Review of the 'Digital Natives' debate

The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence by Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin

I have to admit to a sense of vindication reading this paper… many of my comments on ‘digital natives’ are reflected here in a review that draws on a number of research surveys and a fairly wide range of articles.

The picture beginning to emerge from research on young people’s relationships with technology is much more complex than the digital native characterisation suggests. While technology is embedded in their lives, young people’s use and skills are not uniform.There is no evidence of widespread and universal disaffection, or of a distinctly different learning style the like of which has never been seen before. … Education may be under challenge to change, but it is not clear that it is being rejected.

From my current class:

  • approx % of students using social networking – 20%
  • approx % of students who knew how to use styles in Word (a very handy time saver!) – 10%

2 thoughts on “Review of the 'Digital Natives' debate

  1. Chris

    Had a similar experience today with a group of Y8′s.

    The task given was simple enough. Conduct some internet research on slavery and they were even given the specific links to useful sites via a learning platform site.

    I lost count of the number of times students put their hands up with simple questions about not being able to log on or not knowing what to do with the links – even when the sites had dirty great search boxes at the top.

    If they were true digital natives then I would have expected at least some inquisitiveness and imagination in trying different solutions to problems.

    It seems that some “natives” are very good at finding the stuff that matters to them for leisure (their knowledge of flash game websites is legendary!) but outside of that their knowledge of IT is strictly limited.

  2. Daniel Livingstone

    Hi Chris,

    yes I think this is a phenomenon that affects students of all age groups. I think a wide range of skills (including how to use Google search!) seem to vary according to the students comfort level with the task domain…

    So at university level it is not unusual to have students who are quite capable of finding what they want using Google when it comes to their own interests – yet find it strangely challenging to leverage Google to support a literature search when it is related to their studies.

    On more than a few occaisions I’ve had students claim after a week or more that they were unable to find much literature on a topic. Three minutes of Googling later…

    This relates to skills and knowledge transfer – it is not enough for students to learn something in a game or in class, we need to be sure that they can transfer that learning to other domains. So there may be students who are gee-whizz number crunchers in World of Warcraft, but struggle in the classroom setting and students who do well at exams but struggle to apply their knowledge to real world problems…

    I don’t think this issue gets quite as much attention as it requires.


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