Digital Natives versus Digital Immigrants: Bridging the Gap

I remember spending my Saturday mornings glued in front of the TV watching the morning line-up of cartoons like the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Looking back, it was fascinating how both shows explored the lives of 2 nuclear families, both using technologies available to facilitate daily life. While the Flintstones may have taken place in the Stone Age and the Jetsons in the space age, they both leveraged available technologies to facilitate daily life: Fred and Barney arrived on their stone wheel vehicle powered by their feet, while George Jetson arrived to work in his space shuttle. The basic outcomes of daily life are generally the same; it is the means available that change.

We tend to use dichotomies to view the world, such as rich versus poor, young versus old, gen X versus gen Y, and a recent one that is showing up in educational technology literature: digital natives versus digital immigrants. Digital natives are born around technology whereas digital immigrants are born before the digital era, thereby categorizing technological adoption based solely on age. What fascinates me is that trainers often discuss the needs of their learners in relation to this variable, refusing to use serious games in their training solutions due to their perceived lack of applicability and interest from digital immigrants. Is this really necessary? Is it even true that digital immigrants don’t appreciate games? While polar opposites do provide useful frameworks for comparison, there is always the proverbial expression “different strokes for different folks”.

I would be lying if I said that there aren’t differences in technology usage among digital natives and digital immigrants. Being born around technology and being constantly exposed to the latest innovation, digital natives have a natural inclination and innate disposition towards technology adoption. However, this is equally true for a segment of digital immigrants! According to the Zur Institute, digital immigrants fall into three major groups: avoiders, reluctant adopters and enthusiastic adopters (http://www.zurinstitute.com/internetaddiction.html). The Enthusiastic Adopters share the same interest and enthusiasm as digital natives. Imagine a Flintstone enjoying a PC computer in the early 90s, who became a Jetson enjoying texting and chatting in the millennium. This shows that the Flintstone and the Jetson can reside in the same person. In other words, early adopters have always been inclined to the latest innovation; it is just that the technological innovations have changed significantly in the last decades.

By segmenting our learners based on age, we are limiting the use of serious games that have proven educational outcomes. And by withholding our views on age and the appropriateness of serious games based on demographics, we continue to stifle innovation in training. After all, ignoring the digital era would be ignoring reality. Not yet convinced on the irrelevance of age in training? Come back for my next blog in which I will provide some interesting facts that debunk misconceptions on the appropriateness of serious games in corporate training.

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