At Home or Away?

A website home menu link
Metaphors are widely used on the Web, so it leaves no surprise when we use terms such as ‘Digital Immigrant’, ‘Resident’ etc. Why do we call the first page of a website a ‘home’ page? Credit: me.

Natives, Immigrants, Visitors and Residents

Prensky (2001) explains that the way students now learn has changed “radically” because of time exposed to Internet and ubiquitous technologies. “Digital Natives” are “native speakers of digital [languages]”. Digital Immigrants are the opposite – technologies seem new and they “have very little appreciation of [digital] skills”. Prensky says that because Digital Immigrants didn’t learn with technology, they will always have their offline “accent”.

YouTube video by TU Office of Academic Innovation that graphically explains this:



I agree that Digital Natives have advantages over Digital Natives in certain cases, especially when learning or training new skills. Gane & Beer (2008) explains how 12 & 13 year olds were better at performing key hole surgery than actual surgeons, in a simulation test, because they new the quirks of the equipment and had the skills.

Since 2008 however, the narrative of Natives and Immigrants has been questioned and flagged as too simplistic to understand this phenomenon. Firstly, this Economist article comments on Sue Bennet’s journal article applying caution to the narrative, who says there’s “as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations”, showing it’s not as clear cut as offline and online.  A viewed shared by White and Le Cornu (2011) who introduce ‘residents’, who spend a lot of their time on the web and ‘visitors’, that use the web as a tool when needed, all with varying degrees of proficiency.

My Self-Test



I think my self-test does show that I am a Digital Native, but relatively failing in creating/joining a community online that’s based around something I’m interested in. On the outset that seems strange to me, as I spend a lot of my time on social media, but analyzing my ‘feed’, none of it is what I’m super interested in.



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17 thoughts on “At Home or Away?

  1. Hi Adam,
    Excellent blog post, particularly interesting to blend quotes from research with your own opinion – I enjoy the reference to Gane and Beer! Did they use the term “Digital Natives” or “Digital Residents? I would like to ask you to explore more the nuance around Digital Residents and Visitors, comparing this to previous models and your own opinion on this? Do you think the residents vs visitors is a good update on the thinking? Additionally, I too fell short in the self-test on the “creating/joining an online community section” – how do you think would be the best way to improve here?

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for the comment!

      They don’t mention those terms specifically, but I thought that was a great example of kids being a Digital Native. But I see your point, I didn’t think to comment so much on (Visitors Vs. Residents) Vs. (Immigrants Vs. Natives) because it has been done so widely. I was planning to put in the post how I experienced similarities between the description of a Visitor (from the TALL blog and my parents. Although my parents spend a large percentage of their work and time using technology, they don’t use social media and they struggle to do online tests – I had to help them because I knew a radio button choice means there’s one correct answer and a checkbox, potentially many. So they are a Digital Visitor, in the same way they commute to their workplace every day.


      1. Hi Adam!

        Ah that’s interesting, I like that example! Regarding your further exploration of the idea, I like that you have made links between the concept and users that you know of. I did not mean to say you should have explored it further, but it was clear to me in the post that you had an understanding of the concept, I was wondering where that came from. Thanks for the reply though!

        PS: We both need to work out how to embed links in comments 🙂

  2. Hi Adam!

    I enjoyed reading your post – it was an interesting perspective on the concept of digital natives and digital residents. You’ve references Prensky (2001) here as stating that the way in which students learn has changed radically because of time spent exposed to the internet and ubiquitous technologies. How do you think this has changed in the time since then? The internet and social media are increasingly playing a role so would have the potential to extrapolate Prensky’s claim even further! I also struggle with aspects of the model as an individual could surely be both a native and an immigrant at once with different software – what are your thoughts? The self-test you have been kind enough to share is interesting – in general, how might we all improve our digital literacy skills?


  3. Hi Adam,

    Great first post! The video you used to illustrate Prensky’s outdated idea of digital natives and immigrants and the image you used to show which category you see yourself fall into is very clear and descriptive!

    You say you are a digital native as opposed to the term ‘digital resident’ which is now more often used. Does this mean you agree in part with Prensky?

    Also if you do see yourself as a native, do you think this is always the case? Some may argue that the distinction between residents and visitors is a continuum where you can transfer between visitor mode and resident mode? (I’ll leave a link below)

    I hope you get back to me soon and keep up the good work!


    1. Hi Adrian, and thanks for the comment,

      I do agree both with Prensky and the Resident & Visitor narrative and they both have their advantages.
      I see myself as a native/resident in the digital world we have now – with social Web 2.0, social media etc. as I use that a lot of the time and have grown up with them, but I think I would struggle to become a native/resident in upcoming technologies, that children in the next generation might grow up with. I might be seen by them as a digital immigrant/only a visitor to technologies such as VR in education, AI etc and only use these technologies ‘to perform a single task to meet my needs’. So I think it’s very much a generational thing and only someone’s perception of someone else of what category they fall into. Further, the self-test only asked about our habits online in the social web to gauge our digital literacy and this may become irrelevant in a few years time. So to answer your question, I feel as a native/resident in the tech we have now, but this may not be the case in a few years time.
      Do you find that you switch between resident mode and visitor mode, especially when starting/stopping work?


  4. Hi Adam,
    I appreciate how you contextualized the wider narratives surrounding digital visitors and residents with the references to Gane and Beer’s work on simulations and the economist article to explore how Prensky’s original claim has been challenged. I thought that the example of keyhole surgery highlighted an interesting point regarding the difficulty of translating existing knowledge and expertise to new technologies, this would have been an interesting theme to explore further within the context of digital natives trying to bring their offline expertise into the online space and whether this would still mean they are considered visitors or are able to become residents.

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