Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants?

Well color me surprised.  When I first started my journey into EdTech in 2009, I heard the term digital native, read Prensky, and believed the hype.  How many times have professors and bloggers, and researchers written that students today are different?  But after reading McKenzie (2007) and Reeves (2008), I am beginning to wonder what the truth really is?   Are students today really different or are by incorporating so much technology into our teaching, are we accommodating a habit that may not necessarily be good for students?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between.  Times change, culture changes, and as educators we slowly adapt with the culture.  Engaging students in learning is not new.  As McKenzie (2007) points out, educators such as Dewey have been promoting this for almost a century.  The thing that is new is that technology is now the thing that captures students’ engagement!

But if we rely on computers to do our teaching, we are doing a grave disservice to our students.  Students need strong teachers to guide them in developing critical thinking, problem solving, and literacy skills.   Just by having access to technology does not mean students are automatically literate in all technology applications.   As Oblinger & Oblinger wrote (2005), “there is also evidence that their information literacy, especially with respect to judging the quality of information obtained on the Internet through search engines such as Google, is unacceptably weak” (as quoted in Reeves, 2008, p.11).

In addition, students need face time.  The article by Reeves  pointed out a book by developmental psychologist Jane Healey arguing that learning requires social interaction.  Healey (1998) worried that too much screen time stifles intellectual curiosity and the development of abstract reasoning.

As teachers in the 21st century, I agree that it is important to note how different our students are from ourselves at that age.  But the differences lie in their interests, not how they learn, the skills they need or the need for teachers that will guide them to success.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from

Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at

9 thoughts on “Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants?

  1. Courtney LaRue says:

    I completely agree with your statement that students need face time, and not the FaceTime app on our iPhones. 🙂
    I teach at a Title One school where many students don’t see their parents or interact with adults at home because their parents are away at work during odd hours of the day. The adult/peer interaction at school may be the only human interaction they have all day. While technology is VERY much important, we still need human to human face time. Great point made!


    • Great point. I’ve noticed that, too, especially with older kids, as parents get more comfortable leaving their kids home alone. But it’s not only adult interaction that is important. They need interaction with each other, too.


  2. I like the image support you have for your posts. This one is very fitting for this discussion, especially as we all sit here contemplating how to best use blogs in our classrooms! I agree that we can’t just rely on using flashy technology because we think that is what students know and want. Without us teaching them the critical thinking and problem solving skills, the technology can seemingly become more of a babysitter rather than a learning tool.


    • Sometimes I worry about that happening, using technology as the teacher instead of the tool. I think that teacher prep programs really need to look at including these types of discussions to help teachers avoid the hype and looking at technology as a “fix-all” for education.


  3. I really like this post. First and foremost is you concluding sentence. You really get to the heart of the issue when you mention , “the difference lies in their interests, not how they learn.” I often think that it’s part of my job to discover what they are interested in and then find ways to use that in my planning. I must say, I got a kick out the cartoon as well. Nice find.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I think this week’s topic really hit a chord with me. It helped me reflect on what how I see kids today as learners. They aren’t so different than kids of any other generation when you get down to the core of being a kid. The things they do, the tools they use, and their interests are foreign to me at times, but inside, they’re the same curious creatures we were, just waiting to discover something amazing.


  4. I love the graphic, sadly it isn’t uncommon for conversations like that to take place between students and parents these days. Face time is really important because it helps them develop social skills that are necessary in life, and sometimes school is the only place that can provide that interaction for them. Many of our students are going home at the end of the day to hours of tv and video games, and very little human interaction (at least face-to-face interaction). I know a few people my age who were raised that way, and now completely lack interpersonal skills, and I don’t want that to happen to my students because I want them to be successful in life.


    • I completely agree. Students need to learn social skills at home and at school. There are different skills needed in each environment, as well. Whenever they (or parents) complain about group work, I remind them that in the real world, they will have to interact and work with a wide variety of people, some will not be easy, and this (our class) is a safe place to practice those skills.


  5. Just a great post! Loved the cartoon and the flow of your writing. It was personal, reflective and easy to engage with. Bringing in the bigger educational world to support your thoughts as well as the pieces we had to read was a nice touch. I like that you questioned the screentime aspect and asked the question about starting bad habits. I’ll come back to read more next week. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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