usage of the 6 to 13 year old children of the segment Precarious Consumers shall be considered. The German media usage study on children and media (KIM – Kinder und Medien. Feierabend / Klingler 2007) was not able to publish data on the Traditionals due to the small percentage of children in the sample and in this segment. Thus just information on the Precarious Consumers can be reported.

In relation to computer activities the Precarious Consumers prefer to watch DVD videos at most. They have average rates in gaming, listening to music and drawing. They browse the internet less often than others. They rarely write or receive emails, write texts, do something for school, learn with software or use a PC-encyclopaedia.

In relation to internet activities these children prefer gaming alone and with others. They use instant messengers very often and like to download music files. Their downloading of games or other files is not remarkably different from other segments. They read or write less often than others in forums, do much less chatting or listening to music. They remarkably less often retrieve information for school or for other issues from the internet.

The high usage of instant messengers in contrast to chatting might be explained by the quality of the internet connection. While instant messengers like ICQ offer the possibility to leave messages when the partner is offline, chatting requires constant connection and only allows messaging when both partners are online. This way the Precarious Consumers can stay in contact and can read and write messages when they come along a computer.

3.5 Cultural resource: Mobile phones

Although it is reasonable to understand mobile phones as information and communication technology mobile phones should be considered as a separate resource and phenomenon at this point. The use of mobile phones of the Traditionals fits into the picture that emerges until now. They hardly have any mobile phone and they do not even use mobile phones to an extend that it gets obvious in the quantitative data.

According to the KIM 2006 (Feierabend / Klingler 2007) within the Precarious Consumers less than a third of the children age 6-13 have a mobile phone. In contrast to that, almost all of the adolescents have a mobile but none of the well known brands. Having in mind that the central driver for social segmentation is everyday life-style aesthetics, one would expect that at least some state to have brands like Nokia, a Samsung or a Sony Eriscon. Instead only the brand Philips was named by the 14-19 year olds. The Precarious Consumers use none of the extra features that mobiles offer today like mp3, photo, video etc. The 14-19 year olds state to only use phoning and the short message service (SMS) for texting (VerbraucherAnalyse 2007/08).

4. ‘At-risk learners’ paths and attitudes within education

4.1 Attendance to schooltypes of the segments and precarious cultural decisions

The level of education is one of the dominant criteria for one’s position and status in society. Asking the question what types of schools people in the two relevant segments have attended seems necessary to further understand certain distance to school that children, adolescents and young adults might have. Furthermore within the discourse of underprivileged pupils the relationship between social segments and school education should be revealed.

People of both segments Traditionals and Precarious Consumers generally have a low education. Both attended “Hauptschule” (ISCED 2B), the lowest type of school in Germany by a rate of about 80%. The KIM 2006 children and Media study (Feierabend / Klingler 2007) reports that 50 % of these segments attend Hauptschule and the VerbraucherAnalyse (2007/08) reports 100 % for the Precarious Consumers. Many of them did an apprenticeship for a job afterwards. The current transitions in society put them at precarious situations as these apprenticeships do not pay off well enough and even the entrance to a professional apprenticeship is not necessarily successful as it was 20 years ago. In contrast to that only 2 (Vester 2006) to 10 percent (Feierabend / Klingler 2007) of these have a school degree which would enable them to enter higher education (ISCED 3A) which just a maximum 2 % actually did (Vester 2006).

The educational paths taken by the Traditionals and the Precarious Consumers are shaped by avoiding risks (Vester 2006. Page 19). In this perspective the decision, at the transition from elementary school to secondary education, for Hauptschule is considered saver than attending a risky and unfamiliar environment like Gymnasium (ISCED 3A) where the risk to fail seems to be much higher. This means that just about 50% of the parents of lower segments accept the recommendation for Gymnasium (Vester 2006. Page 24). On the other hand children from lower segments less often get the recommendation for Gymnasium by the teachers. The discrepancy becomes clearer imagining that there is a noticeable amount of children attending Hauptschule who do actually have the recommendation for Gymnasium and that they might simply not belong to Hauptschule. The above stated distance to school therefore might thus already start in year 5 for some pupils.

4.2 Attitudes towards learning and education

From German studies on the demand and attendance of further education the reader gets a broad and deep insight into general attitudes of the respective social segments towards learning and education. The Traditionals’ attitudes towards learning is that education and knowledge is an achievement of hard, admirable work. Participants in the further education study reported that if they did not have the feeling not to have worked hard therefore they did not learn anything (Barz / Tippelt 2004. Page 87). Especially for the duty abiding Traditionals further education is considered a privilege and important although they themselves had not had the opportunity to take part in education. The lower segments often report that the success of learning to a high extend depends on the teacher and the course room. In that way they externalize the causes of failing and on the other hand the atmosphere of the course room and the relationship to the teacher seems important (Barz / Tippelt 2004).

Attitudes towards education
The Traditionals’ and the Precarious Consumers’ attitude towards 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 segments at the bottom of the map show a great distance and objection of 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). Generally 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
For the Precarious Consumers there is Contradictory picture. 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 or relatives, 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. Pages 116 and 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. Page 419) which is below average of 28% (Tippelt et al. 2003. Page 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.

Conclusion: Media use as well as learning is dominated by lifestyles

From the data on media usage and from the further education studies one may consider that the ‘at-risk learners’ avoid traditional learning, reading and writing in the perspective of the culturally defined situation of school. The emerging media usage pattern is shaped by consumption, ownership and possession, fun and action. These are important elements of the life-worlds of the ‘at-risk learners’. This became especially evident at the example of gaming and downloading. One conclusion is that the personal possession of (free) digital products thus offers great opportunities for the ‘at-risk learners’.

Studies on further education, students’ study groups and workshops in youth clubs (Welling / Brüggemann 2004. Page 79) have indicated that the ‘at-risk learners’ prefer socially homogeneous groups, offering them participation without needing to distinct themselves from others or without having to discriminate themselves against others.

For school it should be noticed that learning in school is a different cultural situation compared to meaning-making with media at home or outside school. The notion about learning in school is dominated and differently valued by higher and rather traditional social segments (Pietrass et al. 2005), very much unlike the Precarious Consumers.

The ‘at-risk learners” current pattern of usage of the computer and internet are one culturally defined situation which stands in contrast to formal learning in school. Knowing that the children and adolescents leave home and engage with others in order to get access to computers and internet. This cultural practice poses implications for mobility and participation. Engaging with others in order to make meaning with media implies collaborative, participative, self constructed learning structures which should strongly be encouraged by teachers.

The data indicated that the Precarious Consumers are downloading files from the internet and that they often connect to the internet outside from home. This poses the question what young people do to carry the downloaded material from one place to another. In other words portable memory or storage capacity seems an important issue. Mike Featherstone, engaged in the field of Consumer Culture and Postmodernism and who is an editor of the journal ”Theory Culture and Society” points out that “the activity of individuals in everyday life who seek to preserve documents, photographs, diaries and recordings to develop their own archives as memory devices. In short, the archive may become a project or an aspiration, a site for the production of anticipated memories” (Featherstone 2006. Page 594). Yet and still the access to technology and to the internet plays a key role as a significant number of children have to use the computer elsewhere. The mobile phone or the portable devices like the Sony Playstation Portable offer the opportunity of adding several gigabyte of digital memory for little money and can easily be connected to a computer in an internet café, in school, in a youth club or to the friend’s PC. The mobile device thus becomes the personal and portable, mobile archive for personal media productions or to store personal media possessions. Within media education it may thus be an opportunity to engage ‘at-risk learners’ in collaborative self constructed learning situations and to provide the with digital memory cards in order to enhance their meaning making with media.

Patterns of media usage including reading, watching television or choosing a brand of a mobile phone are shaped by the everyday lifestyle aesthetics that mark social segments. In the same way notions of learning, schools and education are differently shaped. Learning and media usage is thus systematically anchored and shaped by the framework of everyday lifestyle aesthetics. The life-style and media usage of the ‘at-risk learners’ thus suggest that self constructed learner groups with individuals equipped with portable digital storage might enhance their leaning opportunities.

Mobile learning offers special opportunities for the Precarious Consumers. Almost everyone does have a mobile phone and thus does have access to mobile learning in one or the other way. Mobile phones are easily accessible, they support that kind of learning for coping with everyday life that the Precarious Consumers prefer. With their mobiles or other portable devices they are free to set their own pace, their own targets. The mobile phone does not force them to take exams or get (bad) grades. With the mobile devices the ‘at-risk learners’ can choose and create their own learning group without the need to socially distinct themselves from others.

Finally from the Precarious Consumers’ media usage data the following conclusions for informal learning with portable digital media can be drawn:

  • Gaming can be seen as problem solving. It is a self directed learning where the learner can set his or her own pace.
  • The Precarious Consumers want their learning to be entertaining which stands in contrast to traditional scholastic and explicit learning. This can be assigned to the learning content, to the learning media and to the learning group or to the teacher.
  • Furthermore it is important that the Precarious Consumers are offered the opportunity to engage with others, to be able to create a homogeneous learning group on their own. This reverses the traditional assumption of the teacher’s power and the power that is thus implied in the learning content and material as well as the forceful compilation of school classes and puts all these three components into the hands of the learner. In order to prevent the dilemma of putting the Precarious Consumers at risk by laying the responsibility for successful learning and graduation fully into their hands, the teaching design and the teacher should be able to provide the space for this own constructive agency but should also buffer and provide safety and orientation.


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  1. [1]Translations of the school types are taken from the German Embassy’s Website in London at:
  2. [2]Autorengruppe “Bildungsberichterstattung” (Eds.) Bildung in Deutschland: Ein indikatorengestützter Bericht mit einer Analyse zu Bildung und Migration, Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-7639-3535-5, 2006.
  3. [3] [15 Sept 2008]
  4. [4] [15 Sept 2008]
  5. [5] [15 Sept 2008]
  6. [6] [15 Sept 2008]
  7. [7] [15 Sept 2008]
  8. [8]VerbraucherAnalyse 2007/08 Klassik III Märkte
  9. [9]Ziegler (2006) Page 51 cites a Bauer Media study on fashion clothing patterns from 2001 which not available any more.
  10. [10]Translated from German to English from: Kassow (2005) Page 8.

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