Yes Digital native and digital immigrant are
catchy phrases, no doubt. The slogans capture the ease
with which young people accept technology that baffles many adults. But the observation that children appear more comfortable with digital devices offers little
insight into how computing can actually transform
the learning process. Catchy phrases should never be
confused with guiding principles for education.
If the intent behind the cliché was to inspire adults
to develop new fluencies and respect the competence
of young people, the result has been the opposite.
These terms imply a generational divide that has resulted in educators throwing in the towel.
Calling students digital natives is an excuse for not teaching them about technology.
Kids may be less afraid of technology, but this doesn’t translate to intellectual curiosity or
Young people still need
teachers and parents to guide
them to use these tools wisely
and purposefully. Teachers can
It makes little sense to debate whether
the digital native is a myth, because it exists only as a
metaphor and a definition (meaning someone who
was born in the digital age). To dismiss the term as
merely a catchy phrase, however, is to deny the enor-
mous power it has had to help huge numbers of people
understand an important part of 21st century reality.
For me, the metaphor has never been—as some have
tried to make it—about capabilities or knowledge
about all things digital. No matter who you are, you
have to learn those things. The distinction is much
more about culture. It is about younger people’s com-
fort with digital technology; their belief that it is easy,
useful, and benign; and their view of it as a fun “part-
ner” they can master without
much effort, if they choose to
(they don’t always).
Because they have grown up
with digital technology, digital
natives are more comfortable
with it than the generations that
did not. But this doesn’t mean
they know everything about it
or want to. A nonintuitive file
system that dates back to the