Exploring ‘digital natives’’ learning processes: What happens when family and other informal settings are the primary arenas for young people’s instruction in how to use digital media? – Extended abstract for Nordmedia 2017

Nordmedia 2017 – Division 5: Media Education and Media Literacy 

Exploring ‘digital natives’’ learning processes: What happens when family and other informal settings are the primary arenas for young people’s instruction in how to use digital media?

Author Information:

First Author: Mads Middelboe Rehder: mmr@cc.au.dk

Post Doctoral Researcher, School of Communication and Culture – Information Science, Aarhus University, Helsingsforsgade 14, building 5347, 024, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark

Second Author: Niamh Ní Bhroin, n.n.bhroin@media.uio.no

Post Doctoral Research, Institute for Media and Communication, Univeristy of Oslo, PO Boks 1093, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway

Keywords: Digital Natives, Digital Media, Children and Media, Child-Centred Perspective, Learning Processes, Community, Future-Orientation

When using terms such as “digital natives” (Rouskoff 1997, Prensky 2001), or discussing children and young people as individuals who have “grown up digitally” (cf. Tapscott, 2008), our language is laden with connotations implying that these people have the skills and competences needed to engage with each other and with the world, through digital media. However, we believe these assumptions to be problematic, even in a modern social welfare state such as Denmark.

A distinction between ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ was theoretically established in the mid-90’s when some adults began to realise that their children had technical advantages over them.  This gave rise to a fear that adults were lagging behind in digital contexts that appeared to be unproblematic for their children (Roushkoff, 1997). Prensky (2001) called attention to the fact that this problem related to the education system.  He categorised some of the new skills and interests that distinguished digital natives and emphasised that adults did not appreciate these skills or know how to benefit from them in an educational setting. Since then, the divide between digital natives and digital immigrants has evolved into a discourse used both in public media and academic discussions about media literacy.  By exploring these concepts in an empirical context, we aim to challenge these established discourses, and to provide a more nuanced account of how children learn about digital media.

One of the central findings of the pan-European research network, EU Kids Online, has been that children and young people learn mostly from their parents and their peers, rather than their teachers, with regard to their use of social and mobile media technologies (cf. Livingstone, Mascheroni and Staksrud, 2017). This has consequences for the kind of access children have to knowledge about digital technologies. When children learn media skills from their communities, rather than their teachers, the variety of contexts that surround them lead to an uneven distribution of opportunities to acquire digital media skills.

Working from a child-centred perspective, this ethnographically-inspired observational study explores children and young people’s interactions (both mediated and otherwise) in a youth club in Copenhagen, Denmark, to achieve an understanding of how local communities and informal learning contexts (youth clubs, friends and families) prepare their participants to engage in future-oriented digital ecologies. We ask what the role of a youth club is and might be, in helping children to engage digitally.

Our hypothesis is that children need the guidance of adults to realise the potential opportunities that relate to engagement with digital technologies.  However, inspired by Gulløv & Højlund (2003) we are interested in exploring children and young people’s own perspectives on their media use with particular regard to what motivates their actions and how they understand and interpret these actions in the context of their social worlds.
Working closely with the pedagogues in the youth club, we aim to map out the understandings and expectations that are met and shaped between the children and their teachers. It is important that the youth club has a pedagogical focus in order to help the children develop social and relational skills.  In spite of this, in preliminary interviews we have found that mobile technologies are often not allowed or seen as a part of the social learning that takes place at the institution.  This entrenches an imaginary divide between digital natives and immigrants that we set out to explore and understand in further detail.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: