On Friday I virtually spent a good portion of the day at Anglia Ruskin University’s eFair led by Inspire. An event which considered ideas around e-learning and associated concepts from within the university, and which invited dialogue with colleagues from outside of the university.

A running theme through the day was that of Prensky’s digital natives / digital immigrants. This notion came up time and time again.  There was a viewpoint that students are so often digital natives and staff are so often immigrants. The notion of such extremes is questionable of course, but taking it at face value for the moment, this led me to ask … “if many academics are digital immigrants how do we equip them to lead the natives?” 

Unsurprisingly answers included:

More non-contact time

More contracted ‘digital’ hours


Support e.g. Skilled learning technologists


Then the more ‘radical’ answer was put to the room … how about the staff learn from the students.

Of course!!!

So where there is a knowledge gap, a knowledge transfer occurs.

Perhaps then, not so radical?

However the reaction scales ranged from shock to laughter.


A culture of co-learning or (staff-student) mutually supportive learning is then, far from being culturally embedded across HE. The deepest challenges to e-learning and the use of digital technologies are deep rooted and relate back to the need for new clarity re. purposes of HE, the role of the ‘teacher’ and the relationships of learning. Transposing the immigrant / native interpretation in to HE, mocks at the old order (student as teacher????) and causes us to look for surface solutions.  Before we pigeon hole and juxtapose staff and students in these ways, we need to consider the world out there. In the learning society, knowledge flows with no (or at least less) hierarchical relationships, it is more democratic; In the super-complex world, knowledge gatekeepers appear in fancy dress, learning is not unique to ‘learning’ establishments; and for individuals learning is personalised to be fit for purpose. Against this reality the student as teacher, a scenario of co-learning, in a digital world would seem a perfectly rational scenario.