Nearly 15 years ago, educational thought-leader Marc Prensky wrote, in a piece on 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants':

“Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”

This statement was apt in 2001 and with technology's rapid development, it's perhaps even more valid for many of today's 'digital learners'. While many training companies and internal training departments have adapted their learning delivery to factor the common traits of modern digital learners, some have yet to fully embrace the digital age.

So what's stopping us? For many, it's an understandable fear of change. Others cite a lack of infrastructure. Many believe that more traditional methods remain most effective. Certainly there's a balance to be had and traditional ILT (Instructor Led Training) in a classroom environment will always have it's place.

But what can we do to evolve our mindsets and avoid becoming, what Prensky terms, 'Digital Immigrants', i.e. those not born into the digital world, but who have become increasingly fascinated by it as technology evolves? How can we continue to bridge the "Digital Immigrant, Digital Native divide" to ensure that our training remains relevant for digital learners?

Speak the Right Language

Prensky describes the issue as:

"Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language."

Younger audiences are well-versed in the language of the Internet, making communication, and imparting knowledge through training, that little bit more challenging. While you probably shouldn't be YOLO'ing and high-fiving digital learners as they arrive to the classroom, consider contextualising the learning by adding a Twitter hashtag to your training. For example, if you're running a course to learn a foreign language, add the hashtag #langchat as further reading on Twitter. Not sure what hashtags to use? If Google searches aren't yielding much help, then try a free tool called Hashtagify. Simply enter a subject and it'll display popular, related, hashtags.

And, where possible, try to avoid phrases like "Back in my day..." or "I remember when...". You may well be right, but you don't want digital learners to 'switch off'.

Throw Out the Old Ways!

The tell-tale signs, or 'Digital Immigrant accents', as Prensky calls them, of someone who is less-versed in digital can be pretty obvious to digital learners. Are you guilty of any of the following?

  1. Consulting the Internet as a secondary, rather than primary, source of information. i.e) your instinctive reaction to a question isn't to 'Google' it.
  2. Printing a document in order to edit it, rather than just edit it on the screen.
  3. Printing in general - can you go paperless if your training is delivered via eLearning?
  4. Gathering team members or learners to view a website on your screen rather than just sending them a link.
  5. Tapping away on a calculator when your smartphone, tablet, laptop/desktop all have that capability.

Changing habits is really difficult but the next time you have a 'Digital Immigrant moment', try to pause and ask yourself, WWDND? What would digital natives do? #wwdnd


Embrace New Techniques

Don't dismiss learning through a different medium, like via smartphones, as mere fads. This is now a well-established way of learning with 47% of businesses and other organisations already using some sort of mobile device for training and eLearning activity and the mlearning industry set to reach $12.2 billion by 2017.

If mlearning is new territory for you, then take some time to research it and consider how you might adapt your training to be delivered by a LMS (Learning Management System) that can handle responsive content (content that resizes to different screen resolutions). Other than reading the Administrate blog (obviously!), here's a couple of sources to get you started:

  • - read about how mlearning came to be - the background, approaches and analysis.
  • - a great range of mlearning articles, regularly updated.

Don't be afraid to adopt new techniques too. Why not consider adding gamification and more immediate or regular rewards for those completing your training? Digital learners are used to instant gratification. Why do you think videogaming platforms like Xbox and PlayStation have 'achievements' and 'trophies'? Why do language learning Apps like Duolingo have In-Lesson Grading and a number of 'lives' (Hearts) that you lose if you get something wrong? Grabbing, and maintaining, a digital learners attention comes down to creating smart, engaging, content and combining it with clever course design.

Employ the Right People

Ultimately, you might not want to change, you might be happy being a 'Digital Immigrant' and that's just fine. I'm a 'Digital Native' by definition, but I still have an unhealthy addiction to Post-it notes and hand-written to do lists. Acknowledging that you're happiest with the familiar isn't accepting defeat, it's knowing your limitations.

However, you can still embrace the digital learning revolution - just hire well. Add experience of digital learning delivery to your recruitment process and hire Digital Natives to teach, Digital Natives. It's also a familiar piece of advice, but never be afraid to employ people smarter than you, or with digital skills you don't have. Properly managed, they'll only strengthen your company's position.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger. French electronic music duo Daft Punk might not be the most quoted source when it comes to education, but the principle works.

The seismic change in the way we learn isn't likely to reverse any time soon. Digital learner's brains are now wired differently and their attitudes to learning forever changed. They'll continue to rapidly consume content in their thirst for new knowledge and the training industry needs to work harder to keep up.

The digital learner expects more. Digital Natives aren't going to expect a shift back to textbook heavy courses and methodical, quarterly or annual examination. We must make better learning resources available to them, on the platforms they want, when they want it.

Digital learners are always connected too, and as Internet speeds increase, and network coverage widens, digital learners will expect faster delivery of eLearning.

Keeping pace with them isn't going to be easy. However, if you lay the foundations now, unlearn some of the more traditional training methods and embrace the digital world, your training operation will be stronger for it.

All this should help you gain your 'Digital Visa', losing your 'Digital Immigrant' label and joining the ranks of the 'Digital Natives'.

What strategies have worked well for you when training 'Digital Natives'? Share in the comments below.