Theory: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
Theorist: Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky has been at the forefront of 21st century learning for years, as he believes
today‟s generation of students should be taught in a way in which they know best. He holds
degrees from Oberlin College, Yale University, and Harvard Business School. He is the founder
of Games2train, an e-learning company. He has written over 60 essays, many of which detail the
issues teachers face today as they teach a population of students who don‟t know life without
computers and other electronic devices. Prensky has designed and built over 100 software
games, some of which are used world-wide and available on platforms ranging from the internet
to handhelds to cell phones. He currently resides in New York City with his wife, a Japanese
writer, and their son.
Description of Theory:
Prensky (2001) explains how this generation of students relies on a different learning style
than that of previous generations. Since this is the first generation that has grown up with
“digital gadgets” at their fingertips, he suggests teachers look for ways to engage these students
that is familiar to them.
Prensky (2001) “calls out” Digital Immigrant teachers who are stuck in their traditional ways
of teaching, essentially ignoring the population we are educating in today‟s society. Students
work, live, socialize, and learn in a wireless, instantaneous, fast-paced digital world that was
totally nonexistent when most of their teachers were in school.
We as educators can choose to complain that students today are lazier, less interested, and
more apathetic than previous generations, or we can choose to meet these students where they
are. That means incorporating new strategies that involve technology, becoming familiar with
the latest trends in “edutaining” within our respective fields, and also realizing the mindset that
“the way we‟ve always done it” is a nonproductive attitude as it relates to teaching Digital
Natives (Bennett, 2008).
As shown in Figure 1, Digital Natives have an inherent way of doing things, so using the
same media they are accustomed to will lead to more engagement in the learning process.
Refusing to speak the language of Digital Natives can lead to serious disengagement and the
unwillingness of students to see the relevance of the subject matter, which can lead to lower
standardized test scores and higher dropout rate.
In Figure 2, we see the ideal situation of educating students the same way they socialize,
work, and live. This can lead to more student engagement, higher test scores, and less high
To test this theory, a study can be done using 2 classrooms of Digital Natives. For simplicity,
I would choose the same subject and grade level for this study. My goal would be to compare
the differences in learning between Digital Natives who are taught using traditional approaches
(very little to no digital media) to Digital Natives who are taught in their language (i.e the use of
any and every digital media possible).
8th grade Algebra I students at 5 different schools in 5 different regions of the country
One school year
Digital Immigrant (DI) Vs Digital Native (DN) classroom
Traditional classroom (Taught by Digital Immigrants) instruction would include using physical
textbooks, a dry erase board, no calculators or computers. DN classrooms would be equipped
with a Smart board, iPods for each student (where tutorials and homework can be downloaded),
and computers where students can access their e-textbook and go to math games websites.
The End of Instruction (EOI) scores at the end of the year would be compared to see which
group performed better. If this theory holds true, the students in the DN classroom should
perform better, although how much better is not easily predicted.
This study gives a voice to what so many young people have thought but not said, “Why can‟t
these teachers understand that this stuff is too boring?”, or ”I‟m not dumb, I just can‟t stand to
listen to the teacher go on and on for an hour every day!” Now that it‟s been proven that these
students really are learning in different ways and technology can be used effectively in everyday
instruction, it is now incumbent on the educational society to heed the call and make whatever
adjustments (mentally and physically) that are needed to ensure our children are not deprived of
the best and most productive educational experience.
Report Prepared by Khaaliq Salim
Bennett, Sue, & Kervin, Lisa, Maton, Karl. (2008). The „digital natives‟ debate: A critical review
of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786. Retrieved from
http://www.marcprensky.com. (n.d.)Retrieved from
Pensky, Marc. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from
The George Lucas Educational Foundation. (n.d.) http://www.edutopia.org. Retrieved from