Digital Native: Fact or Fallacy?

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Poor old Marc Prensky has come in for a bit of a bashing lately, and unjustifiably so in my opinion.

First of all, he first used the digital native-digital immigrant typology 10 years ago. If one were to consider the extent to which digital literacy has advanced in this time, it is perhaps a little unfair to criticise his original thinking. Indeed, Prensky himself stated in a 2009 article:

In 2001, I published “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” a two-part article that explained these terms as a way of understanding the deep differences between the young people of today and many of their elders (Prensky 2001a, 2001b). Although many have found the terms useful, as we move further into the 21st century when all will have grown up in the era of digital technology, the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants will become less relevant. Clearly, as we work to create and improve the future, we need to imagine a new set of distinctions. …

Second, as White and Le Cornu (2011) have noted, Prensky is not the first to try and analyse perceived behaviours of learners using typologies like this and — while they have their drawbacks — they at least initiate a dialogue for us to refine our thinking.

Third, maybe I read too much into his original work, but at no stage did I ever assume that there was native and immigrant and never the twain shall meet. It was a useful generalisation at the time and nothing more. It may have less applicability a decade later, but it can be treated as a stepping stone to alternative typologies, or something theoretically more sophisticated.

In summary, I’m not sure the notion of a digital native was ever treated as ‘fact’, and thus, it might also be inappropriate to refer to its ‘fallacy’. Let’s give Prensky some credit for sticking his neck out in a highly dynamic domain and acknowledge his contribution to the debate if nothing else.