Talking about my generation: discussing digital natives and immigrants

***Apologies for this being late. I flew from SF to Orlando today and had a supremely fun (not really) 4 hour delay 1 that screwed up my publishing plans. Better late than never 🙂 ***


This week’s Edtech 537 Masters class assignment got me thinking about what I’d consider my generation, or at the least, the generation(s) after me, and how they interact with technology. Some of the important voices in the educational technology world have begun classifying people into two camps:

  1. Digital natives, or those who have grown up with technology around them.
  2. Digital immigrants, or those who didn’t grow up with technology and have actively had to learn how to use the technology.

Looking through some of the articles in this class that have focused around those idea, the “big three” seem to come to an incomplete conclusion. Marc Prensky probably set the tone with his controversial 2 “Digital natives, digital immigrants… Do they really think differently?”. In it, he makes the case that students today have just totally different brains than the old guard, that they value images over text, movement over static, interaction over spoon-feeding. He goes on to say that teachers need to change our minds to find new ways to use technology, especially games, to help our students better make connections.

In response to this, Jamie McKenzie wrote a pretty scathing response where he 3 attacked Prensky’s sources 4, his selection (or non-selection) of journal information, his interest in video games for education, and even his non-academic tone! I was surprised to read something in the academic realm that really was so aggressive, and truthfully, regardless of its truth or validity, the whole piece rubbed me the wrong way.

Finally, the third piece came from Thomas C. Reeve, who really seemed, more than the other two sources, to best analyze research and dissect what information we know about the different generations and how they think. It was a pretty long-and-winding piece that sometimes seemed to lose its way, but by the end of it, it was pretty clear that what we knew for sure was just that the current generation of students is much more narcissistic than their predecessors.

So what do I think? Truthfully, this is tough, being that I understand that the statistical and research information is almost nil, so it’s hard to base my opinion on much more than an opinion, but for me, most definitely I think that the current generation is a lot more at ease and, frankly, better at technology than those so-called “digital immigrants”. I buy that there are these different classes of people, and I feel like I can point to circumstantial  and personally-experienced evidence to support that.

But here’s the thing—that’s not the right question to ask. The real question is “So what?” Does it matter if there is one group or another? I personally don’t think it does, so long as the two groups can find ways to coexist and work with each other, and as the adults in the relationship, I feel like my duty as a teacher dictates that I go to where my students are and help them the best way I can, and I truly feel building my courses around my students’ skill sets is the best thing I can do.


  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
  • McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from
  • Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at


  1. Proof:
    Exhibit AExhibit B
  2. More on this to come…
  3. Or she… Sorry, sexually ambiguous name.
  4. “Coming next fall—Mark Whalberg stars in Who is Dr. Bruce Berry, on NBC.”
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10 thoughts on “Talking about my generation: discussing digital natives and immigrants

  1. Chris, I just want to start by saying that your blog is so well put together. I love the layout and your writing style.

    As for this post, I can really connect with your conclusion. I agree with you in that it doesn’t so much matter which group (native or not) someone is in, or if there are even two groups. What matters is our students.

    Your line, “I feel like my duty as a teacher dictates that I go to where my students are and help them the best way I can,” is perfect. That sentence completely sums up our role and responsibilities. We should try hard to remember that!

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for the compliment Robert! And good to know we align with what we believe. It makes me happy that other edtech people also can see through the debate that frankly doesn’t matter as much as the kids themselves!

  2. Chris,
    I agree with your statement that we need to help students with whichever skill set they have. Every class is going to be different and every class is going to have a different set of skills.
    I went to a conference in March, and the presenter stated anyone under the age of 26 is considered a digital native. This would put me in this category, but I didn’t grow up using technology to learn. The only technology I used growing up were a computer to type papers and a Gameboy to play games on. I had never read an eBook until college and never used a Google Doc until I became a teacher, three years ago. My point, is that just because you are technically part of this generation doesn’t mean that you are going to have the technical skills. There are still going to be those students who have never used a tablet before or who do not have access to the Internet at home. We need to still help all of our students the best way that is going to work for them.

  3. lorij2014 says:

    I agree with your conclusion. It doesn’t matter what generation, all students learn the same way. Younger students seem to be more at ease with digital tools, older students prefer pencil/paper learning. Either way, it is our job as teachers to teach! The tools we use don’t matter as much as the pedagogy. We will design our lessons to reach maximum learning, not maximum tech usage.

    • Chris says:

      Someone once reminded me that a pencil and white paper used to be new technology too, and that SOMEONE rallied against them. Hilarious. So truly nothing changes in education. If that’s the case, ALWAYS THE STUDENTS.

  4. “So what” IS the right question, you’re right. All the authors come up short in explaining what the actionable implications were for any of it. Ideally, we all just meet the students where they are.

  5. admacrae says:

    Nice post Chris. It made me smile, which means I was engaged. I agree with you that maybe the wrong questions are being asked. I wrote about it a little in my post. Kids are different, many of them are confident users of technological tools, some are not. I had used the term Digital Native out of context for a long time. So what, is a good way to look at the discussion. Personally I don’t like the whole generalization and don’t think that there is enough evidence that a whole generations’ brains have changed. But maybe they are motivated in different ways and have different expectations. All the factors you talk about are so valid. Nice post, thanks.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, I don’t doubt that these younguns have strengths that coordinate better to technology, but if there’s no real proof, it’s a pointless debate. Plus, what does it matter? They’ve got to learn the skills and content to advance society, not how to use whatever newfangled technology is en vogue.