In 2001, Marc Prensky shared his concept of “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants.” Prensky states that “our students are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet” (p.1).  At the time, this concept gave us a language to discuss the gap between our technology interested and sometimes technology savvy students and the rest of us. One problem was that it leaned heavily on age as the predominant factor in our differences with technology. As the years pass, our conversations about this topic have progressed. For one, we have realized that while age may factor into comfort with some technologies, it isn’t ubiquitous and it doesn’t encompass all digital literacies. It is time for a new model to conceptualize and discuss the relationship we all have with technology.

vandrAt a recent eLearning conference I heard about a metaphor that was an interesting alternative to our previous framework. White and Cornu (2011) discussed a concept that focuses on a continuum of digital engagement. They propose that there are “Visitors” and “Residents” in the world of technology. Visitors see technology as a tool to complete a task, and no longer use the technology once the task is complete. They may go online to pay a bill, book a trip, or answer an email, but their activity is task driven. These individuals lack a social presence on the web and are not posting about their experience booking the trip or sharing pictures during the trip with a digital community. As explained by White and Cornu (2011), “Visitors are users, not members, of the Web and place little value in belonging online” (Visitors and Residents section, para. 2).

In contrast, Residents see value and necessity in connecting to others online. Residents share their ideas, reviews, and current activities with one or many online communities. The not only “live” online, but they thrive online. White and Cornu (2011) explained that “To Residents, the Web is a place to express opinions, a place in which relationships can be formed and extended” (Visitors and Residents section, para. 3).

Our behaviors can remain constant or move along this continuum. We can demonstrate Visitor behaviors of accessing information when necessary and leaving no digital footprint, or we exhibit more Resident behaviors when we build a solid presence in the digital world. While it is almost impossible to erase the digital footprints we make, our behaviors can change and move away from Resident to Visitor if we disconnect more from our social networks online.

This is an interesting lens to view our students (and ourselves) in regards to technology. Are we asking students to undertake tasks where they must understand and use technology, or are we asking far more and expecting them to create, engage, and expand upon their digital presence? Even if only in Canvas, we must consider that some of our students may have no experience creating and connecting online while others crave that interaction and thrive in that space. This means paying special attention to how you build community online and being aware if students tend to shy away from or reject a digital presence. While no metaphor is perfect, I am happy to say goodbye to the often misleading “Digital Natives” concept and begin to explore different ways to discuss how we engage in the digital world that can scare us, connect us, and help us to learn.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved March 28, 2016, from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

White, D. S., & Le Cornu, A. (2011, September). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved March 28, 2016, from 


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