ISTE Standards for Coaching

Coaching Digital Immigrants: Considerations for digital equity and inclusion

Instructional technology coaches will undoubtedly provide support to educators with a broad range of experiences, knowledge, and skills utilizing digital technology in their teaching practices. Some of the teachers we support may have grown up surrounded by digital technology and likely integrate it into their curriculum and instructional practices with ease. Coined by Prensky in 2001, the term digital native can be used to describe people who were born into a digital world sometime after 1985, including Millennials and Gen Z generational groups, and “…will likely seek to incorporate more technology into their professional lives, which may be used to improve workplace efficiency or increase productivity” (Library of the Future). In contrast to digital natives, the term digital immigrant can be used to describe people who were born during or prior to 1985, before the ubiquitous presence of a digital world. These generational groups present in the workforce include Boomers and Gen X (Beresford Research; Hayes, 2021). 

According to the Zur Institute, the three sub-categories of digital immigrants include: 

  • Avoiders – those who are disinterested and avoid use of new technology
  • Reluctant adopters –  those who are interested, but take time to learn and integrate new technology 
  • Eager adopters – those who are interested and excited to learn and integrate new technology 

Considering the impact of generational status on the familiarity and utilization of digital technology, the question I am exploring is as follows: 

What should be considered when coaching digital immigrants to enhance digital equity and inclusion and prevent unintentional ageism? 

 My question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education’s Standard 1: Change Agent, “Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning” and 1b. “Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner” (ISTE).  

What can we do as instructional technology coaches to ensure that our interactions with our digital immigrant coachees are inclusive, considerate, and respectful? 

Coaching digital immigrants 

Use inclusive verbal and non-verbal behaviors to prevent ageism. 

When working with digital immigrants, a coach should use communications skills such as active listening, paraphrasing, clarifying questions, and probing questions to better understand what experiences, knowledge, and skills their coachee has using digital technology to gain insights into their coaching needs (Foltos, 2013). To build trust, I think it is important to avoid any judgmental, deflating, or bewildered comments or body language about a coachee’s lack of understanding of digital technology.  I believe it would be a good idea for digital native coaches to self-reflect on any preconceived notions they may have about older generations and their understanding of digital technology. Additionally, another way to show respect when coaching digital immigrants is to avoid using technological jargon or a lexicon that they may not readily understand. One should not assume that older educators have a particular level of competence with digital technology. However, more seasoned teachers could have more technical knowledge than their younger counterparts depending on their training and interests.. But we need to consider that many teachers of the Baby Boomer and Gen Z population groups may not have a basic understanding of integrating technology into their curriculum and classroom activities.   

Digital immigrants and digital equity 

Digital equity involves both access and participation in the digital world.

The theme for The United Nations Day of the Older Person 2021 is Digital Equity for All Ages. The UN website describes digital equity as including both access to and participation in the digital world.

Two of the five objectives listed for this awareness day include the following: 

  • Ageism and human rights: “To bring awareness of the importance of digital inclusion on older persons, while tackling stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination associated with digitalization taking into account sociocultural norms and the right to autonomy.”
  • Access & Literacy: “…to address…availability, connectivity, design, affordability, capacity building, infostructure, and innovation” (United Nations). 

A component of digital equity is training people how to use technology. In this case, I am referring to any training that would take place in the coaching relationship. According to Fingal (2021), digital equity is more than devices and bandwidth. Digital equity also includes “…teaching educators and the larger community to use this technology meaningfully.” 

As Prensky (2001) stated in his paper Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, “…the single biggest problem facing education today is that our digital immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”  By coaching educators on how to use digital technology effectively in their teaching practices, this can serve to close the digital equity gap and lead to better outcomes for our students since they will be expected to develop digital literacy and other 21st century skills prior to entering the workforce. 

Written by a Gen Xer & digital immigrant 


Author unknown. Age range by generation. Beresford Research.

Author unknown. Digital natives. Library of the Future: An initiative of the American Library Association. 

Fingal,D. (2021). 6 things every educator should know about digital equity.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. 

Hayes, A. (2021). Digital immigrant. 

International Society for Technology in Education. 

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Native, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). MCB University Press. 

2021 UNIDOP: Digital equity for all ages. United Nations.

2 replies on “Coaching Digital Immigrants: Considerations for digital equity and inclusion”

What an important but perhaps oft-ignored component of digital equity! Thank you for asking this question and exploring possible solutions. I very much appreciated reading your thoughts in this post. I found your closing paragraph particularly powerful as you highlight how instructors and students may be “speaking different languages,” which ultimately disrupts the learning process. As you astutely observe, digital equity for digital immigrants ultimately results in better outcomes for students.

Your post resonates with me, these are the types of strategies I use when working with any instructor, regardless of technology background knowledge. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s not always possible to replace technical jargon. There are some cases where people need to know the jargon so if they want to look something up themselves, they know what to look for. Providing examples/metaphors that are related to a more common/everyday activity can also help.

When I worked in IT, I had to explain to someone how a reinstallation of software was different from repairing software. I ended up using my knee surgery as an example and I was surprised at how well it worked, but I was happy to have added another strategy to my repertoire.

I also love that you noted it’s not just about device access, it’s also about participation and being able to contribute to the digital world too. I had a grandparent who received a computer, but never used it and another one who had one and regularly sent emails. For the one who learned to email, we were able to communicate and share things more often and faster, where with the one who never used a computer, I feel like both myself and my grandparent missed out by not being connected digitally.

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