Tag Archives: digital natives

Who is Marc Prensky? Is He a “Native” or an “Immigrant”?


Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” and “digital immigrant” in a 2001 piece called, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” from On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)

Prensky felt Net Gen or the Digital Gen were better named, “Digital Natives.” Prensky says, “Our students today are all “native” of the digital language of computers, speakers video games and the Internet.” He defines the “rest of us” as “Digital Immigrants”. “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 or most aspects of the new technology.” Prensky says Digital Immigrants learn – “like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment.” But, he contents, Digital Immigrants never lose the “accent.” He even suggests they socialize and learn different.

The “accent” of the Digital Immigrant is described by Prensky with simplistic illustrations. He says there are “hundred’s of examples of the digital immigrant accent.” He suggests that printing out your email or printing a document to edit instead of editing it on the computer gives away your immigrant status. His examples get more degrading and state that this is not a joke. He says the difference between Digital Immigrant instructors using “outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), ” and the native digital speakers as “the single biggest problem facing education today.” Really – the single biggest problem facing education?

I am wondering while reading Prensky’s decade old ideas if I am not reading marketing instead of academic ideas. Is Prensky selling his ideas and merchandising his products? Academics and professional writers used and passed on these labels since 2001, but recently there has been an uprising. Challenges to Marc Prensky’s terms questions the terminology. Prensky describes himself as “an innovator in the areas of education and learning and founder of Games2train, an e-learning company. “The Myth of the “Digital Native”Why Generational Stereotyping Won’t Improve Student Learning Prensky has several master’s degrees from Yale, Middlebury, and the Harvard Business School. Again from his own website, “Prensky is considered one of the worlds’ leading experts on the connection between games and learning.” Prensky is known for combining education tools with game tech.

The innovator is challenged by Fred Mindlin in his article, “The Myth of the ‘Digital Native’ Why Generational Stereotyping Won’t Improve Student Learning” declared that babies of the digital age were not born using the Internet. Mindlin says:

On the contrary, my experience working with students K-12 is that most have a limited understanding of the Internet’s power and potential and lack the critical and analytic skills to harness it for their own uses. In terms of the Internet, I am the native, present since it was browsed with the original Netscape dragon.

So, who is Marc Prensky? As an expert gamer/educator is he an immigrant or a native? Does it matter?


Do Digital Natives Do it Differently?

A Facebook conversation with a so-called, “digital native”:

DIGITAL NATIVE: (: age was like I rlly like her!!!

ME: What does: “(: age was like I rlly like her!!!” mean? I am sorry I do not understand.

DIGITAL NATIVE: i have know clue what that means?

This was a real “conversation” between a “digital native” and a “digital immigrant.” This is not an unusual interaction. Marc Prensky might interpret this Facebook narrative as a symptom of “digital native” speak.

Marc Prensky declares that he has proof that “digital natives” think differently.

In his article Digital Native Digital Immigrant Part 2, Prensky writes:

I suggested that Digital Natives’ brains are likely physically different as a result of the digital input they received growing up. And I submitted that learning via digital games is one good way to reach Digital Natives in their “native language.”

Marc Prensky invented the term digital native to describe a generation born after 1980 and the “first generations to grow up with this new technology,” He quotes neurologists as back up for his theory that “digital natives” have new thought processes. The theory is that children raised with the computer “think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.”

He further explains: “Linear thought processes that dominate educational systems now can actually retard learning for brains developed through game and Web-surfing processes on the computer.”

The “digital native” moniker is the source of debate. Beyond the debate, “digital native” may not be the best way to define a generation. While some may be offended and consider it insensitive, the term may not mean anything. In the context of the research and the academic banter, “native” is a narrow label that may not be supported by research. Prensky, however, has some interesting points that may apply to people living in the digital age.

“Researchers found that an additional language learned later in life goes into a different place in the brain than the language or languages learned as a child.” Prensky’s conclusions may explain why my conversation on Facebook was so disjointed. I think there should be more conclusive research to make this a stronger argument. However, I can say high school, and college students would benefit from writing assignments that intersect with the way students communicate online.

Writing assignments that require proofing their texts, messages, emails and instant messages would correct lazy writing habits. In class instant messaging and chats might provide a way for students to interact with online texts collaboratively as they have conversations that the partner edits as they chat. Other creative writing assignments involving Facebook Twitter and Email would provide real world lessons for immigrants and natives alike. At the very least, we might be able to understand each other.”