Topic 1: Digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’

Prensky’s Digital Natives and Immigrants

The concept of digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ was first established by White and Cornu (2011) and updates Prensky’s (2001) somewhat out-dated concept of digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’. Prensky’s typology argues that those who are born into technologies and grow up with and around those technologies will always be more familiar with and connect to those technologies than those who did not grow up with technologies. Those who grow up around technologies are termed the ‘natives’ and those who did not are termed the ‘immigrants’. There are number of problems with this highlighted by White and Cornu (2011) and others such as Kennedy et al. (2010) and Connaway et al. (2013). These problems include that age (and gender) is not a predicting factor in digital usage and skills and that users exist on far more of a continuum that Prensky (2001) suggests.

Returning to ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’

In order to combat the problems with Prensky’s (2001) theory White and Cornu put forward the theory of digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ this theory is more flexible than that of Prensky and suggests that at one end of the spectrum there are ‘visitors’ who view the web as a collection of tools and who interact with the web without leaving any social trace. On the other hand, at the opposite end of the spectrum are ‘residents’ who view the web as a space or place within which they carry out their everyday lives, as a result of this they are likely to leave a clear social trace or footprint. However, it is important to emphasise that this uses a clear spectrum or continuum with the vast majority of users sitting somewhere in the middle (see figure). These ‘middle’ users are active but only within certain known communities such as Facebook.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 15.45.16.png

“The Visitors and Residents continuum accounts for people behaving in different ways when using technology, depending on their motivation and context, without categorising them according to age or background” (White & Cornu, 2011)

It is a useful distinction to make for a number of reasons, not least because it is important for sites to know how users are acting on their site and what impact this may have on user behaviour. It is likely that individuals will act as both ‘visitors’ and as ‘residents’ depending on context and motivations and so sites should be aware of this when interacting with their users. The ‘visitor’ and resident spectrum is further complicated by the personal or institutional spectrum depending on the context such as whether an individual is acting in a personal or academic/work capacity, this distinction is easily blurred. It is very important for schools and universities as these behaviouScreen Shot 2016-02-08 at 15.45.08.pngrs can impact upon the learning literacy of students, especially when they are involved in studying online and MOOCS (Harris, Warren, Leah, & Ashleigh, 2010). This typology is useful for understanding how users such as students interact with the web and the impact that this may have in their life.

All of this is explained in greater detail in a really useful video by White (2014).

My experiences

This concept is extremely useful when it comes to understanding my own experiences of interaction on the web. When acting in a personal capacity I am likely to act as a visitor even when on social networks as I have a profile but my presence is very limited. However, when acting in an institutional capacity my experience has been far more resident in a number of respects. Firstly, my experiences using the web, especially social media, as part of modules has been far more permanent and focused towards building up an online presence. Secondly, my presence on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn and in my own personal website have also been more permanent. However, overall I would definitely describe my interaction with the web as visitor as I am inclined to search on the web for specific things but never to post or engage. I view the web as a tool even for things such as communication rather than as a lived experience.

A topic that this links to in a really interesting way but which I don’t have time to discuss here is the idea of ‘lurkers’ online and on social media. Research suggests that in most online networks there are those, the minority, who post regularly and there are those who view or ‘lurk’, looking at content posted by others (Pempek, Yermolayeva, & Calvert, 2009). This concept overlaps significantly with White and Cornu’s (2011) digital ‘visitors’.


Connaway, L., White, D., Lanclos, D., & Cornu, A. (2013). Visitors and residents: what motivates engagement with the digital information environment? Information Research , 18 (1).

Harris, L., Warren, L., Leah, J., & Ashleigh, M. (2010). Small steps across the chasm: ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. In Education , 16 (1).

JISC. (February, 2014). Evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach. Retrieved February 2016 from JISC:

JISC Net Skills. (2014, March). Visitors and Residents [VIDEO]. Retrieved February 2016 from

Kennedy, G., Judd, T., Dalgarno, B., & Waycott, J. (2010). Beyond natives and immigrants: exploring types of net generation students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 26, 332-343.

Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook. Cyberpschology, Behavior and Social Networking , 13 (4), 357-364.

Pempek, T., Yermolayeva, Y., & Calvert, S. (2009). College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology , 30, 227-238.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon , 9 (5).

White, D. (2008, July). Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’. Retrieved February 2016 from TALL Blog:

White, D. (2014, September). Visitors & Residents. Retrieved February 2016 from DIGITAL – LEARNING – CULTURE:

White, D., & Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday , 16 (9).

Whitman, C., & Gottdiener, W. (2015). The Cyber Self: Facebook as a Predictor of Well-being. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies .


Photo credit: Flickr: -JosephB-


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ellie, I am glad that you have touched upon the typology alternative to White’s categories of online participation (active minority and lurkers). For precisely the same reason you did not elaborate on this, I could not mention in my post how another similar typology describes the students’ styles of participation in online discussion (introduced by Orton-Johnson, 2007). Drawing on her research, she distinguished ‘active lurkers’ (equivalent of category of lurkers cited by you), ‘members’ (= active minority in your post), ‘experts/experienced’ (participating very actively for a short time in a topic of interest) and ‘flamers’ (engaging negatively through posting hostile or agressive comments). The observations she made on people’s behaviour in distant learning are important because they add to our knowledge about what types of participation suit people most and how online learning tools should be designed to allow people take most of their online experience.

    Orton-Johnson, K. (2007) ‘The Online Student: Lurking, Chatting, Flaming and Joking’, available at


  2. Yeah I have come across that article myself before and others on the topic, and although there wasn’t space here to discuss it thoroughly I think it fits really interestingly into this discussion, especially with regards to online learning as you pointed out. It is interesting to think about how typologies such as Orton-Johnson’s (2007) overlap with and to a large extent agree with that laid out by White and Cornu (2011) and how Orton-Johnson’s categories fit into and are influenced by individuals who could be seen as ‘visltors’ or ‘residents’.


  3. Hi Ellie, I really like how you’ve really thought about the topic and have put in extra work to read around the subject as reflected in your references. I think you’ve noted on something that seems to pop up on everyone’s blogs which is that we tend to display two different behaviours and move around on the spectrum according to what we are using the internet for. Because we are able to switch between the two does this mean that we are conscious of the consequences of each? You note how you have made yourself a permanent resident on your professional profiles so it is interesting to note how we are generally knowledgeable of when it its appropriate to be a ‘resident’ and ‘visitor,’

    I look forward to reading more posts from you!


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