Digital Natives Vs. Digital Immigrants: What Are You?

Learning Design

To keep up with trends, digital immigrants nowadays are actively involved in performing day-to-day activities and learning using technology. A research finding shows that older adults (aged 65 years and above) have a positive attitude towards using learning technology to perform their daily activities or interests such as sending emails or surfing online. Nevertheless, the learning process is a struggle with complex emotions and different task-achievements. There should be time allowed for older adults to master the new skills and care must be taken into consideration when they are learning. On the other hand, older adults still lack confidence in using Internet applications.

As proclaimed by Prensky, people who were not born in the digital era and later adopted the new technology are named as “digital immigrants” whereas people who were born during or after the digital era are dubbed “digital natives”. Digital era begins in 1980. As such, based on Prensky’s definition, the adults aged 40 and above were categorised as “digital immigrants”.

“Is it just that I’m getting older? I find myself having trouble keeping up with technology… I have been swamped with the choice and variety of technology.” The interviewee continues to argue, “I can’t possibly learn it all. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even learn the ones that might actually be helpful to me.” This is a claim done by Lohan, a 56-year-old adult learning specialist. Today, middle-aged adults are digital immigrants. The way they perceive technology is different from a digital native. How different they are? Here is the difference:

Digital Natives

  • Like constant connectivity
  • Prefer to bring their own ubiquitous technologies
  • Prefer immediacy and have short attention spans
  • Use texting and instant message short-hand such as: “c u”, “how r u”, “becoz”
  • Going to the internet first for information
  • Prefer to socialise online and weak in face-to-face communication

Digital Immigrants

  • Prefer to talk on the phone or in person
  • Value ‘proper’ English when texting
  • Prefer formal communication channels, such as phone, detailed emails, or face-to-face communication
  • Do not understand the slang words or phrases on the internet, such as “idk”, “brb”, “t2yl”
  • Printing things out as opposed to working on screen

On the other hand, in recent years, there are some researchers claimed that the ‘digital categories’ should be grouped according to their comprehension, understanding, and comfort with technology rather than the age. Different individuals are grouped into 4 categories.

1. Avoiders Avoid The Use Of Modern Technology

This group of people is old digital immigrants who cannot relate to modern technology and young digital natives who philosophically oppose the use of the internet and other modern online technologies.

2. Minimalists Use Technology Reluctantly

They are unwillingly forced to use technology but prefer hard copies and do not trust electronic resources. They may be digital immigrants that are reluctant adopters or digital native minimalists. Tourists are the people who feel like visitors in the digital world. They pay attention to the ‘local’ or ‘native’ digital culture, learn its language, observe its rituals, and comprehend its complexities. This group keeps an internal distance from technology even though they tend to use it appropriately and effectively, as needed, but not extensively. This is group stays internally non-digital in regard to preferences and values.

3. Enthusiastic Or Eager Adopter Enjoys Being With Technology

They participate in online discussions via Facebook, news sites, blogs or online education. They may even produce their own online content. Members of this group check emails and are online throughout the day, find technology interesting, and surely have a smartphone.

4. Innovators Are Not Only Enthusiastic; They Work With Technology To Improve It

These are game developers, programmers, engineers, and technical writers. Innovators build websites, create applications and perform other online creation functions for their fellow innovators. Over-users are heavily dependent on technology to occupy their time. Many young digital natives are from this group and they are gamers. When digital immigrants are in this group, it can be for social networking.

In fact, digital immigrants are not born with computer skills. From the term “native”, it is clear that digital natives are more tech-savvy than digital immigrants. Children nowadays learn and adapt to the technology differently compared to adults. Finding out how digital immigrants learn with the accessibility of technology is crucial. For example, some digital immigrants are from the ‘eager adopter’ group and they participate actively in the online forum discussion. But, some of them are from the ‘minimalist’ or ‘avoider’ group. They may just ignore or participate unwillingly in the discussion forum prepared by the higher education institution. Therefore, it creates a negative learning experience for them. As such, it is important for educators to understand how digital immigrants learn in an eLearning environment and design a better teaching and learning strategy that suit the needs of digital immigrants. So, this group of learners would be able to perform their learning easily and effectively in the eLearning environment.

About the author 

Ch'ng Lay Kee

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