Digital Visitors and Digital Residents

Thanks to Laura Czerniewicz for pointing me to this excellent video discussion by Oxford’s David White:

This isn’t really a full-on replacement of Prensky’s concept of digital natives (which is unfortunate, since I agree Prensky tends to be reduced to “old people just don’t understand this stuff”), but I think it’s a useful formulation of the divide between people who get value out of social networks and those that don’t. The short version for those of you who don’t have time to watch the video (although it is well worth your 15 minutes) is that digital residents see the web as a social space while digital visitors see it as a collection of tools. This has pretty profound implications for the differences between whether and how these two groups use particular technologies.

One of the more important points that David makes, in my view, is the link between your decision to be either a resident or a visitor and your ideology of education. If you believe that education is private affair between you, your books, and your professor, then you’re not likely to see the value of Facebook, Twitter, Elgg, or some other social networking platform in furthering your education. This actually links to another of David’s posts, “Does the Technology Matter,” in which he highlights two camps of instructional technologists: one that argues the technology should be transformational and the other that argues the technology should be invisible. It seems to me there’s a reason why there’s a high degree of overlap between people who are attracted to social networking, PLE’s and the like, and people who are interested in supplanting traditional pedagogies and institutions with more self-directed networked learning. Most people who fit David’s definition of a digital resident can probably remember their conversion experiences. For me, I had to be hit over the head several times. I used to think that blogging, Twitter, and Facebook were all idiotic, narcissistic wastes of time. (Well, OK, I still think Facebook is a kinda stupid.) In each case, I had a conversion experience in which I came to realize how the utility of the tool is not so much in what it enables me to do but in how it changes the way I want to be. I learned new behaviors and habits that I found to be productive and fulfilling. I learned to ask questions that I probably wouldn’t have asked otherwise, to reach out to more people more often for help, and to rely much more on the intelligence of my friends and colleagues to help me on my intellectual (and social) journey. These changes are intimately related to the ways in which we learn. I think it’s no surprise that people who are digital residents also tend to see technology as a catalyst of educational reform.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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11 Responses to Digital Visitors and Digital Residents

  1. David White says:

    Thanks for this reflection. I hadn’t made the link between my two posts before… It’s almost like this blogging-as-reflection stuff really works. 🙂

  2. John Norman says:

    The tools vs social space perspective has an interesting resonance with our user research among students which could be oversimplified to: the two strongest design personas were those who sought authoritative sources of information and those who sought others to advise them. This was independent of age.

  3. As an aside (or shameless plug?) Dave White will be giving an Invited Speaker session at the 2010 ALT conference in Nottingham, UK, between 7 and 9 September 2010. There is also quite a nice presentation (MP3 and PPT) challenging the native/immigrant idea in Phil Candy’s summing up on the “Next Generation” theme from ALT-C 2006. Accessible from

  4. Brian Moynihan says:

    “digital residents see the web as a social space while digital visitors see it as a collection of tools” — That seems like a pretty apt description of the difference between the goals of Sakai 3 and Sakai 2!

    It seems the key factor to understanding the use of technologies like Facebook and Twitter has to do with seeing them as they are, and not as they appear to be. For instance, Twitter is best seen as a text box that holds about a text message of information, remembers what you have put into the text box previously, and allows you to access that information from an API. Seen in that way it’s not necessarily a call to narcissism, but rather a technology that could be used just as well by clams with RFID tags as it could be used by Justin Beiber fans, by students looking for a way to provide instant feedback or tag their lectures as for someone to promote their obsession with clothes.

  5. Bill Knapp says:

    Thanks for sharing this presentation. I appreciate the perspective – getting away from the idea that if you didn’t grow up with the technology, then it is somehow foreign – how we use it and where it fits in our lives seems so much more appropriate. I especially like the map of your residency. I tend to use Facebook much more to share about my personal life, than say LinkedIn or Twitter, so my own map will likely take a somewhat different shape.

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