Digital Natives Digital Immigrants
©2001 Marc Prensky
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
By Marc Prensky
From On the Horizon (NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) © 2001 Marc Prensky
It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.
Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity” – an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century. Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.
It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures, “ says Dr. Bruce D. Berry of Baylor College of Medicine. As we shall see in the next installment, it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. I will get to how they have changed in a minute.
What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.
So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many
Digital Natives Digital Immigrants
©2001 Marc Prensky
or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.
The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were "socialized" differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain. There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker”...
Cited: in Inferential Focus Briefing, September 30, 1997.
10. Dr. Mark Jude Tramano of Harvard. Reported in USA Today December 10, 1998.
11. Newsweek, January 1, 2000.
12. They include Alexandr Romanovich Luria (1902-1977), Soviet pioneer in neuropsychology, author of
The Human Brain and Psychological Processes (1963), and, more recently, Dr
13. Quoted in Erica Goode, “How Culture Molds Habits of Thought,” New York Times, August 8, 2000.
14. John T. Bruer, The Myth of the First Three Years, The Free Press, 1999, p. 155.
Online Community, May 27, 2000.
17. Time, July 5, 1999.
18. The Economist, December 6, 1997.
19. Kathleen Baynes, neurology researcher, University of California – Davis, quoted in Robert Lee Hotz
“In Art of Language, the Brain Matters “ Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1998.
20. Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, neuroscientist at Dartmouth College quoted in Robert Lee Hotz “In Art of
Language, the Brain Matters “ Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1998.
22. Peter Moore, Inferential Focus Briefing, September 30, 1997.
24. Patricia Marks Greenfield, Mind and Media, The Effects of Television, Video Games and Computers,
Harvard University Press, 1984.
26. Graesser, A.C., & Person, N.K. (1994) “Question asking during tutoring,”. American Educational
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27. Elizabeth Lorch, psychologist, Amherst College, quoted in Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point:
How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Little Brown & Company, 2000, p
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