Digital native

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Adults using smartphones

The term digital native describes a person who has grown up in the information age. The term “digital native” was coined by Marc Prensky, an American writer, speaker and technologist who wrote several articles referencing this subject.[1] This term specifically applied to the generation that grew up in the “digital age,” predominantly regarding individuals born after the year 1980.[1][2]

Often grouped into Millennials, and Generation Z, these individuals can consume digital information and stimuli quickly and comfortably through electronic devices and platforms such as computers, mobile phones, and social media. The term has given way to "Virtual Natives" coined in a book by Catherine D. Henry and Leslie Shannon (Wiley, 2023), to reflect Generation Alpha, who are growing up in the virtual age, or the era of the 3D web.

Digital natives are distinguished from digital immigrants, people who grew up in a world dominated by print and television because they were born before the advent of the Internet.[3] The digital generation grew up with increased confidence in the technology that they were encircled and engulfed in.[1] This was thanks in part to their predecessors growing interest into a subject that was previously an unknown. Due to their upbringing, this digital generation of youth became fixated on their technologies as it became an engrained, integral and essential way of life.[1] Prensky concluded that due to the volume of daily interactions with technology, the digital native generation had developed a completely different way of thinking.[2] Though the brains may not have changed physically, pathways and thinking patterns had evolved, and brains had changed to be physiologically different that those of the bygone era.[4] Repeated exposure had helped grow and stimulate certain regions of the brain, while other unused parts of the brain were reduced in size.[3] The terms digital native and digital immigrant 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.[5] The term digital native is a highly contested concept, being considered by many education researchers as a persistent myth not founded on empirical evidence[6][7] 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,[8] and used again in 1996 as part of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.[9]

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.[4] 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".[10][11]

Globally, 30 percent of the population born between 1988 and 1998 had used the Internet for over five years as of 2013.[12]

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,[13] which itself turned out to be largely overblown.[14] 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.[15] 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,[16][17] but also in health research.[18]

Prensky has since abandoned his digital native metaphor in favor "digital wisdom".[19] 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.[20]

The critique of Prensky's conceptualization has resulted in further refinement of the terms.[5] 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.[5]

People who were "born digital", first appeared in a series of presentations by Josh Spear beginning in May 2007.[21][22] A Digital Native research project[23] 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[24] is being run by Hivos, Netherlands and the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society. The Net Generation Encountering e-learning at university project[25] funded by the UK research councils was completed in March 2010. More recently the Museum of Social Media,[26] launched in 2012, has included an exhibition about "Digital Natives & Friends."

Conflicts between generations[edit]

A child using a tablet

The generational changes between digital natives, and their predecessors, the digital immigrant, have been astronomical. According to a study conducted by Tapscott, after interviewing and studying 11,000 young digital natives, he was able to determine eight different social norms between digital natives and the digital immigrants before them.[2] Digital natives were offered the freedom, creativity to customize and ability to scrutinize, unlike their predecessors. For this digital generation, digital natives looked for corporate integrity and openness when it was time for them to choose a career. These digital youth also began to seek entertaining and innovating career choices. Corporate integrity and openness also applied to consumer products, with digital natives more likely to choose products recommended by their friends. With playful mentalities, this new generation also brought with them a need for speed.[2] The eight social norms differentiated these digital natives, as well as the development of the need for approval from their peer groups.[2]

Because many digital immigrants are used to a life without digital technology or may be hesitant to adapt to it,[27] they can sometimes be at variance with digital natives in their view of it.[27] The everyday regimen of work-life is becoming more technologically dependent with advancements such as computers in offices, improved telecommunication, and more complex machinery in industry.[28] 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.[28] Similarly, parents of digital natives 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.

Implication of technological and media landscapes[edit]

Different approaches to educate the digital native

Digital Natives vary in demographic based on their region's technological and media landscapes. Not everyone agrees with the language and underlying connotations of the digital native. The term, by definition, makes the assumption that all digital natives has the same familiarity with technology. Similarly, the term digital immigrants implies that this entire age group struggles with technological advancements. 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.[7]

Digital Natives are determined based on their educational and cultural backgrounds as well as their access to technology.[37] As the adoption of digital technology hasn't been a unified phenomenon worldwide, digital natives are not all in the same age group. Self-perception also plays a role: individuals who do not feel confident in their use of technology will not be considered a native regardless of the formally mentioned factors.[37]

Referring to some generations using terminologies such as  "Digital Natives" is made because these groups can create their own culture and characteristics. Here are some of the cultures and characteristics of "Digital Natives" (according to self-description):

  1. They feel familiar with digital devices. 54% of them have a smartphone as their first personal mobile phone. These devices are used for entertainment and as a requirement in educational endeavours.[38]
  2. They tend to be individualistic.
  3. They can multitask or focus on a single medium when needed.[38]
  4. They are realistic. Raised in affluence, "Digital Natives"  think their future is unclear due to the prolonged economic recession and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This kind of thinking makes them focus more on their reality.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Selwyn, Neil (5 July 2009). "The digital native – myth and reality". ASLIB Proceedings. 61 (4): 364–379. doi:10.1108/00012530910973776. ProQuest 217758813.
  2. ^ a b c d e Tufts, Debra Roben (2010). Digital adults: Beyond the myth of the digital native generation gap (Thesis). ProQuest 825550299.
  3. ^ a b Prensky, Marc (September 2001). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1". On the Horizon. 9 (5): 1–6. doi:10.1108/10748120110424816. S2CID 145451571.
  4. ^ a b Prensky, Marc (November 2001). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 2: Do They Really Think Differently?". On the Horizon. 9 (6): 1–6. doi:10.1108/10748120110424843. S2CID 145201624. ProQuest 214641811.
  5. ^ a b c Zenios, Maria; Ioannou, Eleni (2018). "Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants Revisited: A Case of CALL" (PDF). Learning and Collaboration Technologies. Learning and Teaching. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 10925. pp. 99–110. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-91152-6_8. ISBN 978-3-319-91151-9.
  6. ^ Margaryan, Anoush; Littlejohn, Allison; Vojt, Gabrielle (February 2011). "Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students' use of digital technologies". Computers & Education. 56 (2): 429–440. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.09.004.
  7. ^ a b Bennett, Sue; Maton, Karl; Kervin, Lisa (September 2008). "The 'digital natives' debate: A critical review of the evidence". British Journal of Educational Technology. 39 (5): 775–786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x. S2CID 15145996.
  8. ^ Tunbridge, Nat (September 1995). "The Cyberspace Cowboy". Australian Personal Computer. pp. 2–4. 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.'
  9. ^ Barlow, John Perry (20 January 2016). "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace". Electronic Frontier Foundation. You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants
  10. ^ Joiner, Richard; Gavin, Jeff; Brosnan, Mark; Cromby, John; Gregory, Helen; Guiller, Jane; Maras, Pam; Moon, Amy (July 2013). "Comparing First and Second Generation Digital Natives' Internet Use, Internet Anxiety, and Internet Identification". Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 16 (7): 549–552. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0526. PMID 23675995. S2CID 6153092.
  11. ^ Prensky, Marc (September 2001). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1". On the Horizon. 9 (5): 1–6. doi:10.1108/10748120110424816. S2CID 145451571.
  12. ^ "Where in the World are Young People Using the Internet?". Georgia Tech News. ATLANTA, GA. October 7, 2013.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Merrow, John. "Attention Deficit Disorder: A Dubious Diagnosis?". PBS. Archived from the original on 2014-12-27. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  15. ^ Kipke, David. "A Millennial's Digital Marketing Worldview". Archived from the original on 2015-04-23. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  16. ^ Jones, Chris; Shao, Binhui (2011). "The net generation and digital natives: implications for higher education". OCLC 1358897974. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[self-published source?]
  17. ^ Helsper, Ellen Johanna; Eynon, Rebecca (June 2010). "Digital natives: where is the evidence?" (PDF). British Educational Research Journal. 36 (3): 503–520. doi:10.1080/01411920902989227.
  18. ^ Cowey, Aasha E; Potts, Henry W W (January 2018). "What can we learn from second generation digital natives? A qualitative study of undergraduates' views of digital health at one London university". Digital Health. 4: 205520761878815. doi:10.1177/2055207618788156. PMC 6055101. PMID 30046453. S2CID 50782420.
  19. ^ Prensky, Marc. "From Digital Native to Digital Wisdom" (PDF). Marc Prensky. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Josh Spear presentation at Zeitgeist Europe 2007". Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  22. ^ "Wanna go to digital rehab? No No No: Talking to the born digital generation". 2007-11-18. Archived from the original on 2008-08-21. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  23. ^
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  26. ^ "Communication & Media Studies - Museum of Social Media: HOME - Wiley Online Library". Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  27. ^ a b Wang, Qian; Myers, Michael D.; Sundaram, David (December 2013). "Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants: Towards a Model of Digital Fluency". Business & Information Systems Engineering. 5 (6): 409–419. doi:10.1007/s12599-013-0296-y. S2CID 14893367.
  28. ^ a b Brody, Charles J.; Rubin, Beth A. (7 February 2011). "Generational Differences in the Effects of Insecurity, Restructured Workplace Temporalities, and Technology on Organizational Loyalty". Sociological Spectrum. 31 (2): 163–192. doi:10.1080/02732173.2011.541341. S2CID 144354787.
  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, Jing (2009). "Digital Natives as Preservice Teachers: What Technology Preparation Is Needed?". Journal of Computing in Teacher Education. 25 (3): 87–97. ERIC EJ835233.
  34. ^ a b c d Hicks, 2011
  35. ^ Public email b November 4th, 2007 by Paul Maunder Archived 2010-11-15 at the Wayback Machine s
  36. ^ a b Gee, James Paul (October 2012). "The Old and the New in the New Digital Literacies". The Educational Forum. 76 (4): 418–420. doi:10.1080/00131725.2012.708622. S2CID 145236354.
  37. ^ a b Akçayır, Murat; Dündar, Hakan; Akçayır, Gökçe (July 2016). "What makes you a digital native? Is it enough to be born after 1980?". Computers in Human Behavior. 60: 435–440. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.089.
  38. ^ a b Thompson, Penny (September 2015). "How digital native learners describe themselves". Education and Information Technologies. 20 (3): 467–484. doi:10.1007/s10639-013-9295-3. S2CID 18441842.


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