The myth of ‘digital native’

Gerald Haigh recently authored a blog post entitled:  Open University research explodes myth of ‘digital native’ in which he reviews some ongoing work at the OU on use of digital technologies in distance education.

The term ‘digital natives’ comes from work done by Marc Prensky and others, initially over a decade ago, and essentially differentiates between those who are bought up with digital technologies (the natives) and those, mostly older people, who were not (the immigrants).

The OU Institute of Educational Technology’s recent work surveyed some 7000 students aged between 21 and 100 (that were age-stratified and gender-balanced). The survey explored technology use (including mobile phones), confidence in specific computer task, and learning styles.

Gerald Haigh recently authored a blog post entitled:  Open University research explodes myth of ‘digital native’ in which he reviews some ongoing work at the OU on use of digital technologies in distance education.

The term ‘digital natives’ comes from work done by Marc Prensky and others, initially over a decade ago, and essentially differentiates between those who are bought up with digital technologies (the natives) and those, mostly older people, who were not (the immigrants).

The OU Institute of Educational Technology’s recent work surveyed some 7000 students aged between 21 and 100 (that were age-stratified and gender-balanced). The survey explored technology use (including mobile phones), confidence in specific computer task, and learning styles.

Haigh points out a number of interesting points:

  • Overall 58.1% response rate
    • 81.2% response rate from over 70s
    • 30.8% response rate from those in the 20s
  • Online response (as opposed to postal)
    • 60% of over 60s
    • 46.4% of those in their 20s

Other results are more in line with expectation, with younger people using computer more, and having access to a range of devices.

But there is not a clear divide, and as Haigh says in his conclusion:

“So, in conclusion, first, there’s no evidence of a clear-cut digital divide. Use of technology varies with age, but it does so predictably, over the whole age span. And secondly, although younger people are more likely to be positive about technology, there is evidence that a good attitude to technology, at any age, correlates with good study habits.”

An academic paper is under review on this work: “‘Older Students’ use of Digital Technologies in Distance Education”, by Chetz Colwell, Anne Jelfs and John T E Richardson.

About Shirley Williams

Shirley Williams is a National Teaching Fellow and Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Reading. She is involved in a number of research projects related to learning technologies, communities, social networks, Digital identity and knowledge transfer. She also enjoys reading and cooking.
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