Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’

As part of the JISC funded Isthmus project we have been taking a close look not at whattechnologies our students use but at how our they use them. We found that our students could not be usefully categorised as Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants. I.e. This distinction does not help guide the implementation of technologies it simply provides the excuse that “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…”

Anyway, our students appropriation of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level. It seemed to depend on if they saw the web as a ‘place to live’ or as a collection of useful tools. This underlying motivation led us to outline two main categories of distance learning student.

The ‘Resident’

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have an persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc  The Resident will of course interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study and for recreation. In fact the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

The ‘Visitor’

The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. They are sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online as don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident.

In effect the Resident has a presence online which they are constantly developing while the Visitor logs on, performs a specific task and then logs off.

This is of course not a polar distinction. There is a spectrum of which the Resident and the Visitor represent two extremes (Watch this space for a couple of possible sub-categories). It is a useful distinction because it is not based on gender or age. While our data would indicate that the portion of the population over 55 is predominantly made up of Visitors there are examples of Residents in this section of the demographic. Similarly it is the case that not everyone younger than 25 is a Resident.

It is not always easy to spot who is in each category as the level of sophistication with which a Visitor might use any single service might well be greater than that of a Resident. Again, this is not a skill based distinction. In fact I know of at least one ed-tech researcher who considers himself to be a Visitor out of choice.

The Resident is likely to have arranged some sort of system to manage the relationship between services and the flow of information through their browser but this does not mean that they will be any more effective at researching a specific topic than a Visitor. This is why data from a survey that simply asks what online services a group of students use is next to useless.

This Visitor, Resident distinction is useful when considering which technologies to provide for online learners. For example if your learners are mainly Visitors they are unlikely to take advantage of any feed based system for aggregated information you may put in place. They are also unlikely to blog or comment as part of a course. The Resident will expect to have the opportunity to offer opinions on topics and to socialise around a programme of study. In fact they are likely to find ways of doing this even if they are not ‘officially’ provided. We offered membership of a facebook group to our students as they left their online courses. The majority signed-up without question as they wanted to stay in touch with fellow students and continue discussions. The remainder saw the group as pointless and a possible invasion of privacy. Both sides of this argument are correct… It’s a question of approach and motivation, hence Visitors and Residents.

Some of you might also be interested in our paper on Visitors and Residents:

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

77 Responses to “Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’”

  1. Digital natives and immigrants vs residents and visitors « Iggy Pop’s Leg blog Says:

    […] Andy Paul of e-foundations for pointing me towards Dave White’s piece on online user types, Not ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ but ‘vistors’ and residents&#8217…, which posits an alternative distinction to that of digital native/ digital immigrant when […]

  2. » Digital Residents and Visitors Says:

    […] of users of the ‘net. Instead of ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ they believe the terms ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ are more accurate and as Andy Powell points out this appears to be “a much better […]

  3. Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech » Blog Archive » Digital resident makes more sense than digital native Says:

    […] discovered this link today from Alice who led me to a post that uses the terms “resident” and […]

  4. Connecting Librarian » Blog Archive » Digital natives or residents? Says:

    […] which looks at how students are using the technologies, not at what they are using. The post “Not natives and immigrants, but visitors & residents” summarises what they are discovering in student use […]

  5. New Term - better term for online users « Engagment Services through Socila Media (under construction) Says:

    […] TALL blog » Blog Archive » Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Re… Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ […]

  6. New Term - better term for online users | Stepping Stones Says:

    […] TALL blog » Blog Archive » Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Re… Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ […]

  7. DigiZen » ¿Eres un residente o un visitante ideal? Says:

    […] Sellart reseña una entrada muy interesante de Dave White en la que nos invita a considerar los términos residente y visitante para entender mejor como […]

  8. ¿Eres un residente o un visitante ideal? | Literatúrame! Says:

    […] Sellart reseña una entrada muy interesante de Dave White en la que nos invita a considerar los términos residente y visitante para entender mejor como […]

  9. Alejandro Tortolini Says:

    I think Visitors and Residents express better the relationship that we establish with digital technologies and media.
    Unfortunately, the terms Native and Inmigrants have had a better marketing, thanks to Mark Prensky and follwers, what made a lot of damage between those who understand that the history of human knowledge is not a way of exclusion, but a sharing one.
    Congratulations for this blog, is excelent.


  10. I never knew » Blog Archive » Visitors & Residents Says:

    […] much better way (if you have to do it) to separate users, Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ (via […]

  11. Are you a resident or a visitor? « e-Learning Stuff Says:

    […] it was quite refreshing to read on Dave White’s blog a post about residents or visitors to the online world. Like a few others, notably Andy Powell and […]

  12. Not Net Gen - Oh No! | Learning In a Flat World Says:

    […] Than Digital Native.“  Dean was building off a post made by Dave White back in July – “Not Natives & Immigrants But Visitors & Residents.”  I had not seen this earlier post, but it really resonated with me (and obviously Dean).  […]

  13. e-Learning Stuff Podcast #004 - natives, immigrants, residents and visitors « e-Learning Stuff Says:

    […] Dave White’s blog a post about residents or visitors to the online world. […]

  14. Mollybob Says:

    This is a much softer way of expressing the different. It also creates less of an “us” and “them” perspective as it is easier to become a resident after being a visitor than to become a “native” from an “immigrant”. I also think it may remove some of the stigma with age as you don’t need to be born somewhere to be a resident. Thanks – I like the adjustment.

    On another note – I’d hesitate to apply the following excuse from your post “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…” on the basis of “immigrants” or “visitors”. Isn’t it part of our role as online educators to ensure our learners can contribute and benefit from their learning environment? Aren’t we being arrogant in suggesting that the learner may be to blame for not understanding the medium – perhaps it is us as educators who “just don’t get it” by placing unrealistic expectations or tasks upon them, perhaps without providing appropriate support or assessment of readiness.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  15. lizit Says:

    Just come across this through a link from Kate Sim. The descriptors visitor and resident resonate with me too. Just wonder if David has developed his argument at all since the original blog posting?

  16. DPhil-stuff » Blog Archive » Terminology Says:

    […] across an interesting blog post today from David White. He suggests that residents and visitors might be more useful descriptions than Prensky’s […]

  17. Jon Trinder Says:

    I much prefer this visitor resident view to the Prensky natives concept. As resident visitor also allows for those not yet utilising technology to adapt, rather like non-travellers deciding to become tourists then getting the travel bug.

    Perhaps there needs to be additional categories to account for those that refuse to have anything to do with technology or for whatever reason cant get access to the technology such as “avoiders” and “outsiders”.

  18. Brian Cairns Says:

    Like the descriptors of resident and visitor much better as a descriptor. I think it comes down to peoples priorities in life as to which category they fall in. I listened to a debate on the Jeremy vine show following the announcement that the governemnt are going to get broadband to every home. Many people were happy without being connected to the internet at all. Having just finished an e learning course currently feel overwhelmed at the vast potential of the web as a reosurce for teaching and learning. Still think I will stay in the visitor camp though.

  19. Natives, immigrants, visitors or residents? « julian Says:

    […] the digital immigrants debate we hear so much of. I won’t rehash his post, which you can read here, but I thought there was much to be said for the distinction he makes. I have one further […]

  20. Excluded – sue watling Says:

    […] problem with the move from Prensky (digital immigrants/natives) to White (residents/visitors)  is the continuation of the notion of choice; that all users have access and are capable of making […]

  21. TALL blog » Blog Archive » Hurrah for repeat students Says:

    […] minority internet “residents” the majority are at best “visitors” (see our isthmus work on this) in addition we know they value traditional ideas of teaching and learning – […]

  22. Digital residents and digital visitors « SeriousGamePlan Says:

    […] residents and digital visitors Posted on October 9, 2009 by Tim Over at TALL blog (part of the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education) there’s a great article […]

  23. Mit toller Seminargruppe auf Zeitreise « Jöran und Konsorten Says:

    […] hält. Und dann die Teilnehmer … die Teilnehmer! Die Seminarteilnehmer, allesamt nicht gerade Web-Residents, waren dermaßen interessiert an Hintergründen und Diskussionen zur gesellschaftlichen und […]

  24. TALL blog » Blog Archive » Visitors & Residents: The Video Says:

    […] month I gave a presentation on the ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle at the ALT-C conference which was well received so I thought it would be worth videoing […]

  25. Visitors and Residents « e-Learning Stuff Says:

    […] year we discussed the concept coined by Dave White of Visitors and Residents and how this relates to how people interact and use the online and digital tools and services out […]

  26. Visitors and residents « Jenny Connected Says:

    […] 25, 2009 by jennymackness David White’s description of the way in which people use the internet as being like the behaviours of visitors or residents […]

  27. Asukkaana ja vierailijana webissä | verkko-opettajan palapeli Says:

    […] innoissani: olen löytänyt ihmisen joka auttaa ymmärtämään paikkani webissä, olen löytänyt jäsentelyn joka auttaa paikantamaan itsensä ja historiansa. Se on David Whiten malli Visitors and residents. […]

  28. Resident and visitor | Heli on Connectivism Says:

    […] greatly enjoy the definings of residents or visitors in the web, given by TALL blog (Online education with the University of Oxford). It is not about academic or technological skills, […]

  29. The Challenge of Online Identity | The discovery blog - Semantico Says:

    […] JISC research into how people use online services has started to focus on the distinction between ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (proposed as a more useful replacement for the previous talk of ‘natives’ and […]

  30. “Web 2.0 Will Change Everything!” But How? « UK Web Focus Says:

    […] and Digital Immigrants has been questioned with Dave White suggesting the need to consider “Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’”.  Could, I wonder, the  expectations that Web 2.0 will change everything be hindered by […]

  31. Hack it! « hack my syllabus Says:

    […] from the Net Gen skeptic site and explore the associated article. Digital Visitors & Residents (reading, […]

  32. Gaming courses Says:

    It was a great experience reading this post.I got to understand a very unique view of visitors and residents.

  33. Visitor or Resident? « TechKNOW Tools Says:

    […] & Residents: Original Blog Post & […]

  34. The New Village e-Learning Blog Says:

    […] […]

  35. Joe H Says:

    It’s a very clear and accurate distinction. It may be that more people become residents as social media continues to explode. Facebook and twiiter are now used everyday by a high proportion of the internet population.

  36. Second Life, the Net Generation, E-book Readers and E-learning’s Market « Beyond Distance Research Alliance Blog Says:

    […] I’ve mentioned before the research by Chris Jones and his team in the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology: they investigated the net generation at the OU and in other higher education institutions. You may be interested too in a blog posting by David White at Oxford University on inhabitants and visitors […]

  37. Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ « Blended Learning practice at Wodonga TAFE Says:

    […] the blog post by clicking here, we’d be interested in your […]

  38. Digital nations or virtual revolutions? | FreeDomains@Blog Says:

    […] people may question why it is still advancing the digital natives thesis, when the nomenclature of digital residents and digital visitors seems to better fit the evidence as to how people behave online. Tags: Arts Appreciate Posted in […]

  39. Opino lo mismo… « jaime roca. blog Says:

    […] mas útil que la definida (nativo-inmigrante[digitales]) definida por una fecha de nacimiento. Como Dave White remarca no es dificil (y cada vez lo será menos) encontrar residentes de mas de 55 años, del […]

  40. higher ed marketing » Blog Archive » Natives/immigrants vs. residents/visitors Says:

    […] different paradigm discusses digital media and technology in terms of residents and visitors, rather than natives and […]

  41. Digital natives « Dawnelai's Blog Says:

    […] White has also given the terminology Digital Natives and Digital Immigrant a great deal of study. Click on this blog created my David White . This post ( video) is an enjoyable explanation of his […]

  42. If it’s in The Economist… | Exploring ELearning Says:

    […] their real community is online, the virtual world where they reside at least for some of each day (White, 2008).   Facebook (and other similar networking sites like MySpace, Twitter and […]

  43. e-Learning Stuff Podcast #018: Digital Literates « e-Learning Stuff Says:

    […] Dave White’s blog a post about residents or visitors to the online world. […]

  44. Digital Age (as in “too old to text”) « Jus Sayin Says:

    […] White, D. (July 23, 2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents.’ Message posted to […]

  45. Digital Illegal Alien | Lance's Collabalog Says:

    […] reviewing the readings for this week (Prensky on Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and the TALL blog and video, I think these metaphors are interesting for discussing and contrasting those that are […]

  46. Hema Dutt Majumder Says:

    This is a rather interesting and thought provoking piece! After reading it, in my head I tried to bracket everyone I know (in class and otherwise) into the 2 extreme categories mentioned and the ‘gray’ areas between the two. Do you agree that although currently age is not the only differentiator between visitors and residents, the number of visitors is definitely shrinking especially with the advent of Web 2.0? I would not be surprised if in say 10 yrs almost everyone atleast in the western world falls into the resident category.

  47. Fabi from Belfast Driving Lessons Says:

    I really loved this post! Well, all the references speak for themselves. It’s interesting to see how naming makes a difference when categorizing different people based on the way they utilize the internet and such.

  48. EDITing in the Dark » Repeated confessions of a Digital Native/Resident – was Digi/Ana Says:

    […] when Prensky first coined the term, and then throughout the next few years as people including the TALL group to talk about residents and […]

  49. “Un cirurgià del segle XVIII en un quiròfan del segle XXI no sabria probablement, ni on està. Però un professor del segle XVIII en un aula del segle XXI, podria fer classe sense cap dificultat” « Mossets TIC Says:

    […] Al meu parer sintetitzaria la conferència en quatre punts. Primerament va parlar del fet d’anar més enllà dels termes, ja tant coneguts de “Immigrant i Nadiu digital” (Prensky, 2001) i que determinen dues generacions diferents:  als que van arribar abans dels ordinadors i als quals van arribar amb ells o després.  Conceptes que,  sembla ser s’han quedat obsolets, i que han trobat una terminologia més adequada […]

  50. 7. References « Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review Says:

    […] ‘Natives’ and ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’’ (available online at:, accessed 25 November […]

  51. Guided by Theory (First Class in Bookhenge) « The Bookhenge Says:

    […] And we’re becoming residents of the digital world.  We’ve definitely embraced the visitor/resident metaphor over the immigrant/native.  Here’s the movie version . . […]

  52. The Visitors & Residents Principle: in relation to Organisations | marieucpdwep Says:

    […] on February 10, 2011 by marieucpdwep I was very taken by the concepts of visitors and residents. Dave White’s description of what a visitor is describes quite accurately what I feel, and how I relate to social media. I […]

  53. Suomalaiset verkoissa | verkko-ihmisen palapeli Says:

    […] yliopiston tuottaman jaottelun opiskelijoiden eroista. Dave White esittelee tuloksen videolla ja TALL bogissa kirjoitettuna. Minusta tuossa on mieltä: ihminen orientoituu netiin joko työvälineenä tai […]

  54. Ofer Zur Says:

    My digital native daughter and myself, a digital immigrant have just posted an article, titled ”On Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives: How the Digital Divide Affects Families, Educational Institutions, and the Workplace”available at It provides differentiation between different types of digital immigrants and different types of digital natives.

  55. Can Mobile Devices also be Visitor or Resident | Ninelocks Says:

    […] Dave Whites blog he suggests that rather than anyone being a native user of technology they are either visitors or […]

  56. Not a (digital) native « Digital by Default Says:

    […] my radar. Dave put forward a new way of categorising people who use the web, splitting them between ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ and this just clicked with me and became a key element in my thinking of how the web is used […]

  57. #opco11 – „Wir schulen nicht, wir lassen entdecken!“ – HSW Learning-Blog Says:

    […] passenderen Begriffe “Digital Residents” und “Digital Visitors” mit dem Verweis auf den Online education blog der University of Oxford (Autor David White) hingewiesen. Andrea Brücken schildert in ihrem Kommentar, wie sie bei begrenzter Lernbereitschaft […]

  58. Vorspeisenplatte » Blog Archive » Beifang aus dem Netz Says:

    […] […]

  59. Digital Dingsbums » Digital, Bush, Trailblazer, Immigrant, Plants, Zombies » WIENER Says:

    […] […]

  60. The natives are revolting – Learning With 2 e’s Says:

    […] Finally, David White (University of Oxford) has proposed his own alternative theory – the Residents and Visitors theory, which is not based on the false distinction of age, but rather on perceptions of usefulness and […]

  61. Myth of the Digital Native - Educational Technology Blog Says:

    […] his work in continuing education in the University of Oxford has described his online students as Digital Residents and Digital Visitors. Digital Residents are ‘at home’ on the web and use web services in all aspects of […]

  62. simfin Says:

    After hearing Dave talk about visitors and residents I realised that within the analogy I have holiday homes. There are places and things I do online and people I know, where I feel very comfortable, confident, familiar, valued and relevant. If I stray ‘a few miles down the road’, I’m disoriented, lacking in confidence and struggle to find people who I recognise or can help me.

    We need to understand that it takes time and effort to build these zones of confidence and acceptance.

  63. e-Learning Stuff » Blog Archive » Visitors and Residents Says:

    […] Dave’s original blog post on Visitors and […]

  64. TALL blog » Blog Archive » The cost of Residency? Says:

    […] the Visitors and Residents idea is discussed it is often with the implication that becoming more Resident or facilitating that […]

  65. Digital Natives/Immigrants vs. Residents/Visitors « Dan's Web 2.0 Blog Says:

    […] Tall Blog: Online Education with the University of Oxford. (2008). Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ […]

  66. Twitted by davecormier Says:

    […] This post was Twitted by davecormier […]

  67. Professionelle Intelligenz Says:

    […] Vollständigkeit halber weise ich hier auf eine etwas andere Unterteilung von David White hin, in Digital Residents und Digital Visitors. Die hat etwa auch Peter Kruse auf einem Vortrag auf der re:publica 2010 […]

  68. 152 Blogs on social media, policitics, philosophy, the arts, and e-learning that I try to keep an eye on « My Mind Bursts Says:

    […] Tall Blog […]

  69. Slow Teaching | Virtually Foolproof Says:

    […] benefits I’ve found from slow teaching is that my students have a chance to experience what Dave White so wisely referred to as “digital residency.” Alec Couros mentioned the “young and old” insinuation of Prensky’s far-too-simple […]

  70. Facebook & Co: The Sceptic’s Guide To Social Media » Facebook, Menschen, für, über, Zeit, müssen » Blogwerk Firmenblog Says:

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  73. Blogs-I-like « My Mind Bursts Says:

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  74. #nstalks: on participation and bad networks at Danegeld Says:

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  76. Digital immigrants and Digital Natives Vs. Visitors and Residents | charlotte1999 Says:

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  77. Digital immigrants and Digital Natives Vs. Visitors and Residents Says:

    […] Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ [online] accessed 29th January 2012] […]