Digital Natives


Today’s college students are known as “digital natives” and are also known as members of the “Y Generation,” millennials, or boomlets. In general, they are born after 1980 and are racially and ethically diverse. The digital natives are experienced multitaskers, accustomed to using text messaging, PDAs, cell phones, and email while search the Web and watching television. They are highly connected, increasing mobile, and technological savvy; and they see technology as an essential part of their lives. Digital native students are also more comfortable expressing themselves digitally and have become creators as well as consumers of digital content. Digital native students are more active learners who want to create their own content. They tend toward independence and autonomy in their learning styles. They learn in a different way than their predecessors did, but they values education and they want to learn. Digital native want challenging, meaningful, and interactive instructional/learning activities. Unfortunately, increasing number of students in the college become less satisfied with their instructors’ use of technology because most of their instructors are digital immigrants who do not use the tools they are most familiar with.

Below is a short YouTube video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

Teaching digital native students presents a challenge, both for their instructors and their institutions. Digital native students are fundamentally different in their use of technology than the “digital immigrants” who teach them. New technologies require that instructors rethink much of what they do, from their role in the classroom to the way they deliver instructional content and assess their students. I think we should consider technology tools that digital natives use and integrate these tools in teaching and learning. Thus, learning will become more interactive for their students. In addition, curriculum should provide more flexibility and engagement by integrating Web 2.0 tools, rich digital media, online collaborations, and virtual learning communities. These could result in a more open-ended authentic type of learning.


About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
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4 Responses to Digital Natives

  1. Holly Grover says:

    So after reading this blog, I learned that I am considered a digital native! And most of my instructors (except for Dr. Yuen!) are digital immigrants. Today’s older adults are generally unfamiliar with any type of technology that is more advanced that a DVD player. Earlier this week, I took about forty-five minutes to explain to my grandmother how to type a document using Microsoft Word. Simple things that come as second nature to me, such as copying and pasting pictures and words, were new and challenging concepts to my grandmother! It is amazing how little some people know about technology. When the people in my generation become senior citizen, how many more technological advances will our world have seen? It is mind-boggling to consider how far we could advance just in one person’s lifetime!

  2. Lou Ellen says:

    Being born right before what is known as the Y Generation, I consider myself to be in limbo on the digital forefront. I am somewhat of a digital native, but not entirely, and even that makes a difference. I feel like I have many of the same characteristics that the digital natives do. I multitask, text message, use cell phones, e-mails, search web, and watch television all at the same time. The main difference is learning style. I went to a very technological savvy (at least in television, film and animation) undergraduate school. Yet, we did no digital learning really. Other than the main applications that had to be used for the classes, there was no interactive learning process. Now that many new networking developments have come about, I feel that this learning process could be taken to a whole other level, leading the students to take the initiative and create their own things and ideas. The video is brilliant…and very true to life. Who doesn’t need more hours in the day to do everything that they need to do? Being that technology is so good for us, can it also be bad for us? Does it create a black hole of wasted time and energy? We can spend so much time and energy online that we actually lose focus of what we need to be doing. Sending emails, searching things on the web, and especially the biggest time sucker – Facebook and Myspace, are potential problems. Many companies and work sites have blocked these types of networking sites specifically so that time is not wasted.

  3. Christopher Tisdale says:

    After reading this blog I agree that this generation, as well as myself, are digital natives. I have seen a huge increase in technology within the 20-something years of my life. One example is the cellular phone. It went from being a bulky rectangle with an extendable antenna to something that can be smaller than a baby’s hand. They can take pictures, play music, record moving life, and be your own personal computer.
    Television is getting a big upgrade as well. Digital Television will absolutely eliminate analog within the first month of next year. With digital television pictures will be clearer and there will be no need for an antenna anymore.
    Our generation has learned more efficiently and easily with rapid technology. The internet is the most advanced learning tool of our time. Many people condemn it for some of the negative websites that are easily accessed; however, not many people can argue the fact that it is raising a new generation of students with websites such as Wikipedia, WebMD, and Websites, such as the ones mentioned, have been a quick resource for many people throughout their educations and careers alike.
    Most of the “digital immigrants,” as mentioned in the blog, have a harder time upgrading their skills to keep up with the fast-paced technology; however, there is technology available that allows these people to increase their knowledge at a faster pace than a text book allows.
    I personally believe that over time, when advanced technology becomes the absolute future, teachers should increase their knowledge and present a new way of learning. Students will be more interested in learning if the teacher is able to teach them something more relevant to their lives.
    I am proud to call myself a “digital native” and I will continue to learn more as technology increases.

  4. Really Good Articles/posts that you have on this site. Thanks

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