In today’s increasingly digital and dynamic world, it is no surprise that the conceptualisation of ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’ by Prensky (2001) has been fiercely debated. Articles emerged just two years after Prensky’s original theory claiming that such a concept is outdated (White and Le Cornu, 2011), and this is testament to the digital world’s rapid pace of development.
Immigrants into Visitors?
According to Prensky (2001), older persons typify a ‘Digital Immigrant’. They are deemed ambivalent and perhaps ill-prepared to meet today’s technological demands. Digital technologies emerged later in their life, and therefore they are left with an ultimatum: attempt to adapt, or face becoming an anachronistic misfit. At least, this is what the traditional discourse leads us to believe.
However, the aforementioned ultimatum is not always applicable. Not all older individuals are incapable of adapting (Bennett et al., 2008). White and Le Cornu (2011) believe ‘Visitor’ is a more appropriate term as such individuals are hesitant to create an online identity due to privacy, and they use digital technologies in a simplistic manner (see Figure 1). They view online resources as just one of many tools to accomplish a task, and seldom use the Web as a means to participate in an online community (White and Le Cornu, 2011).
Natives into Residents?
Prensky (2001) writes that younger generations are experts in this digital age. In some contexts this is true, as it is hard to switch ‘off-line’, particularly with Information Technology being incorporated into educational syllabi.
However, there are young individuals who are not adept (Bennett et al., 2008; Harris et al., 2010). Margaryan et al. (2011) indicate that while some young individuals are confident, a large proportion do not use technology for the benefit of their educational development. So, is it the case that type of use differs as opposed to age-related proficiency? Perhaps the generational divide is not as clear-cut as Prensky claims.
Digital ‘Residents’ typically assign great value to the Web (White and Le Cornu, 2011). It is viewed as a place where exchange and interaction is valued (Figure 2), rather than a space in which to merely obtain information. While online information may be preferred over the more traditional tools, such as books, it is argued that assessment of these resources is just as vital to ‘Residents’ (Siemens, 2005; White and Le Cornu, 2011).
Whether ‘Residents’ and ‘Visitors’ should replace the terms originally proposed, is a debate still ongoing, however it is certainly clear that the original dichotomy should now be considered a continuum (where positions may change over time).
Do I consider myself to be a ‘Resident’? Of course! I have grown up in a digital world; a world with unimaginable quantities of data accessible in a matter of seconds. This fascinates me, and while I am well-aware of the risks to privacy, I am keen to learn and to become increasingly involved.
Indeed, I view the Web as a place; I have assigned it my own meaning. Through online communication technologies and social networks, I rely on various platforms not merely for identity formation, or for rapid international communication, but for research too. I wonder whether future generations will interact with the Web in an entirely different manner compared to today, and whether my ‘Resident’-status will change as a result.
Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: a critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (5), 775-786.
Harris, L., Warren, L., Leah, J. and Ashleigh, M. (2010) Small steps across the chasm: ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. In Education, 16 (1).
Margaryan, A. and Littlejohn, A. (2011) Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers & Education, 56, 429-440.
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5), 1-6.
Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2 (1), 1-8.
White, D. and Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: a new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16 (9).