Home » Digital Divide » Open University research explodes myth of ‘digital native’

Open University research explodes myth of ‘digital native’

Gerald Haigh visits his alma mater to learn that a good attitude to technology correlates with good learning habits

Girl drawing on touchscreen

Is there a digital native? Not according to new Open University research

A new research project by the Open University explores the much-debated concept of “the digital native”. The university does this by making full use of the rich resource which is its own highly diverse student body.

It concludes that while there are clear differences between older people and younger in their use of technology, there’s no evidence of a clear break between two separate populations.

Is there really a distinct group of younger people who are not only easy with technology because they’ve grown up with it, but actually think and learn differently as a result? The idea gained quite a bit of traction after Marc Prensky wrote about the idea ten years ago in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,  with other writers weighing in, such as Bradley Jorgensen with Generation X and Generation Y.

Since then, the concept has often been questioned, and even Prensky’s own ideas have changed somewhat. The notion persists in the public imagination though. After all, it seems to bear the fatal hallmark of “common sense”. On one side of the divide is the young person who uses technology like she drives her car, without the need for conscious attention to the process. On the other side sits a grizzled and mature individual, maybe a would-be ‘silver surfer’, frowning impotently at a keyboard and calling for his granddaughter.

This isn’t, though, just a saloon bar debating point, or material for yet another Grumpy Old Men TV programme. If there really is a clear generational separation of brain process, then we need to know more about it because there are important implications for learning. Read more…

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