Digital Natives and Immigrants: Learning in the Digital Age

Minasi, E. (n.d.). Democratizing Info [Image]. Retrieved from

Digital natives refer to people who grew up in the post-internet era and, therefore, have been familiar with the internet and digital technology from an early age.  Ertmer and Newby (2013) argue that, as a result of this tech-from-birth experience, digital natives’ brains have been rewired to learn differently than digital immigrants (those born before the internet).  I argue that this difference in thinking is not unique to digital natives, but can occur in anyone who has sufficiently engaged with technology since the internet emerged over 20 years ago.  Siemens (2004) states that “technology is altering (rewiring) our brains.  The tools we use define and shape our thinking” (para. 4).  I believe this is true, whether we are digital natives or immigrants.

I believe this clarification is important.  If we believe that only young learners possess the ability and preference to use the “participatory web” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 66) to learn collaboratively, informally, and authentically, we deny digital immigrants (as adult learners) the affordances of these new technologies and teaching methods.  Adult learners may learn differently from younger learners, but many have heartedly embraced technology tools and personal and social life-long learning.  As constructivist teaching methodologies continue to gain popularity, instructional designers and instructors must recognize than many adult learners (digital immigrants) want and prefer the opportunities created by these innovations.

Do you think only digital natives’ ability to learn has been changed by their immersion in technology?  Do digital immigrants, given sufficient experience with technology tools in the last decades, also “want and prefer to learn differently [and] seem exceptionally capable of doing so” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 66)? 


Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71. doi: 10.1002/piq.21143

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivisim: A learning theory for the digital age.  Retrieved from