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. 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 . . […]

  2. 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 […]

  3. 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 […]

  4. 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.

  5. 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 […]

  6. 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 […]

  7. #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 […]

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

    […] […]

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

    […] […]

  10. 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 […]

  11. 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 […]

  12. 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.

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

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

  14. 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 […]

  15. 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’ […]

  16. Twitted by davecormier Says:

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

  17. 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 […]

  18. 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 […]

  19. 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 […]

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

    […] 7. Das ist reiner Exhibitionismus! Ja, es gab und gibt Fälle, in denen die Menschen nicht sehr intelligent mit dieser Öffentlichkeit umgingen. Postings, in denen sie über ihren Chef hergezogen haben, der alles mitlesen konnte. Beziehungskämpfe, die über Facebook ausgetragen wurden. Was man nicht vergessen darf: Wir lernen gerade, diese Instrumente zu nutzen, und dabei passieren Fehler. Ich habe den Eindruck, dass die Menschen immer kompetenter und sicherer damit umgehen. Das heisst nicht, dass wir etwa in Sachen Medienkompetenz von Jugendlichen nichts mehr tun müssen – im Gegenteil. Nur weil sie mit dem Handy aufgewachsen sind, sind Teenager heute nicht Experten im Umgang mit Informationen, Öffentlichkeit und Privatsphäre: Digital Natives gibt es nicht. […]

  21. Tres punts de vista sobre la divisòria digital : AlexelA Says:

    […] Marc Prensky a David White passant per les reflexions i conclusions del IV Congrés de la […]

  22. El 96,88% dels estudiants estan en alguna xarxa social : AlexelA Says:

    […] com la de Marc Prensky, sobre nadius i immigrants digitals, definicions més actuals com la de David S. White, sobre residents i visitants o qüestions vinculades amb una visió qualitativa de tot plegat basant-nos amb les conclusions del […]

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

    […] Tall Blog […]

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

    […] has developed the concept of Visitors and Residents as a counterpoint to the frequently discounted Natives and Immigrants trope – see his video […]

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

    […] Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ [online] %5Baccessed 29th January 2012] […]

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

    […] Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ [online] %5Baccessed 29th January 2012] […]