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Reflection on Digital Native Learners

January 29, 2013

This week’s readings, as well as other readings I have found, provided a wealth of information about digital learners, also known as the NGen.  Because of the technology and entertainment environment familiar to today’s students, it is important to consider the strategy of ‘stealth learning’ (Shields, 2003).

Every year, I review the Beloit College Mindset List to help me understand the mindset of the incoming First Year student class at the college where I am a librarian. This year, the Class of 2016 included many important features to keep in mind when considering their digital learning worldview (Belloit, 2012).

  • They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  • If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
  • Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
  • Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.
  • Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
  • They watch television everywhere but on a television.
  • Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

This list drives home the fact that college students today have been awash in digital technology their entire lives. It is their primary communication and information medium. Brown (2001) describes this shift as the “evolving nature of literacy” (p. 70).  He goes on to claim that students are therefore adept at navigating through this online medium for information. Unfortunately this is not the case. As Clive Thompson (2011) adeptly explains, “High school and college students may be “digital natives,” but they’re wretched at searching. In a recent experiment at Northwestern, when 102 undergraduates were asked to do some research online, none went to the trouble of checking the authors’ credentials. In 1955, we wondered why Johnny can’t read. Today the question is, why can’t Johnny search?” (paragraph 3).

This gap in the information literacy skills of digital natives emphasizes the need for professional librarians to extend information literacy instruction to transliteracy instruction; this instruction combines information literacy with digital literacy. As students’ learning networks expand to resemble virtual towns (Brown, 2001), it is imperative to make sure that the library is well-represented on Main Street!

One strategy of effective instruction with the digital native student is to scaffold new resources onto known networks. For example, Prensky (2005) points out that students already use Google ubiquitously for searches. My role as a librarian educator providing information literacy instruction will be to expand their advanced searching skill set within Google, and to scaffold their skill set to new and more appropriate resources. For example, I teach Nursing Students how to use advanced research skills to move from Google and to search appropriate medical literature databases such as PubMed in order to identify quality evidence-based medicine to inform their clinical practice. This strategy needs to incorporate collaborating with students to develop lesson plans and outcomes that make sense to them and that they can explore with expert facilitation. This strategy teaches students how to learn, and prepares them for lifelong learning, a critical information literacy skill for today’s ever-changing technological environment. Life-long learning is central to the Association of College and Research Libraries Information Literacy Standards (ACRL, 2000). It is important to realize that these shifts in digital learners and pedagogical strategies make teaching and curriculum development even more complex and difficult to design, not less.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Retrieved from

Beloit College. (2012). The Mindset List: 2016 List. Retrieved from

Brown, J. (2001). Learning in the digital age. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2005). Listen to the Natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8–13.

Shields, C. (2003). That’s entertainment. Retrieved from

Thompson, C. (2011). Clive Thompson on Why Kids Can’t Search Wired. Retrieved from


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