Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Notes from Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prenskey

Today’s students have changed in more ways than there have been in the past between generations. There is a big discontinuity- an event that changes so much that there is no going back. This is as a result of the “rapid dissemination” of digital technology in the last decades of the last twentieth century. From pre-school to university, today’s young generation are the first to grow up with new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games mobile phones and other tools in the digital age.

As a result of the volume of interaction between young people and digital technology, today’s young generation think and process information differently from their predecessors. ‘“Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures”. Young people’s brains has physically changed and are different from the older generations as a result of how they grew up.

Throughout the beginning of  text Prenskey refers to this new generation as “students”, but then starts to comment on what they should be referred as.  Some people refer to the them as “N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen.” He says that the most useful designation he has found is ‘Digital Natives’, because the younger generation today are native speakers in digital language of video games, computers and the Internet. He also comes up with a term for the older generation who have integrated digital technology at some later point in their lives as ‘Digital Immigrants’.

It is important for there to be a distinction between the digital natives and the digital immigrants this is because digital immigrants learn- “like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past.” Examples of the digital immigrant accent can be seen throughout the fact that they turn to the internet for information second rather than first. Other examples include printing out your email, or having someone else print it out for you, which he considers as a ‘thicker accent’.

Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast and they like to multi task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than
the opposite and they thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. He also said they function best when networked. Digital Immigrants however have little apreciation for the new skills that the digital natives have perfected throughout the years of interaction and practice. “Digital Immigrants don’t believe their students can learn successfully while watching TV or listening to music, because they (the Immigrants) can‟t.”

Commenting on the divide he questions should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new? He suggest that it is unlikely that the digital native will go backwards because their brains may already be different. “Kids born into any new culture learn the new language easily, and forcefully resist using the old. Smart adult immigrants accept that they don‟t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the “old country.”

We need to invent digital native methodologies into all subjects for all levels “In math, for example, the debate must no longer be about whether to use calculators and computers – they are a part of the Digital Natives‟ world – but rather how to use them to instill the things that are useful to have internalized, from key skills and concepts to the multiplication tables.”

If digital immigrants educators want to reach digital natives, they will have to change. He suggests as the Nike logo says “Just do it”


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), pp.1–6.



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