The Myth of the Digital Natives

12 Jun

When I was in school and college in the later part of the twentieth century, personal computers had not taken off. In college, we had mainframe computers that didn’t interest me. The only piece of electronic technology we used for studies in college was a handheld calculator. In school, not even that, because we had logarithmic tables!

Then I started working and became one of the first few people in my office to have a cellphone. It was expensive but … I was an early adopter! I worked the whole day in the office on a Windows desktop and was quite comfortable using it for completing my work and researching information. There were still no touchscreen phones or tablets.

Things changed in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone. The touchscreen became ubiquitous on all kinds of devices as they became easier to use and cheaper too.

Marc Prensky had coined the term “Digital Natives” in his 2001 essay Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants to refer to the children who are born in a world of digital technology and get to use the digital devices since a young age and are very comfortable with technology. This is in contrast to the relatively older people who learn to use technology and may not be as comfortable with it who Marc Prensky called Digital Immigrants.

The children today use laptops, tablets, smartphones, video game consoles, and other devices day in and day out. Does living in a digital and hyper-connected world help them learn how to use technology to “learn”? Surprisingly, it turns out that the digital natives may not necessarily know how to research and find information on the Internet, create a compelling presentation, solve a problem, or think and analyze critically as the research conducted by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa indicate. Some people say that the traditional way of instruction doesn’t engage the digital natives. Is that true? I don’t think so. Technology and multitasking have shortened their attention spans, which further hinder learning.

Technology is a great enabler but just using it doesn’t make someone smart and literate by default. Traditional models of education, when integrated with technology is the best solution. The skills required to succeed in today’s world still need to be developed and the digital immigrants may be the right people to help the natives. Many adults are very comfortable with technology and are skilled in achieving their goals using technology.

Additional readings
5 Myths About Digital Natives
Digital Natives Are Just Geeks. Millennials May Not Qualify
The Myth of the Tech-Savvy Student (Page 15)


One Response to “The Myth of the Digital Natives”


  1. There’s Something About Print Books | In the Arena - March 7, 2014

    […] current generation The current generation, the so called Digital Natives, are considered to be extremely tech-savvy. They are supposed to own all kinds of electronic […]

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