Topic 1

Topic 1: Digital Visitors & Residents

Natives vs. Immigrants

In 2001, Prensky proposed a distinction between two types of online users: ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’. Prensky’s theory can be summarised as follows:

  • Digital natives: The younger generation that have grown up with technology and are therefore competent digital users.
  • Digital immigrants: The older generation that have not been exposed to technology from a young age, so are required to adapt to the changing digital environment.

What strikes me about this distinction is the strict categorisation by age, suggesting that the generation you are born into ultimately determines your ability to engage with digital technology. Whilst I acknowledge that it’s now normal for a 6-year-old child to pick up an iPad and know how to use it, this doesn’t mean that my curious grandparents are digitally doomed.

Digital native cartoon
Figure 1. A cartoon interpretation of Prensky’s ‘digital native’.

Visitors vs. Residents

In response to Prensky’s stereotyped view, White and Cornu (2011) proposed an alternative distinction: ‘digital visitors’ and ‘digital residents’. This concept can be summarised as follows:

  • Digital visitors: Use technology to perform a specific task and then log off, leaving no identifiable social trace.
  • Digital residents: Use technology to share information and interact with others, creating a social persona that exists even when not logged on.

Rather than categorising by age or skill, the concept of digital visitors/residents is based on people’s motivations for engaging with technology. It follows the idea that individuals interact with technology differently depending on the context (White, 2014). For instance, to complete a simple task, we might approach the web in ‘visitor mode’, whereas to establish an online identity, we might approach the web in ‘resident mode’ (Jisc, 2014a). Furthermore, this concept can be seen as a continuum, rather than two opposing categories. We are not either a ‘digital visitor’ or a ‘digital resident’, but somewhere along the spectrum.

Figure 2. Digital visitor/resident continuum.

After some self-reflection, I have decided that my level of online engagement is towards the digital resident end of the scale. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I think I am both a digital visitor and a digital resident in different domains. For example, academically speaking, my web use resembles that of a digital visitor, as I often use the web to find specific information but do not interact socially. However, for personal use, such as communicating with friends via social media, I would strongly consider myself a digital resident.

(392 words)


Harris, L., Warren, L., Leah, J., & Ashleigh, M. (2010) Small steps across the chasm: Ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. Education Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2), 16(1).

Jisc (2014a). Evaluating digital services: A visitors and residents approach.

Jisc (2014b). Developing digital literacies.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

White, D. (2008). Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’. TALL blog.

White, D. (2014). Visitors and Residents (video). University of Oxford.

White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Figure References

Figure 1:

Figure 2: Self-produced using Canva.


7 thoughts on “Topic 1: Digital Visitors & Residents

  1. Hi Patricia,

    I really loved your blog post, the personal touch that you added to it made it so engaging and fun to read. Subsequently, I noticed that you disagree with the age discrimination that is implemented in Prensky (2001)’s theory of digital natives and immigrants. I too am sceptical about deterministic theories which group people together and deny them variability or room for change. However, it is undeniable that digital competency is increasing with generations and simultaneously that digital incompetency is highly present within older people. Following this, age does inevitably play a part in digital engagement although it may be discriminatory and not politically correct to suggest this. Taking this into consideration, do you think that Prensky’s theory should be completely scrapped and if so how can subsequent theories better incorporate age into their rationale?



    1. Hi Raziya,

      Thank you for your comment! That’s an interesting question. As you say, it’s difficult to fully support Prensky’s theory of digital natives and immigrants due to the discriminatory and deterministic nature of this view. Whilst it is true that the younger generation appears to be more digitally competent and the older generation less digitally competent, I think that the underlying differences are not necessarily age or skill, but level of engagement. Thus, I think subsequent theories, much like White and Cornu’s theory, should acknowledge some generational differences but try to identify underlying mechanisms behind these differences other than age. Overall, Prensky’s theory provides an honest truth about changing levels of digital competence, but in order to move forward in a positive way, theories should explore the changes in technology that alter the way individuals engage with the digital world.



  2. Hi Patricia, I hope you’re well.

    You have a really lovely blog here with great clarity not only in your presentation but your style of writing too, one I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable read and found very easy to follow.

    Your cartoon illustration is a really nice touch and again made the blog particularly stand out.

    I noticed you began to draw upon the idea of motivation, an idea I myself drew upon in my blog. I’m not sure if you have seen or are aware of the Beethman and Sharpe (2010) ‘pyramid model’ which neatly incorporates the idea of motivation. Maybe take a look and decide where you think you might place yourself with the model. I’d like to think of myself as possessing a very ‘can do’ positive approach to learning new things and would position myself between the ‘I can’ and ‘I do’ level, as I feel I am able to utilize a number of different skills online, however there are still many things I can’t do and hope by partaking in this module and with my ‘can do’ attitude I will soon find myself progressing higher up the pyramid.

    I look forward to hearing what you think.

    Feel free to drop me a follow on Twitter @harrietpigott2 x


    Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (2010) Beetham and Sharpe ‘pyramid model’ of digital literacy development model. Available at: (Accessed: 12 February 2017).


    1. Hi Harriet,

      Thank you for your positive comments on my post.

      It’s interesting that you should mention the role of motivation in this debate, as earlier today I made a very similar comment on your blog! Beetham and Sharpe’s model provides a good insight into how our engagement with technology aids our learning and development of digital literacies. I particularly like how their model conceptualises our learning as a pyramid, and that we can move up and down the hierarchy depending on the context and our motivations. It just goes to show that although White and Cornu’s concept of digital visitors/residents is logical and useful, it is not the only valid theory out there. Furthermore, I think Beetham and Sharpe’s model allows for a smoother transition into real life applications. For example, rather than stimulating a debate about whether we should label ourselves a ‘visitor’ or a ‘resident’, the model takes into account the processes we go through in order to enter ‘visitor’ mode or reach ‘resident’ status.

      Exploring this topic further has opened my eyes to the complexity of these digital issues. I look forward to seeing how our views adapt and evolve throughout the course of this module.



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