Digital Natives Digital Immigrants Theory

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					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

school dropouts.

Theory Measurement/Instrumentation:

   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).
Study Participants:

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 (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.) Retrieved from

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