Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Elaborating on the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant debate

Distinguishing between the two groups of digital natives (DN) and digital immigrants (DI) might seem helpful to education on the surface, but needs to move beyond the attitude of radical change.

Indeed, learning systems need change, prompted by research and feedback, but the DI/DN argument should be recalibrated within more of a notion of digital literacy. Furthermore, some people (young or old) have high capacity to use various ICT tools in school and work, whereas others simply never learned. This does not mean that all people born after year XXXX are better or worse regarding digital literacy.

Some questions prompted by the research (Bennett, et al, 2008; Kennedy, et al, 2008) I found which should be asked by instructional designers:
1. Does DN usage, and supposed expertise of ICT tools, merit a fundamental change in education?
2. Even though DN use lots of ICT tools in their daily lives, what can they actually do with them?
3. What are the misassumptions of DN?

Some generalizations of DN include:

- The notion that they learn differently and have a preference and learning style which fits more into a constructivist framework (experiential learning, multi-tasking, problem solving, etc.

However, can educators then assume that DN want these types of learning structures. Furthermore, Bennett, et. al., (2008) commented on the fact that multi-tasking is not a new phenomenon in learners and that regarding knowledge acquisition, multi-tasking could cause ‘cognitive overload’.

- They possess sophisticated technological knowledge
o This may be true, but as Bennet states, their sophistication does not translate into content creation. For instance, a person who chats on the internet is not necessarily creating webpages.
o Another important point to consider is the socio-economic status of different students. Some may not grow up with a computer in their homes.

- The idea that a DN is net savvy – but being able to use a computer is not the same as being information literate

Education should use various technologies in curriculum, but not just assume that DN are capable, nor really want to, use the technology. Information literacy should be emphasized in learning, and not assumed - teaching ways to develop critical thinking skills.
Next week, more on information literacy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The digital native/digital immigrant debate: A matter of information literacy

The next portion of my blog will focus on how learners approach ICT - concentrating on the debate within research literature on the divide between digital immigrants and digital natives. This initial distinction, although helpful in discussion, is somewhat inaccurate, but helpful in defining information literacy. As I have begun to define the differences between the groups and factors that prove or disprove them, a more productive and less binary distinction considers the discussion on information literacy.

The main point being that instructional design within educational technology needs to design and assess ways to improve information literacy, moving beyond the debate.

To briefly summarize, the notions of digital immigrants/digital natives were first postulated by Marc Prensky (2001), who divided learners based on their access to information technologies from a certain age. Because digital natives have grown up with the culture of new technologies such as the internet and video games, Prensky theorizes that their cognitive functions are different from the older generation of digital immigrants. The native and immigrant metaphors represent, in a way, how this debate is a matter of cultural differences between the groups and also a generation gap.

Here are a few characteristics of digital natives and digital immigrants:

Digital native

Digital immigrants

  • [N]et generation/[D] generation
  • Immersed in technology
  • Prefers fast information stimulus
  • Multitaskers
  • Visual appeal over textual
  • Non-linear learning with random information access
  • Has a learning preference different from traditional education
  • Assumed to have better technology skills than what education offers them
  • Belief that the world is the same, only more technologized
  • Digitally accented
  • Seeks information from traditional sources first, internet second
  • Reads manuals to learn software
  • Prints emails
  • Uses pen and paper for editing (not computer)
  • Linear learner – raised under traditional education system
  • Belief that the world is very different because of technology

As intuitive as these distinctions might be, the divide is not so clear and certain. Next week I will introduce the inconsistencies. For now, it is important to note how these distinctions are useful in discussing implementations and the beliefs each group brings (Lankshear & Bigum 1999).

However different these learners might be, the debate should consider what it means to be digitally literate, which is best defined outside of the debate.

A definition of information literacy should consider:

  • Steeped in the native/immigrant debate – how each group views access and control, but really should be about change
  • Certain skills are needed to process information and be ‘digitally literate’ within more of a native perspective
  • Developing objectives beyond the traditional definition of literacy
  • How individuals use technology to “create, communicate, design and self-actualize” (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006, p 8).
  • Going beyond the glitz of the internet of Facebook and youtube
  • How individuals develop critical thinking skills

Jones-Kavalier, B.R., & Flannigan, S. L. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. Educause Quarterly, 2, 8-10.

Lankshear, C., & Bigum, C. (1999). Literacies and new technologies in school settings. Curriculum Studies, 7(3), 445-465.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved October 20, 2008 from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Virtual Learning implications part II

This being my second and also final posting relating to the topic of virtual learning, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the somewhat chaotic direction this inquiry analysis has gone.

I began with defining virtual learning within the context of MUVE – as shown in Second Life. This program/platform is new, exciting, and still in its infancy. However, as various academics and instructional designers are beginning to design and develop Second Life classrooms, I think that its important that the deeper issues of virtual learning be discussed. That is, even if a wonderful learning learning environment is created, there will always be the underlying question of: “Are people actually learning?”

Frankly, I am not the biggest fan of Second Life, but I am intrigued by it. At this point, I would like to let the trailblazing academics, doctoral students, and entrepreneurs shape Second Life as a virtual learning platform and instead focus on what it means to be a virtual learner.

Its also important to ask that no matter how fancy and 'real' a virtual learning environment can be, does humanity really want to spend its time there?

Think of the movie “The Matrix” - or go back further and read “The Allegory of the Cave”, or the “Brain in a Vat” argument. The debate then becomes a questions what is 'real' vs. 'unreal' in our experience. Sorry for getting philosophical here, but when throwing around the word 'virtual', I tend to cringe a bit, wondering why 'the real' isn't good enough.

Back to learning then.

So, we create a virtual learning environment (design, develop & evaluate it) and place students in it, then expect learning to occur, but perhaps it is not as effective as we had hoped.

One reason could be due to learner cognitive style – how people think and act to analyze and solve problems. Different cognitive styles could have different experiences within the virtual learning environment. Without elaborating on this issue, virtual learning experience needs to keep in mind how different individuals approach the virtual experience within cognitive styles (global – big picture/local narrow picture; introverted-extroverted) and build into the learning system a way to create some “cognitive flexibility” (Liu, X., Magjuka, R., & Lee, S., p. 845, 2008; Sternberg, 1997 in Liu, et al.).

My future blog will focus more on these resistance issues such as the 'digital immigrant - digital native' divide and hopefully come full circle into understanding how to best design e-learning instruction.

My final question is how can we utilize the technological virtual learning tools AND create the best learning environment possible for all learners without compromising their individuality nor the technological tools?


Liu, X., Magjuka, R., & Lee, S. (2008). The effects of cognitive thinking styles, trust, conflict management on online students' learning and virtual team performance. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 829-846.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Thinking styles. New York: Cambridge University Press.