According to Prensky (2001) the term “digital native” is used to describe a generation of people who grew up immersed in digital world, therefore having unique characteristics, skills and learning styles which are dissimilar from those born in another generation. From the outset, this term to me seems overgeneralized and outdated. Thankfully it is not just me who is challenged by Prensky’s claim that “digital natives” have an inherent set of advanced skills and capacities, articles such as Lubin (2017), Thompson (2013) Hargittai (2010) and Kirschner & Karpinski (2010), to name a few, have also questioned this idea.
I believe Prensky’s definition to be detrimental for learners, educators and curriculum and policy leaders. The assumptions made as a result of this definition could result in poor pedagogical practice, imprecise curriculum and policies and most concerningly, pressured and misguided learners who are led to believe they possess certain skills or capacities purely because of their age.
An alternative approach .Whilst I do not believe Prensky’s definition of a “digital native” to be overly useful, I do believe that there are consequences of growing up immersed in a digital world. Thus, I believe the term should be redefined, firstly it should not claim to result in the automatic acquisition of skills and capacities but should rather acknowledge the challenges faced by young people growing up in a digital world. Secondly, a “digital native” should be define by their active participation with technology rather than their passive immersion.
Based on my new redefined definition of a “digital native” above, I do not believe the term to be harmful when considered by learners or educators. I acknowledge that this redefinition is not flawless, with aspects needing further clarification such a what constitutes being a “young person” and what defines active participation? However, for the sake of the keeping this post moving and relatively light, I will proceed and will try in a later post to further elaborate on these issues.
Digital Natives in Malawi? While 51% of the Malawian population are under 18 (National Statistical Office, 2018), all according to Prensky (2001) would fall into the “digital native” age bracket, finding one however would be a rare and uncommon occurrence. With a nation-wide shortage of ICT infrastructure and school-based technology, it is not surprise educational technology it is not widely used or even valued in some cases (Sajeni, 2012). For a young learner growing up in Malawi, their relationship with technology (and education) is scarce. Currently, they do not have the access or opportunity to be immersed in digital technology.
To wrap things up, I believe Presnky’s (2001), now 19 year old definition of a “digital native” to be over generalized and outdated. As technology continues to advance, and humans along with it will we continue to see terms and definitions like this arise, trying to make sense of rapidly changing world. However, we must maintain a critical awareness of the impact of these ideas as they translate into practice, classrooms and policies.
Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na(t)ives? Variation in Internet skills and uses among members of the “Net Generation”. Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92–113. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317
Kirschner, P. & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education. 67, 135-142
Kirschner, P. A., & Karpinski, A. C. (2010). Facebook® and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1237–1245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2010.03.024
Lubin, I. A. (Ed.). (2017). ICT-Supported Innovations in Small Countries and Developing Regions: Perspectives and Recommendations for International Education. Springer.
National Statistical Office. (2018). 2018 Population and Housing Census Report – Preliminary Report. Retrieved 2nd March 2020 from http://www.nsomalawi.mw/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=226:2018-malawi-population-and-housing-census&catid=8:reports&Itemid=6
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6.
Sajeni, W. (2012, January). ICT for Education – Botswana, Malawi, Namibia [Presentation]. The Southern Africa ICT for Education Summit. Victoria Falls. 26-27 January 2012,
Thompson, P. (2013). The digital natives as learners: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning. Computers & Education, 65(July), 12–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. compedu.2012.12.022