Digital natives debate

Is Generation Y composed of “digital natives” always passionate about ICT? The use of these technologies would be a surefire way to attract the “young” and enable them to learn?

Digital natives?

Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer those that our educational system was designed to teach, exclaimed Marc Prensky in his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, published in 2001. For him, the emergence of ICT in the broad sense represents a real breakthrough, “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.” This represents, according to him, a real change in brain structures, or at least formats of thought (thinking patterns). Really?

He compares these “digital natives” to “digital migrants” who did not grow up with these technologies and, even when they have adapted, have kept the habits of the past, as, according to him: not turn first to the Internet when seeking information, read a leaflet, printed emails or documents before reading them…

The “digital natives” described by Prensky are accustomed to quick access to information, process together several tasks at once, to network, they prefer to play rather than do serious work, they prefer access information via the graphics rather than via text, they access to information randomly using hyperlinks  rather than sequential order…

In fact, it seems to me that Prensky, in this paper, is mixing a lot of things:

  • learning strategies (preference of visual text, the random sequence, which also concerns many people in older age)
  • facilities related to age (be multitask, ability to work while listening to music, being a privilege of youth)
  • and new ways of accessing information related to ICT (hypertext links, quick access to information, networking).

Talking about playing or learning… nothing is new about it, what is new is the opportunity to do it on a mobile or a computer … Now tell me wether the guy who painted the walls on Lascaux Cave was more sequential or less multitask than the typical Gen Y teen?

Hey Mark? Think again – Much ado about nothing… When dealing with ICT, we are all some sort of refugees. Our students as well as ourselves have to face a constant upgrade of our knowledge. Those who do not want to do it will become digital illiterate.

On the topic, PBS’Frontline- A Digital Nation, is worth seeing.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On The Horizon. MBC University Press

Bennet, S. , Matton, K. & Kevin, L. (2008). The “digital natives” debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786.


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