In Topic 1, David White introduced us to “Visitors and Residents” as a new way of mapping people’s engagement with the internet, proposing this as a replacement to Prensky’s “Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants”. 

I was immediately intrigued because I have, on several occasions, quietly questioned my students’ claim to the digital native status. This is because I’ve discovered that my students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, are really not as adept at using technology as I had expected a digital native to be. For example, some of my students don’t seem to be able to effectively use keywords to find what they need in Google search. They ask ME where to get royalty-free content for their videos. Such incidences lend credence to Margaryan and Littlejohn’s (2008) comments, as cited in White and Le Cornu (2011), that “educators therefore cannot presume that all young students are “digital natives” who understand how to use technology to support and enhance their learning.”

On a more serious note, some of my school teacher friends in Malaysia have shared with me their challenges trying to do online teaching during the pandemic because their students do not know how to use email. Some do not even have access to the internet, computers, or smartphones. This issue is aptly captured by Bennet et al. (2008) as cited in White and Le Cornu (2011), who highlight that the term digital native is not relevant to people who do not have the level of access to or proficiency in digital technology that one would expect of a digital native.

However, I am not quite ready to abandon the concept of digital natives yet, because I have students who have taught themselves to code. They have written game software and sold them on Apple Store. They accomplished all these almost over-night, seemingly able to learn and master a range of digital technologies so easily and quickly, almost like second nature, while I’m still figuring out how to use Twitter.

Looking at Prensky’s definition of digital native, the main contention is that he’s defined digital natives as those born in the digital age. But what if we were to redefine nativity as exposure to a digital environment, rather than just being born in the digital era? So, a person who is born today may not be a digital native unless this person grows up in a digital rich environment and is adept at using digital technology. And although this person is a digital native, his/her use of specific digital tools may vary from just passive onlooking to intense active participation and creation. In this sense, this digital native may be a visitor or a resident of any number of digital technologies. In contrast, a person who is born today without exposure and/or access to digital technologies cannot be called a digital native. But if this person later in life learns and becomes adept at using various digital technologies, he/she may become a digital immigrant. And this digital immigrant may be a visitor or resident of any number of digital technologies.

In fact, Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey, in her article, “Can ‘digital natives’ be ‘strangers’ to digital technologies? An analytical reflection” proposes the same notion of revising the definition of digital natives. Her proposal is to define digital natives as “people who have been born into digital technologies and new media technologies“ (p.13) and are adept at using such technologies. She also introduces the concept of digital strangers, people who, for various reasons such as lack of accessibility and disinterest, do not have access to digital technology and/or have not developed proficiency in using digital technologies. 

So, maybe we need not retire the digital native-digital immigrant typology just yet. Maybe it’s possible to redefine “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” so that digital natives, strangers, immigrants, residents and visitors can co-exist. 


Adjin-Tettey, T. D. (2020). Can ‘digital natives’ be ‘strangers’ to digital technologies? An analytical reflection. Inkanyiso: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences12(1), 11-23. 

White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Is it possible for digital natives, immigrants, residents and visitors to co-exist?