Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
By Marc Prensky © 2004 Marc Prensky
Perhaps least understood and least appreciated notion among those who design and deliver education today is fact that our students have changed radically. A really big discontinuity has taken place – arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in last decades of 20th century.
Today’s learners represent first generations to grow up with this new technology. The numbers are overwhelming: over 10,000 hours playing videogames, over 10,000 hours talking on digital cell phones; over 20,000 hours watching TV (a high percentage fast speed MTV), over 200,000 emails and instant messages sent and received; over 500,000 commercials seen—all before today’s kids leave college. And, maybe, at very most, 5,000 hours of book reading. As a result of this ubiquitous environment and sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures, “ says Dr. Bruce D. Berry of Baylor College of Medicine.
Today’s students are Digital Natives. They are “native speakers” of digital language of computers, video games and Internet.
So what does that make rest of us? Those of us who were not born into digital world but have come to it later in our lives are, compared to them, Digital Immigrants. And as we Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, we always retain, to some degree, an "accent," that is, our foot in past. The “Digital Immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to Internet for information second rather than first; in reading manual for a program rather than assuming that program itself will teach us to use it; in printing out our emails (or having our secretary print them out for us – an even “thicker” accent); or in never changing original ring of our cell phone. Those of us who are Digital Immigrants can, and should, laugh at ourselves and our “accent.”
But this is not just a joke. It’s very serious, because single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.
Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work. Digital Immigrant instructors typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that Natives have acquired and perfected though years of interaction and practice. These skills are almost totally foreign to Immigrants, who themselves learned – and so choose to teach – slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually, and above all, seriously.