Marc Prensky claims to have coined the term digital native, as it pertains to a new breed of student entering educational establishments. The term draws an analogy to a country's natives, for whom the local religion, language, and folkways are natural and indigenous, over against immigrants to a country who must adapt and assimilate to their newly adopted home. Prensky refers to accents employed by digital immigrants, such as printing documents rather than commenting on screen or printing out emails to save in hard copy form. Digital immigrants are said to have a "thick accent" when operating in the digital world in distinctly pre-digital ways, when, for instance, he might "dial" someone on the telephone to ask if his e-mail was received.
A Digital Native research project is being run jointly by the Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
Gartner presented on the term at their May, 2007 IT Expo (Emerging Trends) Symposium in Barcelona. More recently, Gartner referenced Prensky's work, specifically the 18 areas of change comprising the Work Style of Digital Natives, in their "IT-Based Collaboration and Social Networks Accelerate R&D" research paper published on January 22, 2008.
Not everyone agrees with the language and underlying assumptions of the digital native, particularly as it pertains to the concept of their differentiation. There are many reasonable arguments against this differentiation. It suggests a fluidity with technology that not all children and young adults have, and a corresponding awkwardness with technology that not all older adults have. It entirely ignores the fact that the digital universe was conceived of and created by digital immigrants. Finally, in its application, the concept of the digital native preferences technological users as having a special status as it relates to technology because they use it, which glosses over the significant differences between technology users and technology creators.
Crucially, there is debate over whether there is any adequate evidence for claims made about digital natives and their implications for education. Bennett, Maton & Kervin (2008), for example, critically review the research evidence and describe some accounts of digital natives as an academic form of a moral panic.