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


Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001),

Within the 21st century, technology, particularly the Web, has been consistently growing. Often, there is a divide between different groups of people. Prensky (2001) created the concept of: “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” to explain how people approach the digital environment. Digital natives are individuals who grew up with digital technology, and thus, are more competent digital users. In comparison, digital immigrants are individuals who were not born into the digital age, therefore, have to adapt to the ever-growing digital world.

However, these terms have been heavily criticised for its inferred age segregation (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; they found no differences between age and technological ability. Additionally, Margaryan, Littlejohn, and Vojt (2011) suggest that a large proportion of digital natives are not adept in using technology to support their educational learning, despite growing up in the digital world.

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.” Rather than categorising people by age or skill, the concept behind this analogy is stemmed from how someone uses technology.


Digital visitors are people who use technology like a tool (White, 2014). For example, someone will use the Web for a specific purpose and log off when they are satisfied. Although digital visitors may use the Web very often or very little, it is unlikely they will leave behind any form of 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 with people via social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) or posting comments on blogs. Therefore, residents not only use the internet to access information but also to express themselves online.

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. I consider myself both a digital resident and visitor; I use the Web regularly to access my social media accounts. In regards to academics, I use the Web to find particular information for my degree.


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 Monday, 16(9).

Figure References

Figure 1: Word cloud, created from wordclouds.

Figure 2: Self-made using Microsoft PowerPoint 2016.