What does it mean to be a digital native? A Nativity Story

What is a ‘Digital Native’ and why does it matter?

Greetings Digital Natives and Aliens alike (Hoeschman and Poyntz, 2012)! If you are here then you too are fascinated by the notion of a ‘digital native’ and want to know what it is and how it can be defined!

A digital native is someone who has been born into the digital age and has no experience outside of the world they know (Prensky, 2001). A digital alien on the other hand is the opposite, someone who was born before the digital age and now lives within it and is never quite at the forefront of digital technologies (Prensky, 2001). These two definitions form the basis of one of the most heated arguments in education today, “is there such a thing as a digital native?” (Helsper and Eynon, 2010).

Why does it even matter?

Well the way our education system is developed in the Western world it is systematic and ever changing, while at the same time stagnant and unwilling to move. This is why the argument of a digital native is such a huge debate. If the type of student has changed and the students of today are indeed different, then our education system may no longer be suited for this new type of student (UNESCO, 2006).


So are you a digital native or alien?

Were you been in the 1990’s or later? If you answered yes then you would be deemed to be a digital native (much like myself!), where as if you answered no then you are a digital alien (Hoeschman and Poyntz, 2012).

There’s an argument? But Why?

Believe it or not, there is actually a huge academic argument surrounding the idea of digital natives! Now if you are like me and were born into this supposed digital nativity then it is hard to see how someone can deny that our upbringing hasn’t been different. Our use of media and technology from the time we were young, and in the cases of students at school now since they were born, has created a much more developed and networking capable learner (Burn and Durran, 2007). However there is a number of prominent academics who believe this notion to be underdeveloped and too easily labelled, and so we are going to explore this notion once and for all (Helsper and Eynon, 2010).

Now I know I said once and for all, but realistically what this blog will do is evoke you to ask the question, “do digital natives exist?”. I am going to go ahead and state where I sit and that is firmly within the realms of a yes I believe there to be such thing as a digital native and here is my evidence to back up this claim. When I was born in 1991, and the internet as we know it was already 1 year old. In 1996 at the age of 5 my school already had a computer in each of our classrooms which was running off the greatest operating system of all time WINDOWS 1995. By 2003 I started intermediate school at the age of 11 and we had broadband internet at our decile 2 school in a low socioeconomic area and we were able to access all the vital things in life such as song lyrics and Google images. It was at this stage that I was chatting to my friends and learning about chat rooms around the world using MSN Messenger and beginning to pirate music through Napster and Limewire. By 2006 I was 15 and I had already finished up with MySpace and was now using Bebo, as well as fostering a unique obsession for LAN gaming, which had now blossomed into internet gaming and being able to play with people around the world. By 18 I had now moved on to Facebook and amongst my friends I would be known as a “late adopter” to the site. With this information in mind it is hard for me being of the digital native generation to believe that we CAN’T be different from those who came before. If you are reading this and don’t understand or know what I am talking about, then you are either too old to have been a digital native or you are at an even more advanced state of nativity than myself.


The flipside of this argument comes from researchers (who themselves would be deemed as digital aliens) who believe that not all people of this generation are deemed to be digital natives and that the title is given too freely within research (Bennett and Maton, 2010). They argue that it is a skill set rather than a generational subset (Hargittai, 2010).

However, it is still my belief that students are different now and will always continue to be different   (Hoechsmann and Poyntz, 2012). I present you with this information and implore you to think about where you sit in the argument? Is it age biased? These are the things that we need to know, and only time will tell where the argument might lead.


Bennett, S., and Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer assisted learning, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00360.x

Burn, A., & Durran, J. (2007) Media Literacy in Schools : Practice, Production and Progression. London: Paul Chapman

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the  “Net Generation”. Sociological Inquiry. DOI:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x

Helsper, E. J., and Eynon, R. (2010). Digital natives: Where is the evidence?. British Educational Research Journal. DOI: 10.1080/01411920902989227

Hoechsmann, M., & Poyntz, S. (2012). Media literacies: A critical introduction. London, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. From: On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001

UNESCO. (2006) Media education: a kit for teachers, students, parents and professionals | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved January 12th, 2017 from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/publications- and-communication-materials/publications/full-list/media-education-a-kit-for-teachers- students-parents-and-professionals/


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