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Digital natives may still lack much-needed skills

September 4th, 2009 by Tim Greenhalgh

Guest blogger Lorraine Warren, who is Director of Postgraduate Education and senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the School of Management at the University of Southampton, on the three types of ‘digital native’.

Lorraine Warren

As my colleague Lisa Harris points out in a recent post, there is quite a bit of evidence against the existence of the ‘digital native’ student, that is, someone who has grown up with the technology and uses it proficiently and naturally.  ["How competent are new students with technology (really)", www.lisaharrismarketing.com].

In our experience, many students are actually quite weak in technology skills and reluctant to engage in new learning styles based around social media.  Worryingly, they sometimes think they are proficient when their skills are actually quite basic.  If that is so, what needs to be done?  My own recent blogpost, ["Digital Skills – Raising Aspirations?", www.doclorraine.com] identifies three levels of ability:

  • Passives – adept at using technology for basic communication and accessing information – they consume the outputs of others
  • Creators – network more actively, create and upload material, yet largely within their own circle of friends
  • Disruptors – maintain a strong online personal identity, download applications, use social media to develop connections outside their sphere of existing influence.

My experience suggests, in terms of numbers, a pyramid, where most students are passives, with only a few aspiring to be disruptors:

Student power pyramid: Three types of digital native

What’s more, those in the passive category may mistakenly consider themselves to be quite skilled.  If our students are going to impress employers, we need to challenge this firstly, by enabling them to have a more realistic appraisal of their skillsets and secondly, raising their aspirations to become Creators or Disruptors.  Such students will stand out from the crowd in a difficult employment market.

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