Digital Categories and Misconceptions : Search and Research

One thing that the Digital Native / Digital Immigrant categorizations as defined by Prensky (2001) did was to cause educators to realize that 1) people born during a specific technology phase may be familiar with technology but may not have an understanding of how or why it works, or what that technology is actually capable of and 2) people who didn’t grow up with that technology, may actually have invented it or are curious enough to use it, repurpose it, and teach it.

I’d like to think those educators who might be considered immigrants who also have a fear of technology, have been pushed outside of their comfort zone to become a consumer of technology and may occasionally be a creator. I’ve worked with faculty who might consider themselves Digital Foreigners but in working with them, I think they have more understanding and skills then they give themselves credit.

The death of the digital native: four provocations from Digifest speaker, Dr. Donna Lanclos

This article is only partly about the myth of digital natives but concludes that myth is unfounded. The author brings up a very good point about a different kind of categorization. That of Visitor and Resident. “A very different paradigm is ‘visitor and resident’1. Instead of talking about these essentialised categories of native and immigrant, we should be talking about modes of behaviour because, in fact, some people do an awful lot of stuff with technology in some parts of their lives and then not so much in other parts.”

As someone who did not grow up with technology and didn’t even use a computer in college, I am more tech savvy and dependent on technology than many of my young nieces and nephews. This idea of “Visitor” and “Resident “makes much more sense to me. Regardless of age, some users have a deeper understanding than others. You can’t assume that someone in their 20s may not struggle with a technical aspect of your course. If anything, an older student won’t be afraid to ask for assistance whereas a younger student might muddle through or worse, choose not to participate.

Dave White’s explanation really makes a lot of sense to me and seems more believable. I find this categorization much more authentic and I think we, regardless of age or what technology we grew up with, at times would fall into either visitor or resident mode depending on why we are online. The idea that we take one of these roles depending on the reason we are online, our purpose or goal, and what we are posting/commenting/creating or viewing online changes on a daily basis.

Revisiting Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Anytime you try to group a large population into categories, you’re going to get a debate going. It is human nature to be, and to think that you as an individual, doesn’t fit into categories. Yes, my age puts me in a specific grouping, but other then that fact it doesn’t tell you anything about my health, my attitude, my skill level or my ambitions.

“The reality of cultural groupings is always more complex than can be readily described and subcultural leanings and individual dispositions towards their cultural heritage significantly influence ones personal cultural narrative. A closer look at our Digital Natives and Immigrants reveals unsurprisingly a wide variety of narratives centred around engagement with technology and when applied to the classroom these narratives tell a story of how technology will fit with the learning that occurs.”

There are many factors that can contribute to the level of technology experience and understanding that being given a generalization and set expectations to a specific age group can be a disservice and a failure in their education. Factors such as socio-economic, culture, location, language, exposure, financial, extent of parental influence, degree of peer influence and more. These all play into your “self” and can not be defined by age.

Digital Natives: Ten Years After by Apostolos Koutropoulos

This article was written in 2011, so it’s almost been another ten years since Prensky published the terms. I can only imagine the amount of further proof that digital natives do not have superior tech skills.  Koutropoulos says that since the terms were coined, researchers can not accurately find evidence that this aged-group fits the stereotype. “The person who coined the term digital native, Mark Prensky, acknowledges this fact in his recent writings by saying that “by virtue of being born in the digital age, our students are digital natives by definition, but that doesn’t mean that they were ever taught everything (or anything, in some cases) about computers or other technologies, or that all of them learned on their own” (p64, 2010).”

Koutropoulos also says that when the names for these categories were created, if you were in the digital immigrant category, it was quickly assumed that your class was inferior. This also posed problems in the classroom, because it was assumed that digital natives already had the skills so they were not being taught or given necessary exposition to the depth of the technology that exists. As I mentioned earlier, older or experienced student when faced with a challenge, will most likely try to figure it out.

“We out [outght] to teach our students to actually change their approaches to learning when what they are trying out is not working for them, instead of assuming that they possess this “Nintendo over logic” which enables them to modify their learning plans when things aren’t working out. “ (p. 532)

This is where the study of web literacy or digital literacies comes into play. Students who are digital natives might have grown up with technology, be active snapchatters with their friends, but getting to the next level of literacy needs to be addressed. At this point, my thoughts went to another categorization, that of “Millennial’ which is often used interchangeably with digital natives. This article, Millennials as Digital Natives: Myths and Realities, by Kate Meyer provides three misconceptions about millennials:

  • MYTH 1: “Digital natives possess inferior social skills or are more likely to avoid personal interaction in favor of digital interaction.”

In many ways, this behavior isn’t limited to this group, and I would argue that personal interaction can be as effective, if not more using a digital interface.

  • MYTH 2: “Digital natives are much better at multitasking than digital immigrants.”

No one is good at multitasking. This group might be seen as multitasking, but in the end, the productivity isn’t better.

  • MYTH 3: “Digital natives have natural instincts about how to use or fix computers and other digital products.”

Depends. Perhaps since older folk seem hesitant or assume that this group knows or understands how to fix something, the assumption is here so this group is quicker to start clicking or open something up. Older folk were like that once too, right? The technology might have changed, but the curiosity one has at a young age hasn’t changed.


Have we done a disservice by assuming that this group does have a deeper understanding of the technology? As a teenager, I learned how to drive a car and became a frequent driver in Fairbanks. That doesn’t mean I could drive a bus or semi, fix something that went wrong with the car or drive in LA with seven lanes of traffic and on- and off-ramps. These deeper understandings had to be learned or experienced.




Digital Native Teachers Become the Majority: Now What? Darin Rasmussen

This article from last year, talks about how those who are Digital Native-aged are entering the workforce as teachers. I think we’ve already debunked the idea that all digital natives know about technology and how to use it. And that is supported by this statement: “However, there is a body of recent education research that discredits the concept of “digital natives” being the driving force for digital fluency. Instead, the bigger driver is a good teacher who is passionate about using technology for teaching, learning, and problem solving.”

I also thought it was interesting that the author made connections about losing a floppy disk with homework so could understand losing a flash drive. How is this different from losing your typed paper or your paper notebook. Your paper homework is gone. At least with a floppy or flash drive there is the possibility that it is backed up somewhere. Right? And why aren’t these student just using the cloud, come on!


  1. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the useless Prensky myth has lasted so long…but I am heartened at the continued pushback against it. It remains an amazingly tenacious falsehood!

    Visitors and Residents makes more sense to me as a productive analogy…and it (gasp!) is even based on some research. And it’s certainly no less apt for the framing of “digital citizenship”

  2. Hi Heidi,

    This is a great review. I really appreciate the time you look to “debunk” the digital native myth.

    From my own experience, I find that there are a lot of myths associated with the digital world. For instance, one myth that I encountered a lot in my Master’s work was that online relationships are innately inferior to face-to-face relationships. One evidence-based theory that debunks this argument is “social information processing theory,” which basically argues that people can achieve the same or higher levels of intimacy online as they do offline; the relationship just takes longer to develop and may look different online than if it were conducted offline. When I started my graduate school life in 2010, the myth about inferior online relationships seemed to be rather mindlessly accepted by the general population, but in the past six years, I do think that there has been a move away from viewing online relationships as inferior to offline relationships.

    I share this example of social information processing theory because I wonder if this “digital native” myth will go away eventually…or if it is so catchy and intuitive sounding that it will stay with us for a good deal longer.

    Thanks for the review,


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