Digital Natives

Many people talk about the divide between digital natives and digital immigrants in today’s society. Digital natives are said to be those people who have grown up in a world of computers and 21st centuries technologies. People who are considered digital immigrants grew up before the digital age and have had to learn how to use technologies later in their life.

Personally, I think I’m borderline. Being 28, I could be considered either a digital native or digital immigrant.

This concept has implications in education as the students we are currently teaching can be considered digital natives and therefore have different learning styles to most of their teachers.

Marc Prensky is credited with coining the term digital native and has said “Digital immigrant teachers assume that learners are the same as they have always been, and that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now. But that assumption is no longer valid. Today’s learners are different.”

This slideshow was created for a public service audience however it is very relevant to education and has some interesting points about how digital natives operate. A thought provoking presentation for teachers.

14 Replies to “Digital Natives”

  1. I have read a lot on DI/DN since my project is focused on an DI. Initially, my biggest issue was with the cutoff date of a digital native, 1985. I was born in 1981, and I can remember always have a computer in the house (Commodore 64, Tandy Sensation, Atari game station, etc). I bought my own Nintendo Game boy when I was in elementary school (4th grade, I think). I do believe, generally speaking, that people born in the 90’s and later do not have a clear idea of what life was life without such connectivity. However, NOW, I think we have to separate the notion of how we handle technology as defining our status (native/immigrant), and realize that we inherently think differently than those born within the digital age. I do believe, that since we were born close enough to it, that we are quick to adapt to the newer way of thinking/teaching.

    1. @Kristen, I was born in 1981 too and have similar memories of the technologies that you talk about! I agree that we are quicker to adapt to technologies than some of our older digital immigrant counterparts however we need to encourage people that it’s never too late to learn!
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Kathleen, I am right there with you on the edge of Digital Native and Digital Immigrant. I think this allows us to speak with much less of an accent. Nice slideshow, it sums up Prensky’s thoughts succinctly.

    1. @Kelly, what a great phrase “speaking with less of an accent”. A great way of looking at the issue!

  3. A bit surprising for me but I’m going to disagreeable (sorry very unSue like).

    But I have very strong feeling against the whole Digital immigrants/Digital native debate (as do many ed tech people).

    PS it wasn’t always this way — I remember having similar conversation about it on my own blog.

    Here’s why:

    1. It can be used as yet another excuse by educators who haven’t grown up with technology not to use it with their students
    2. It gives us a false impression of how digital literate students are and how keen they are at using it (there are a lot that are reluctant users)
    3. It can make us assume that we introduce technology to students they will understand how to use it — why wouldn’t they when they’ve grown up with ti. When that happens unfortunately educators don’t support the use of the technology in a pedagogical appropriate manner. So you end up seeing it used really badly and educators assuming students are learning just because they are using technology.
    3. and IMHO it is the wrong reason for justifying use of technology with students

    Reality is most students are good at using technology how they want to use it and generally in very limited ways. For example, they may be very good with online gaming or SMS on a phone.

    Where they beat the older generation is they are more willing to experiment and less worried that pressing the wrong key will make the World end.

    The key reasons why we should be using it is students don’t have these skills and mostly aren’t being taught how to use them effectively — but these skills can help them with their learning now and with their future jobs. Educating them on appropriate online digital citizenship skills is also to prevent them creating a digital footprint that may impact future jobs.

    This is a really old post of mine that discusses it in more details – (sigh you can tell how much my style has changed as a blogger).

    Nowadays the discussion is often about digital barriers – how there is an increasing expanding gap between those that have access to technology and/or the skills and those that don’t. In this global community that is probably the most important conversation to have.

    1. Wow Sue, thanks for opening my eyes to a different way of thinking!

      I definitely agree that many people can use the digital immigrant/digital native concept as an excuse for not using technology. And I don’t like excuses!

      On the other hand I am certainly not an advocate for using technology “for the sake of it” but to improve teaching and learning. That is our core business after all.

      I also agree that students don’t automatically know how to use technology (or want to) and we really need to be explicit with our teaching. I wrote a post about making the implicit, explicit last month which talks about some of these issues. I should have mentioned in the post that digital native (if people want to use that term) doesn’t mean born with the ability and desire to use technology! 🙂

      I agree that students are very good at experimenting with technology. This has been evident in my class in the last couple of weeks where I have been introducing my Grade 2 students to the iPod Touch, IWB and blogging. Many of them had not used these technologies before but you wouldn’t know it now! Whether this is a case of them being “digital natives” or just being young and fearless, who knows!

      Thanks for providing such thought provoking points and for bringing up the issue of digital barriers. Not only on a global level but at a classroom level this is a factor that needs to be recognised. I might blog about this in the future!

  4. Yes the whole digital debate is interesting. Some of those really against the use of the terminology highlight the fact that none of us are born using technology and we all have to learn it.

    I think the key is the fact that the more we use it, especially for social networking or educational networking, the more it changes the way we learn — regardless of our age.

    Digital barriers will become increasingly the issue – including those allowed to access and those not allowed.

  5. What a great slide show. I’ve been very lucky growing up. My Dad bought the Macintosh and I’ve been in tech ever since. At 30, I’m on the cusp of Native and Immigrant. I had a cassette player, CD player and iPod. I have had a Beta Max, VCR, DVD, and now a Blue Ray. Tech has always changed and I have tried to keep up. My students are one step ahead it seems and it’s important to keep up or I will never be able to reach them.

  6. Hi Nicholas, I feel like I’m quite similar – on the cusp but trying to keep up! Lol. Thanks for the comment!

  7. […] Digital Natives | Integrating Technology in the Primary Classroom […]

  8. Hi Kathleen. I love your blog and how you are making us think about educational practice, as well as giving us lots of great tools, and super example of how 21st century teaching and learning should look. Good on you!
    I feel that Sue is getting hooked up on the jargon and missing the point of the categories. Although I do like the idea of digital barriers because these can be set from the outside (such as no access to technology) or from within – each person’s own commitment to learning and advancement or change.
    Personally I am definitely a Digital Immigrant (since I was born in 1970) but I feel that I have both the desire and the skills to at least try to keep up with my Digital Native students. For me, these terms don’t really relate to access and barriers but more to a philosophy of the way each generation looks at learning and the educational environment. DIs grew up in traditional schooling systems were the only sources of knowledge and information were the teachers and the textbooks. DNs on the other hand, if the situations allow, can find knowledge and understanding from all kinds of sources, not least from their peers around the world! It is the dawning of a fantastic new age if only the “educational institutions” would jump on board and stop boring kids to death with outdated models of teaching and learning.
    As a last thought, Sue mentioned barriers to learning which can occur at any level so I’d like to add my own title “Digital Ignorants” defined as People who deliberately put up barriers to their own digital development and (even worse in my view) those who think they know but don’t!
    In my experience and as a stereotype, many school administrators seem to fall heavily into this category 😉

    Keep up the great collaborating, your kids are extremely lucky to have you. Personally I’d love to join your Collaborative Corner Blog with my first graders but our school doesn’t see the educational value in giving us more than 30 minutes access to computers per week. I know, I know… I hear all you DNs taking a sharp intake of breath. I feel the same way!

  9. Hi Susan, they are very valid points and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.
    “Digital Ignorants” is the perfect term to describe people who put up barriers between learning about and using technology! I will have to remember that one!
    What a shame you can’t use the computers more than 30 minutes a week! Seems like you know some Digital Ignorants at your school!! You’ll have to keep working on them 🙂

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