Topic 1 – Digital Residents and Digital Visitors: Where do you belong on the continuum?


Figure 1. Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001),

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

The rapid increase of digital technology (within the 21st century) has led to many heated debates over Prensky’s (2001) concept of “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants.” Digital natives are individuals who have engaged in technology since birth. Therefore, they are more ‘fluent’ digital users. In comparison, digital immigrants are individuals who entered the digital world later in life, and thus, have to adapt to the ever-growing digital environment.


However, these terms have been heavily criticised for its inferred age segregation, while ignoring the cultural and socio-economic factors that influence digital capability (White & Le Cornu, 2011). The concept suggests that a person’s ability to engage with digital technology is determined by the generation they are born in. Helsper and Eynon (2009) challenged the concept and found no differences between age and technological ability. Additionally, Margaryan, Littlejohn, and Vojt (2011) suggest that many digital natives are not adept in using technology to support their educational learning, despite growing up in the digital world. These findings indicate that the generational divide is not definite.

Instead, White and Le Cornu (2011) argued that digital engagement is not a binary opposition, but rather a continuum. Thus, White and Le Cornu (2011) created an alternative distinction of: “Digital Visitors” and “Digital Residents.”


Figure 2. Digital visitor/resident continuum.

Digital Visitors and Residents

A digital visitor can be characterised as an individual who uses technology like a tool (White, 2014). For example, someone will use the Web for a specific purpose and log off when they are satisfied. Digital visitors may use the Web often or infrequently, though it is unlikely they will leave behind an identity. In contrast, a digital resident is like an extension of the self in the online world. Residents will spend a considerable amount of their life online – for instance, connecting and replying to people via social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). Therefore, residents not only use the Web to access information but also to express themselves online.

Rather than categorising people by age or skill, the analogy is based on how someone uses technology. Individuals do not necessarily belong to one category (as either a digital resident or a digital visitor); they may fall between the two and change depending on context.

My Experiences

I consider myself both a digital resident and visitor. I frequently use the Web to access my social media accounts, but regarding academics, I use the Web to find particular information for my course.


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).

Helsper, E., & Enyon, R. (2009).  Digital natives: Where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal, 36(3), 503-520.

Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Vojt, G. (2011). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers & Education, 56(2), 429-440.

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 Monday16(9).

Figure References

Figure 1: Word cloud, created from wordclouds.

Figure 2: Self-made using Microsoft PowerPoint 2016.


5 thoughts on “Topic 1 – Digital Residents and Digital Visitors: Where do you belong on the continuum?

  1. Hi Wei, I found your post particularly interesting as it was similar to mine yet included many more sources. I think this was a strength – the evidence and citations used added to the evaluation. However, like mine, it risks being too ‘academic’ at times! I intend to be less ‘formal’ in the future.

    As you identify the move from a focus on age and skill to the ‘motivations’ of individuals, or the ‘how’ as you’ve described it, I’m interested to hear your perspective on the use of the new terms. In my post I argued that, although flawed, the Immigrants and Natives approach had a purpose as it highlighted that some lacked ability and we should try to cater more for them in some way, and I also suggested a focus on ‘motivations’ lack a purpose; for instance, we know whether people are a resident or visitor, but as this is based purely on an online identity, how does knowing this help us cater for those who are actually less proficient. I’d be interested to hear your ideas on the pros of using the newer approach to help me out!


    1. Hi Scott,

      Thank you for commenting on my post! I appreciate how you specifically mentioned the strengths and weakness of my blog. I do agree that my blog is too formal; I will strive to make it less ‘clinical’ in the future.

      I am also glad to hear that you understood how I mentioned ‘motivations’ through ‘how’. It is interesting that you talk about motivation. Previously, I have read about Beetham and Sharpe’s (2010) pyramid model which places an individual’s learning on a pyramid; through levels of motivation, an individual can move along the hierarchy. This shows that even though White and Cornu’s terms of digital visitors/residents opened up a new field, other factors and theories are present. Therefore, I think that the model by Beetham and Sharpe (2010) is a good application which can be applied to explain how individuals reach resident or visitor mode.

      Thank you,


  2. Firstly, nice word cloud Wei; it grabbed my attention when I was browsing the syndicated blog. You make your interpretation of the digital visitor and resident continuum very clear in your post and your graphic really helps with getting your point across.

    However, what most interests me is how you think that you fit into the model. You describe yourself as “both a digital resident and visitor”. From talking with others and my personal experience I have found that your situation is very common and has lead me to reject the visitor/resident hypothesis in its current form. At my blog [], I discuss the issue of personality mapping in this model and how an alternate contextual approach could make the model of more use.

    Do you also think that there is a fundamental problem with the model? I would be interested to know what you think.


    Jordan Flynn


    1. Hi Jordan,

      Thank you for commenting! I found it helpful how you praised the use of graphics; I will continue doing this in the future as eye-catching images can interest the reader.

      Personally, I think the model is a good explanation of digital users. I recognise how it is relevant and how it can be applied to my life. However, I also recognise that it is not the only model out there, other theories exist. For example, I recently read about the ‘pyramid’ model by Beetham and Sharpe (2010) – this model places a person’s learning on a hierarchy (pyramid, if you will). Depending on that person’s motivation, they can move up and down the pyramid. Although a digital visitor/resident is a better concept than a digital native/immigrant, other theories (like Beetham and Sharpe’s model) are present in explaining how individuals reach resident/visitor mode.

      Best wishes,


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