Our changing world

When Marc Prensky coined the terms ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital natives’ back in 2001, he sparked a debate which still rages today. (Prensky, 2001, p.1,2). Nowadays however, it is generally accepted that such a clear divide between ‘native’ and ‘immigrants’ is both misleading and dangerous. (R. Land & S. Bayne, 2011, p.159), (Stoerger, S. 2009, p.Conclusion). Despite this, there is little doubt that the way people live has changed dramatically since the advent of the internet. We use the internet to apply for jobs, book holidays, find somewhere to live, keep in touch with family or even to find a partner. This coupled with the widespread distribution of ever cheaper digital devices means that we are forever connected to the rest of the world.

Here’s a link for more insight into how our lives have changed:


Social Networks


One phenomenon of this connection has been the spread of social networks, some of which have even been held responsible for social change. Twitter, for example, has changed the way we communicate political views, breaking news, celebrity gossip and activism amongst others. (Lee, D. BBC 2013). Apart from changing how we interact with the world, some people believe our exposure to digital technologies will lead to a new type of learner owing to the increasing plasticity of the brain. (Prensky, M, 2011, p.18). Others urge caution and call for more theoretically based research to truly understand learners have changed as a result of exposure to digital technologies. (Bennet, S. & Maton, K. 2010, p.329).

Here is a video of Marc Prensky arguing, amongst other things,  for the case that digital technologies are changing our minds:

So, is our exposure to digital technologies really having an impact on the way people learn?

Growing up with it

Children growing up now have never known a world without digital technologies and the internet. This technology permeates every corner of their lives, from when they are stuck in front of a YouTube video as a baby to when they copy and paste a thesis from a google search. This ‘growing up’ with digital technology must surely invoke certain expectations from education. Another major change in behaviour amongst the majority of the population is our approach to privacy. In a culture of sharing and openness, a large number of our students now have a photographic record or their entire lives available to their friends or the wider public. The invention of the selfie stick for smart phones can also been seen as a manifestation of our desire to document our lives and self-obsession.

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Non-Linear learning

No matter what age, almost every student at my school has a smartphone begging them for attention with WhatsApp messages and Facebook updates throughout the day. This influx of interactive information could develop skills in prioritising and multi-tasking which in turn could lead to disinterest in more linear tasks.  Most syllabi and lesson plans do currently tend to take on a rather step by step approach to second language acquisition which might be inappropriate for our multitasking digital learners. That said, Bennet & Maton believe that we need to distinguish between knowledge acquired outside educational contexts and within them. And that a linear method of instruction may be more effective for certain subjects (2010, p.327). Adding to this, it can be equally argued that learners have always been multitasking or even that multitasking causes distraction rather than aiding learning (Bennet, S. et al. 2008, p.779).

Here is a list of interesting articles on multitasking:


‘Digital wisdom’

These digital learners may also have new perceptions of authority, or disregard the teacher as provider of knowledge, when they have access to the wealth of information on the web. Prensky makes reference to the data stored on the web when he discusses ‘digital wisdom’. He suggests a new type of wisdom fuelled be our collective knowledge online and our ability to navigate it using critical thinking skills. (Prensky, M. 2011, p.18). It’s possible that today’s learners will not be convinced by more teacher centred approaches and may already be autonomous learners by the time they start their first language lesson. I have definitely noticed a shift in the last few years of students who feel the need to check answers on google in class.


New learners or new ways of learning

Even if the idea that there now exists a new type of learner may be hard to accept, the affordances of digital technologies do appear to offer new ways of learning. Whether or not these new opportunities support current theories of second language acquisition or require a change in pedagogy is still unclear to me.

What do you think?


Dave Lee, (2013) How Twitter changed the world, hashtag-by-hashtag. Pubished on BBC.com. (Viewed on 19 October 2015).http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24802766

Bennett & K. Maton, (2010) Beyond ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences, Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Bennett, S., Maton, K. & Kervin, L. (2008) The “digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Education Technology, 25, 5, 775-786.

Land, R. & Bayne, S. (2001 ) EDs, Digital difference: Perspectives on Online Learning, Sense Publishers, pp. 159-169.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, MCB University Press.

Prensky, M. (2011) Deconstructing Digital Natives, Young people, Technology and the new literacies. Editor Michael Thomas Routledge; 1 edition.

Stoerger, S. (2009) The digital melting-pot: bridging the digital native-immigrant divide. First Monday. 14: 7. (html)http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2474/2243


Featured image: http://betakit.com/majority-of-canadian-schools-havent-adopted-mobile-learning/(viewed 8/12/15)

Twitter http://www.ikkevold.no/2013/03/what-happens-to-social-media-after-a-twitter-revolution/ (viewed 8/12/15)

Selfie stick http://www.theverge.com/tldr/2015/2/12/8027137/watch-president-barack-obama-use-a-selfie-stick (viewed on 8/12/15)

Google https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-nbdJAOfdGlY/Tyu4y45YLgI/AAAAAAAAIyM/pK98iwfjTtA/w506-h327/GOOGLE_chappatt.jpg (viewed 8/12/15)


Prensky:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wowZRDx344, Published on Feb 26, 2014 (viewed on 8/12/15)