Running around Albert Square

Albert Square

One of the things we seem to do in the world of e-learning is categorise ourselves and our learners into groups.

One of the key pieces of work on this was from Marc Prensky on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants back in 2001. His premise was the idea that if you were old you were only a  digital immigrant and young people were digital natives. As young people were born into a digital world then they were digital natives. Giving a generation a name is one thing, but what people then conjectured was that as they had this name, digital native, they would be able to handle a range of digital tools, services and environments. They would be in a better position to handle online environments then the so called immigrants.

This conjecture is rather flawed and makes a lot of assumptions about behaviours, skills and experience, based on what is really just a name.

I reflected on this work in 2008 after Dave White published his blog post on visitors and residents. Though like a lot of people I did initially think it was about putting yourself into another group, rather than see it as a continuum.

Though visitors and residents has gained a lot of traction across edtech, and even Presensky has backtracked away from the term digital natives, we still see the term digital natives used again and again, across the media, on the Twitter and at educational conferences. It would appear, as tweeted by Donna Lanclos, that if the term is used often enough by people then it will become true.

So many people still think digital natives exist and are able to immerse themselves easily into a digital world. If you think Digital Natives exist then replace the word digital with EastEnders (as in the TV programme) and apply same thinking.

EastEnders Titles

So you have EastEnders Natives and EastEnders Immigrants.

Hmmm, so…

Those born after 1985 will be EastEnders natives, they will know all the storylines innately and understand everything about it. They will know all the characters, plots and locations. They will be able to describe Albert Square in detail and how to get there.

Whereas those born before 1985 will struggle with EastEnders, as they were brought up on Coronation Street and Crossroads.

Whereas those who live outside the UK will be wondering what the hell is going on!

So do you still think it’s useful to talk about a generation as being digital natives? Well sorry to say they don’t exist…. hit play!

One thought on “Running around Albert Square”

  1. …a neat bit of sleight-of-hand there. But I can’t help but think of apples and oranges, it’s OK to evaluate one of them but dangerous to assume that the results will hold true for the other.

    I always feel that people take Prensky’s paper too seriously. At the time it was published I remember that it had (perhaps the desired) effect of making people think (maybe for the first time) ‘Oh gosh yes, my students have never known anything but a digital world. I wonder how that might affect how they do things (eg looking stuff up, get in touch with someone, watch something etc), how they expect to do things and how they expect me to do things’. “Digital Native/Digital Immigrants” was a great OTT soundbite to stimulate discussion. (“Lean Back/Lean Forward” was another one.)

    Unfortunately, as soon as the debate was started a lot of people wanted to look into the paper and dispute the notion of a whole generation etc rather than to look out of the paper and get to grips with what being digital might mean.

    Things have changed for both teachers and learners and, maybe, learning to cope with this fact (and with all the changes to processes, procedures and pedagogies etc) will be more challenging for those of us whose habits were developed in the days of books, libraries, CDs and VCRs than for those who carry all that (and more) around in their phone.

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