Response: Examining Generational Differences

This post is in response to a prompt located on Virtual Meanderings: Examining Generational Differences

In week two of EDTECH 537 Blogging in the Classroom, I read three articles that presented and responded to the theory of digital natives and the impact of generational differences in instructional design (Prensky, 2001; McKenzie, 2007; and Reeves, 2008).

Initially, I was struck by the negative image of “digital immigrants” that is portrayed by Prensky (2001). Prensky (2001) states, “Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice.” I find this statement about both the Natives and the Immigrants to be false. Many teachers are motivated by new technologies and the skills that their students enter the classroom with. They strive to learn more about how students are using technology and to motivate them by integrating technology in a positive way. They are seeking professional development to help in this process and spending extra hours outside of the teaching day to do so.

I also disagree that the Digital Natives have “perfected” the practice and interaction of digital skills. As an online teacher for the past four years, I find this to be a huge misconception. Yes, growing up in this digital age does expose students to a variety of technologies and skills. However, the way students are using these may not necessarily be for educational or research purposes. Therefore, the skills that they have might apply to using Twitter or Instagram for social purposes, but not apply to the problem solving and critical thinking skills that are needed to further engage in and manipulate the technologies.

McKenzie (2007) contradicts Prensky’s statements and outlines the false representations of Digital Natives and Immigrants. Prensky’s main points lack research and are presented in a negative tone (McKenzie, 2007). I appreciated McKenzie’s careful analysis and rebuttal to Prensky, especially his discussion on digital deprivation. As a new mom, I find many articles on the harmful impact of technology and digital devices in the growth and development of children. I think it is important to develop and encourage a healthy balance of technology and non-technology based learning activities in young learners.

Reeves (2008) presents discussion about the research behind generational differences. I was surprised in his findings, as he summarized the weakness in generational difference research. He emphasized the need to focus on the learner as a starting point for instructional design and their specific needs (Reeves, 2008). Instructional design begins with the needs of the learner, not the technology that will be used.

If a colleague brought digital natives into discussion, I would respond by providing them with the resources above as a starting point for discussion. Today’s learners need guidance and direction in developing critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. Having technological skills do not necessarily result in these life long learning skills. I would encourage them to focus on the learners in their classroom or educational setting and analyze the needs that they have without making broad assumptions based on generation.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from

Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at




9 thoughts on “Response: Examining Generational Differences

  1. I completely agree with you! I don’t think that technology use translates to critical thinking skills, and as you stated, I too have seen that my students have a lot of experience with social media technologies but little else in terms of research or information studies. They just use their phones to play not learn beyond the surface. What do you teach online, and how do you interact with your students there? I wonder if you see the same issues that I do with technology – where my students really don’t keep trying when something doesn’t work after the first time. Do you see that with a computer-based system as well?

    • I have taught 9-12 science online and some other electives. I primarily interact with students through our LMS and through texting. We have tried various initiatives to implement synchronous sessions; however, it has been difficult to get students to attend on a consistent basis and to hold them accountable in doing so. I definitely see students giving up on a technology tool if they can’t figure out the first time or even if it takes longer than 10 minutes to use! This is such a struggle.

      • What do you guys do to get students to keep working, when you don’t necessary have to the luxury of seeing them face to face? Do consequences and deadlines become more important?

      • Rachel, The school model is set up so that each teacher manages a group of students. So, it is the teacher’s responsibility to monitor progress on a day to day basis and make frequent contact during the week. We do have one deadline during the term, but because of a rolling enrollment, we can’t have weekly deadlines.

  2. Thank you Hannah!
    As you commented…”Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice.” I find this statement about both the Natives and the Immigrants to be false.
    You are correct!! I completely embraced the graphing technology that became more readily available when I switched where I taught in 1997. When I was finishing up my college degree in 1992, they had just made graphing calculators a mandatory expectation for the calculus program. Wow I wish I had calculus with that graphing ability!! It is such a time saver compared to plotting one point at a time to build complex graphs. I am clearly a digital immigrant and feel like one sometimes, but mainly due to lack of time to be on technology all the time like kids can do. Someone has to do the laundry…
    Likewise, there are some tech pieces I know much better than my students! Sure they know how to use instagram, twitter and facebook, but can they program? Can they analyze complicated scenarios? Experience wins whenever the experienced one keeps up with the changing times.

    • That is a great example of how technology has helped make a process smoother! Thanks for sharing. I am always impressed by the motivation and effort of teachers and others who did not grow up with a lot of technology, but continue to adapt to the changing culture.

  3. Does the act of “perfecting” the practice and interaction of digital skills have to be connected to an educational objective? For example, you posit growing up as digital native might possibly give one more experience with digital skills and technologies, but use the Instagram and Twitter comparison as tools that may not promote best practices in research and critical thinking acquisition. So, if they have mastered these technologies, wouldn’t that imply they have perfected them, but just not for the purposes of our wanting (critical thinking and research)? And, if this is the case and they have perfected the usage of these popular technologies, how can educators take advantage of learner expertise? Could teachers creatively design and implement stated objectives with these technologies that follow the critical thinking and research domains? Or, are the Instagrams and Twitters of this world not built for this type structure?

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