I was sitting in one of Ewan McIntosh‘s sessions at BLC08 and couldn’t help noticing how much delight he took in disputing the digital native/digital immigrant distinction. The native/immigrant comparison may not be accurate (so Ewan says), but it sure is useful. I’ve used those terms many times since reading Prensky’s original article (PDF, 132kB) to bring the issue of relating to today’s kids more sharply into focus with groups of educators. So if there’s no such thing as a digital immigrant or native, is there any useful distinction to be made between today’s students and their teachers?
There are a couple others that I’ve used at various times. The first is a sort of attribution theory I read about some time ago whose reference I’ve misplaced. The basic message was that when adult learners encounter a technological obstacle such as a button that doesn’t do what they expected it would, they often respond by attributing their failure to their own lack of technology savvy. Kids, on the other hand, usually assume that the technology is poorly designed and try to identify a workaround. Ewan hinted at this when he talked about how kids will just press buttons to see what happens. I don’t see adults do that very often.
The other comparison I like is one that became clear to me when I was in the classroom teaching physics. We were talking about Newtonian mechanics, and the story of Isaac Newton and the falling apple came up in our class discussion. The classic story of the apple falling on Newton’s head is a myth; the actual story involved Newton observing the moon rise in the distance as an apple fell from a tree across the yard. When Newton witnessed those events he realized that the same force that caused the apple to fall must also be affecting the moon. He surmised that the moon is actually falling just like the apple. Of all the people who had ever witnessed a similar scene, what was different about Newton? Oh, I don’t know… how ’bout genius? 🙂
Geniuses see connections that regular people miss entirely. I think the same difference applies to experts and novices. How long does it take you to learn a new word processor? Not very long I’d guess because you’ve probably used a bunch of different word processors in the past, and you realize that all word processors work pretty much the same. Technology novices tend to get hung up on the small differences.
I don’t know if either of those are as immediately useful as the immigrant/native comparison. I’d sure like to know if anyone has any proven techniques to accelerate the move along the novice-expert continuum.