Digital Immigrants & Digital Natives – Summarized Overview of the Article

This article is summarized from:
Marc Prensky Digital Natives Digital Immigrants ©2001 Marc Prensky
From On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) _____________________________________________________________________________ Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Full Article Available here.

• “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (Prensky 1).

• Today’s students:

o are the first generation (N [Net]-gen or D[Digital]-gen) to grow up completely surrounded by  new technology (i.e. computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging).

  • 10 000 hours of playing video games
  • 5 000 hours reading

o “think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” (Prensky 1).

o Are Digital Natives – Our students are all native speakers of the digital language.

So what are we? (Or at least most of us?)

~ Read through the questions below and think of an answer…
1. How many ways of researching information can you think of in the next 5 seconds?

2. When you find an article online do you print the article off to read it?

3. Do you print your email? Do you have someone else print your email for you to read?
(Okay we don’t have assistants but other professions might.)

4. Do you print documents out to edit on paper instead of on the computer screen?

5. When you find a good website do you call people over to your computer to see it or email it out? (Or post it on our wiki)

6. Do you phone people to see if they got your email?

7. Can you tell me what it was like before computers? Before texting? Before cell phones? Do you know what a party line means in relation to a phone?

 If you answered YES to these questions then you are a digital immigrant and you were just showing your accents.

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. 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. (Prensky 2001).

Do you ever feel like you are speaking a different language and your students just aren’t listening?

• Maybe we (Digital Immigrants) are speaking “an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), [and as a result] are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language” (Prensky).

• 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 the 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. (Does any of this sound familiar?) – (Prensky)

• Digital Immigrant teachers assume that learners are the same as they have always been, and that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now. But that assumption is no longer valid.

Today’s learners are different.

Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new?

o “Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards. In the first place, it may be impossible – their brains may already be different. It also flies in the face of everything we know about cultural migration.” (Prensky)

o “Kids born into any new culture learn the new language easily, and forcefully resist using the old. Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the “old country.”” (Prensky)

Prensky goes on to say that we are facing a balancing act of traditional curriculum (with concepts “including reading, writing, artithmetic, logical thinking, understanding the ideas of the past” (Prensky 4)) and future content (i.e. “digital and technological…software [think Web 2.0],hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc” (Prensky).

Both sets have value and it is the way that we go about teaching and learning the material that will evolve and engage our students.

Prensky suggests digital games is one way to engage the digital learner in the material .

Stay tuned for the next installment, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon 9.5 (2001): 1-6. Marc Prensky. Web. .,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

This summary and a link to the article is also available on our TMSS DI Wiki:

Go to the TMSS Homepage (  then scroll down and look along the right hand side under TMSS Resources  DI Resource