Digital native

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Adults using smartphones

The term digital native describes a young person who has grown up in the digital age, in close contact with computers, the Internet, and video game consoles, and later mobile phones, social media, and tablets.[1] The term is often used to refer to millennials, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha; the latter two are sometimes described as distinct "neo-digital natives",[2][3] "true" digital natives,[4] or "digital integrators".[5]

Digital natives are distinguished from digital immigrants, people who grew up before the advent of the Internet, came of age in a world dominated by print and television, and acquired familiarity with digital systems as an adult.[1] These terms are often used to describe the digital generation gap in terms of the ability of technological use among people born after 1980 and those born before.[6] The term digital native is a highly contested concept, being considered by many education researchers as a persistent myth not founded on empirical evidence[7][8] and many argue for a more nuanced approach for understanding the relationship between digital media, learning and youth.


Native–immigrant analogy terms, referring to age groups' relationships with and understanding of the Internet, were used as early as 1995 by John Perry Barlow in an interview,[9] and used again in 1996 as part of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.[10]

The specific terms "digital native" and "digital immigrant" were popularized by education consultant Marc Prensky in his 2001 article entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, in which he relates the contemporary decline in American education to educators' failure to understand the needs of modern students.[11] His article posited that "the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decade of the 20th century" had changed the way students think and process information, making it difficult for them to excel academically using the outdated teaching methods of the day. In other words, children raised in a digital, media-saturated world, require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention, and Prensky dubbed these children "digital natives". He also goes on to say that Digital Natives have "spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers and videogames, digital music players, videocams, cell phones and all other toys and tools of the digital age".[12][13]

Globally, 30 percent of the population born between 1988 and 1998 had used the Internet for over five years as of 2013.[14]

Conceptualization and development[edit]

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Marc Prensky defines the term "digital native" and applies it to a new group of students enrolling in educational establishments referring to the young generation as "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, videos, video games, social media and other sites on the internet. Contextually, his ideas were introduced after a decade of worry over increased diagnosis of children with ADD and ADHD,[15] which itself turned out to be largely overblown.[16] Prensky did not strictly define the digital native in his 2001 article, but it was later, arbitrarily, applied to children born after 1980, because computer bulletin board systems and Usenet were already in use at the time.

The idea became popular among educators and parents, whose children fell within Prensky's definition of a digital native, and has since been embraced as an effective marketing tool.[17] It is important to note that Prensky's original paper was not a scientific one, and that no empirical data exists to support his claims. However, the concept has been widely addressed in the academic literature since, mainly in education research,[18][19] but also in health research.[20]

Prensky has since abandoned his digital native metaphor in favor "digital wisdom".[21] More recently, the Digital Visitor and Resident idea has been proposed as an alternative to understanding the various ways individuals engage with digital technology. It is also argued that digital native and digital immigrant are labels that oversimplify the classification scheme and that there are categories that can be considered "undetermined" based from the framework of the previous assignations.[22]

The critique of Prensky's conceptualization has resulted in further refinement of the terms.[6] For instance, digital natives have been further classified into three: the avoiders, minimalists, and enthusiastic participants. The avoiders are those who do not depend on technological devices and use technology minimally while the minimalists make use of the trends, although not as often as the enthusiastic participants.[6]

People who were "born digital", first appeared in a series of presentations by Josh Spear beginning in May 2007.[23][24] A Digital Native research project[25] is being run jointly by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. A collaborative research project[26] is being run by Hivos, Netherlands and the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society. The Net Generation Encountering e-learning at university project[27] funded by the UK research councils was completed in March 2010. More recently the Museum of Social Media,[28] launched in 2012, has included an exhibition about "Digital Natives & Friends."

Conflicts between generations[edit]

A child using a tablet

Because many digital immigrants are used to a life without digital technology, they can sometimes be at variance with digital natives in their view of it.[citation needed] The everyday regimen of work-life is becoming more technologically advanced with improved computers in offices, more complex machinery in industry, etc. This can make it difficult for digital immigrants to keep pace, which has the potential to create conflict between older supervisors and managers and an increasingly younger workforce.[citation needed] Similarly, parents clash with their children at home over gaming, texting, YouTube, Facebook and other Internet technology issues. Much of the world's Millennials and Generation Z members are digital natives.[29] According to law professor and educator John Palfrey, there may be substantial differences between digital natives and non digital natives, in terms of how people see relationships and institutions and how they access information.[30] In spite of this, the timetable for training young and old on new technology is about the same.[31]

Prensky states that education is the single largest problem facing the digital world as digital immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language. Digital natives have had an increased exposure to technology, which has changed the way they interact and respond to digital devices.[32] In order to meet the unique learning needs of digital natives, teachers need to move away from traditional teaching methods that are disconnected with the way students now learn.[32] For the last 20 years,[when?] technology training for teachers has been at the forefront of policy.[33] However, immigrants suffer complications in teaching natives how to understand an environment which is "native" to them and foreign to immigrants. Teachers not only struggle with proficiency levels and their abilities to integrate technology into the classroom, but also, display resistance towards the integration of digital tools.[34] Since technology can be frustrating and complicated at times, some teachers worry about maintaining their level or professionalism within the classroom.[34] Teachers worry about appearing "unprofessional" in front of their students.[34] Although technology presents challenges in the classroom, it is still very important for teachers to understand how natural and useful these digital tools are for students.[34]

To meet the unique learning needs of digital natives, Forzani and Leu suggest that digital tools are able to respond immediately to the natural, exploratory, and interactive learning style of students today. Learning how to use these digital tools not only provides unique learning opportunities for digital natives, but they also provide necessary skills that will define their future success in the digital age. One preference to this problem is to invent computer games to teach digital natives the lessons they need to learn, no matter how serious. This ideology has already been introduced to a number of serious practicalities. For example, piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the army consists of someone sitting in front of a computer screen issuing commands to the UAV via a hand-held controller which resembles, in detail, the model of controllers that are used to play games on an Xbox 360 game console. (Jodie C Spreadbury, Army Recruiting and Training Division).[35]

Gamification as a teaching tool has sparked interest in education, and Gee suggests this is because games have special properties that books cannot offer for digital natives.[36] For instance, gamification provides an interactive environment for students to engage and practice 21st century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and digital literacy. Gee presents four reasons why gamification provides a distinct way of learning to promote 21st century skills. First, games are based on problem solving and not on ones ability to memorize content knowledge. Second, gamification promotes creativity in digital natives where they are encouraged to think like a designer or modify to redesign games. Third, digital natives are beginning to co-author their games through the choices they make to solve problems and face challenges. Therefore, students' thinking is stimulated to promote metacognition since they have to think about their choices and how they will alter the course and outcome of the game. Lastly, through online gaming, digital natives are able to collaborate and learn in a more social environment.[36] Based on the literature, one can see the potential and unique benefits digital tools have. For example, online games help digital natives meet their unique learning needs. Furthermore, online gaming seems to provide an interactive and engaging environment that promotes the necessary skills digital natives will need to be successful in their future.


Different approaches to educate the digital native

Not everyone agrees with the language and underlying connotations of the digital native.[37][38] The term, by definition, suggests a familiarity with technology that not all children and young adults who would be considered digital natives have; some instead have an awkwardness with technology that not all digital immigrants have.[citation needed] For instance, those on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide lack access to technology. In its application, the concept of the digital native preferences those who grow up with technology as having a special status, ignoring the significant difference between familiarity and creative application.[citation needed]

The classification of people into digital natives and digital immigrants is controversial. Some digital immigrants surpass digital natives in tech savvy, but there is a belief that early exposure to technology fundamentally changes the way people learn. The term "digital immigrant" overlooks the fact that many people born before the digital age were the inventors, designers, developers and first users of digital technology and in this sense could be regarded as the original "natives". To confuse the prolific (and arguably superficial) use of digital technology by current adolescents as deep knowledge and understanding is potentially misleading and unhelpful to the discourse. The term also discounts the broader and more holistic knowledge, experience and understandings that older generations may have about digital technologies and their potential place in society. Digital immigrants are believed to be less quick to pick up new technologies than digital natives[citation needed]. This results in the equivalent of a speaking accent when it comes to the way in which they learn and adopt technology.[citation needed] A commonly used example is that a digital immigrant may prefer to print out a document to edit it by hand rather than doing onscreen editing.

The actual classification of people into immigrants and natives is tricky as the adoption of digital technology hasn't been a unified phenomenon worldwide. For North America, most people born prior to 1980 are considered digital immigrants. Those closer to the cutoff are sometimes called digital intermediates, which means they started using digital technology in their early teens and thus are closer to digital natives in terms of their understanding and abilities.

The term "digital native" is synonymous with the term "digital inclusion". Being digitally included means that you are innately able in using a smartphone or computer tablets: modern technology has enabled the non-speaking to speak, the non-hearing to hear and the non-seeing to see.[39] Crucially, there is debate over whether there is any adequate evidence for claims made about digital natives and their implications for education. Bennett, Maton & Kervin (2008), for example, critically review the research evidence and describe some accounts of digital natives as having an academic form of a moral panic.[40] concluded that generation does not explain differences in how learners use technology and that there is no empirical research to support claims made by Prensky and other proponents of the idea of the digital native. Using such a terminology is rather a sign of unfamiliarity and exoticism in relation to digital culture. Of course, nobody is "born digital"; as with any cultural technology, such as reading and writing, it is matter of access to education and experience.

It considers that all youths are digital natives in the modern age. However, this is not the case.This term has risen to popularity in the past 30 years as young people are adapting to technological advancement.[41]</ref> It is primarily based on cultural differences and not by age. According to Henry Jenkins (2007), "Part of the challenge of this research is to understand the dynamics of who exactly is, and who is not, a digital native and what that means."[42] There are underlying conflicts on the definition of the term "digital natives" and it is wrong to say that all modern age youths are placed in that particular category or that all older adults can be described as digital immigrants. Some adults are more tech savvy than a lot of children, depending on socio-economic standings, personal interests, etc., but as teachers we must include the world outside with which the children are familiar and use it inside the classroom.

The formulation of digital native is also challenged by researchers looking at emerging technology landscapes. The current discourse concentrates largely on developed technology and has a particular bias towards white, middle-class youth who have the privilege of access to technology. Nishant Shah (2009) says, "It is necessary to promote research that grasps that not all Digital Natives are equal. Each context will have certain norms by which digital nativity is understood and experienced. Dismantling the universal Digital Native and considering contextualised Digital Native identities might also help us move away from speaking of the Digital Native as a necessarily elite power-user of technology and understand the identity as a point of departure from earlier technology-mediated identities within those contexts." He also suggests that one way of understanding "digital natives" is to look at how they use digital technologies to engage with their immediate environments and initiate processes of social and personal change.[43]

It is possible to argue that digitality is not a birth-right but instead a product of cultural capital. According to its originator, Pierre Bordieu, cultural capital is defined as "the possession of certain cultural competencies, bodies of cultural knowledge, that provide for distinguished modes of cultural consumption".[44] Familiarity with technology and ease of use is a form of social capital that allows those who possess it to advance in society. In fact, scholars have commented on the variability of technological literacy in different social groups. In "Communities, Cultural Capital and the Digital Divide", Viviana Rojas calls this phenomenon a person's "techno-disposition". This familiarity with technology is one of many privileges granted by cultural capital. She defines techno-disposition more explicitly as "practices, perceptions and attitudes, technical education, awareness of technology, desires for information, job requirements, social relations with community members and community organizations, and geographical location".[45] One's techno-disposition, not simply one's access to technology, she argues, is at the root of any digital divide.[46]

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, others are calling into question Prensky's Digital/Immigrant dichotomy on different grounds. Jones & Shao (2011)[47] recently conducted a literature review for the UK Higher Education Academy which found that there was no empirical evidence of a single new generation of young students. They argued that complex changes were taking place but there was no evidence of a generation gap. The nature of the metaphor itself is challenged, with White and Le Cornu (2011) drawing attention to the difficulties that a language-based analogy introduces, especially when then linked to age and place. They also highlight the rapid technological advances that have been made in the last ten years, most notably in the advent of social networking platforms. White and Le Cornu therefore propose an alternative metaphor of Visitors and Residents which they suggest more accurately represents the ways in which learners engage with technology in a social networking age.

Ignoring debate on definitions, "Digital Natives mastering our world", published in 2017, assumes that we are already living in a digital world, and that it will be more intense in the future. Hence, educating all children to become citizens of this world is a necessary goal. The book is indeed a proposal for teaching the 4th R, rendering the remote, including the creation of learning materials, digital, visual, and narrative, each employing the principles of the others. To establish an alphabet of creative need, experiments in visual thinking and pattern recognition must guide the process. For author Elihu Blotnick, native means natural, and digital means coded. Coding then is but a translatable language, best understood through immersion. Nature-centered learning, even at a two-room school in a redwood grove, suggests a reconsidered lesson plan, digitally oriented, to demonstrate the promise and the possibilities ahead, where the digital is seen not just as a tool but as the subject itself, essential to all other subjects and the basis for MeTech, a new curriculum. From the oral culture of pre-school we can then advance to the written library that shapes abstract understanding. When technology shadows art, art also creates technology, and learning will be naturally received.[48]

Researches about individual generation are continued as time changes. The terminologies that can refer to certain generation like "Digital Natives" are made, which is because individual generations create their own culture and characteristics. Here are some of the culture & characteristics of "Digital Natives".

  1. They feel familiar with digital devices. 54% of them have a smartphone as a first personal mobile phone.[49]
  2. They tend to be individualistic. This might be because they are affected by environmental elements like their parents (Generation X).
  3. They are realistic. They are usually raised in an affluent environment, but due to the prolonged economic recession and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they think their future is not clear. This kind of thinking makes them focus more on their reality.[50]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Thomas, Michael (19 April 2011). Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young People, Technology, and the New Literacies. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-136-73900-2.
  3. ^ Takahashi, Toshie T. "Japanese Youth and Mobile Media". Rikkyo University. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
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  5. ^ "Gen Z and Gen Alpha Infographic Update". McCrindle. 2015-02-02. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  6. ^ a b c Zaphiris, Panayiotis; Ioannou, Andri (2018). Learning and Collaboration Technologies. Learning and Teaching: 5th International Conference, LCT 2018, Held as Part of HCI International 2018, Las Vegas, NV, USA, July 15-20, 2018, Proceedings. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 100. ISBN 9783319911519.
  7. ^ Margaryan, Anoush (2011). "Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students' use of digital technologies". Computers & Education. Volume 56. |volume= has extra text (help)
  8. ^ Bennett, Sue (2008). "The 'digital natives' debate: A critical review of the evidence". British Journal of Educational Technology.
  9. ^ Tunbridge, Nat (1995). "The Cyberspace Cowboy." Barlow: "I would say that, generally speaking, at this stage, if you're over 25, you're an immigrant. If you're under 25 you're closer to being a native, in terms of understanding what it is and having a real basic sense of it." Australian Personal Computer, September, p. 2-4.
  10. ^ "You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants" Archived 2013-10-23 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Prensky, Marc (October 2001). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants". On the Horizon. 9 (5): 1–6. doi:10.1108/10748120110424816.
  12. ^ Joiner, R, Gavin, J, Brosnan, M, Cromby, J, Gregory, H, Guiller, J, Maras, P & Moon, A 2013, 'Comparing first and second generation digital natives' internet use, internet anxiety, and internet identification', Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 549-552.
  13. ^ Prensky, M. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. 2001; 9:5:1-6.
  14. ^ "Where in the World are Young People Using the Internet?". Georgia Tech News. ATLANTA, GA. October 7, 2013.
  15. ^ Stolzer, J. M. (January 1, 2007). "The ADHD Epidemic in America". Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. 9 (2): 109–116. doi:10.1891/152315007782021204. S2CID 143352643.
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  22. ^ Sharpe, Rhona; Beetham, Helen; Freitas, Sara de (2010-07-02). Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How Learners are Shaping their Own Experiences. Routledge. ISBN 9781136973871.
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  25. ^
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  28. ^ "Communication & Media Studies - Museum of Social Media: HOME - Wiley Online Library". Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  29. ^ Shapiro, Evan. "TV: An Intervention." HuffPost TV. June 5, 2012
  30. ^ Mike Musgrove (October 17, 2008). "Talkin' About the Digital Generation". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Palfrey: ... people who were born today... may well see relationships differently, they may see institutions differently, ...
  31. ^ Salajan, F.; Schonwetter, D.; Cleghorn, B. (2010). "Student and faculty inter-generational digital divide: fact or fiction?". Computers and Education. 53 (3): 1393–1403. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.06.017.
  32. ^ a b Morgan, 2014
  33. ^ Lei, J (2009). "Digital natives as preservice teachers: what technology preparation is needed?". Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, Spring. 25 (3): 89.
  34. ^ a b c d Hicks, 2011
  35. ^ Public email b November 4th, 2007 by Paul Maunder s
  36. ^ a b Gee, J. P. (2012). The old and the new in the new digital literacies. The Educational Forum, 76, 418-420
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  38. ^ "Technology and society: Is it really helpful to talk about a new generation of "digital natives" who have grown up with the internet?". The Economist. 4 March 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  39. ^ Nachimuthu & Vijayakumari (2012)
  40. ^ Bullen, M.; Morgan, T.; Qayyum, A. (2011). "Digital Learners in Higher Education: Generation is Not the Issue". Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. 37 (1). doi:10.21432/t2nc7b.
  41. ^ Selwy, Neil (January 2009). "The digital native – myth and reality". ASLIB Proceedings: New Information Perspectives. 61 (4): 364–379. doi:10.1108/00012530910973776.
  42. ^ Jenkins, Henry. "Reconsidering Digital Immigrants". Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  43. ^ "Presentation at Re:publica 2010, Berlin". 2010-04-23. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  44. ^ Cultural capital see page
  45. ^ Rojas, 9
  46. ^ Rojas, Viviana "Communities, Cultural Capital and the Digital Divide"
  47. ^ "Jones and Shao (2011) The net generation and digital natives: implications for higher education. Higher Education Academy, York". 2011-06-26. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  48. ^ Digital Natives, mastering our world, by Elihu Blotnick, 2017, firefall editions, 9781939434418, paperback
  49. ^ "Register". IBM. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  50. ^ "미래권력 Z세대 "앞머리에 헤어롤이요? 개취죠!"". 더스쿠프 (in Korean). 2018-09-21. Retrieved 2019-12-19.


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