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  • Writer's pictureNick Eynaud

Are digital natives a myth or a reality?

What’s the idea? The idea of digital natives existing in modern technology was brought to the attention of an American writer and speaker, Marc Prensky. The theory that digital natives exist, ponders on the natural divide that has been created between today’s students (digital natives) and past generations’ students (digital immigrants). Prensky (2001) discussed the extreme change in the way students learn and believe that today’s students are not whom the educational system was designed to teach. As educators, it is important for us to consider if this concept really does exist.

Riveting Reflections point of view At Riveting Reflections, we believe the idea of digital natives existing within modern education is a concept to be aware of but does not need to inform all of our practice. Whilst new-aged students are more naturally equipped with the skills to use recently developed technologies, this does not mean that “digital immigrants” cannot also master these same skills.

The bad and the good Firstly, a point which has been argued against by many researchers is the belief that the instincts of digital immigrants will always be to “read the manual” rather than turn to more recent technology to retrieve information (Prensky, 2001). This fails to consider the varying contexts in which digital immigrants exist. Contexts such as family structure, socioeconomic status, and career all impact a person’s exposure, and need to master new technology (Bullen, et al.,2011, as cited in Creighton, 2018). Acknowledging the context in which a person exists, challenges Prensky’s generational focus and places more significance on each individual’s circumstance. Considering the weaknesses in Prensky’s point, there is clearly a need to move on from labels such as natives and immigrants and towards more unifying terms such as “learners of the digital era” that offers a more global vision (Bullen, 2011).

One of Prensky’s (2001) stronger points that he makes is that digital natives are used to receiving information at the click of a button. He even goes as far as to say that their brain has adjusted to needing a fast-paced learning environment when in the classroom or studying. He suggests that digital immigrant teachers have an expectation that learners remain the same as they have always been over time. As a result, they use the same methods that worked when they were students believing they will be consistent with their students now, however, as Presnky highlights, this is not the case. As Prensky suggests, the students that are sitting at the feet of digital immigrant teachers, have grown up on instantaneous music, messaging, and videos, so the patience for a lengthy lecture or step-by-step instruction becomes mere. He also comments that natives believe their immigrant’s instructions are “not worth paying attention to” when comparing to other tools and experiences they have had. And to tell you the truth, as a “digital native” myself, it is hard not to blame them for feeling this way.

At the end of the day…

Prensky presented the idea that digital natives and immigrants exist within modern education and we can agree that in some ways this is relevant and in others, it is not. In fact, as we have learned in the process of researching and understanding this topic, digital native is a concept that sinks far deeper than just the era you’re born in. Based on the broader evidence, arguments that digital immigrants do not have the ability to adjust to the world’s digital setting can be viewed as implausible. However, recognising that past teaching styles have become outdated as a result of modern technology is important. These ideas should be taken into consideration and put into action in everyone's world as an educator.

Reference list :

Bullen, M., & Morgan, T. (2011). Digital learners not digital natives. La Cuestion Universitaria, 19 (1), 60-68.

P.A. Kirschner, P. De Bruyckere (2017) / Teaching and Teacher Education 67 135-137

Prensky, Marc. On the Horizon (2001); Bradford Vol.9, Iss.5: 1-6.

Theodore B. Creighton. Education Leadership Review (2018), Vol.19, 1-7

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1 Comment

Alexander Heagney
Alexander Heagney
Apr 16, 2021

Dear Nick,

Your blog post was concise and easy to read, the layout was well thought out with the reader in mind.

You were able to successfully define ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrants’ in a straightforward manner with appropriate references, your ability to flow into your own personal thoughts early in the article and continue this throughout the article allows for a strong degree of relatability.

Something which you could improve on is using more sources to support your own beliefs. Throughout your article you relied heavily on Prensky, with the final two paragraphs showing both arguments for and against Prensky. Yet there is no referencing in either of these paragraphs. To solve this, I would suggest using sources to…

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