My review of ‘Brain Gain’, the new book by Marc Prenzky + his response!

I was asked by Louis Hilgers to write a review on this new book. It was first published on together with a response of Marc Prenzky to my comments, do check it beneath the Dutch version of this review. The response is in English.

Brain Gain - Marc PrenskySome people may think it is strange for me to review the new book by Marc Prensky, because for the past years I have been quite critical about one of the main concepts he coined the digital natives.

But it is not because a concept is refuted, it wasn’t interesting by conception. Don’t expect a ‘rotten tomatoes’-review, en contraire, I have read the book in a benevolent way, despite the title ‘Brain gain’.

Actually the title sets you off on the wrong foot, the book has little or nothing to do with neurology, in the contrary.  Prensky duly notes that we have seen many new discoveries in this field of science, but any neurologist will tell you that we only have touched the surface. He warns us also for going too fast to conclusions and stays away from neurology.

The brain gain Prensky wants to talk about is how technology can facilitate our life and how it can be a natural extension of our thinking and abilities. The central question for the author is how can we optimally combine humans and technology.

The book wants to be an antidote for the negative press technology received during the past years, example given Nicholas Carr telling us how internet is dumbing us down or Sherry Turkle who describes how internet is making us lonelier.

The central concept in the book is ‘digital wisdom’. It would be a mistake to see this word as synonym for media literacy. To wisely handle media is a part of digital wisdom, but now we are developing bionic eyes and ears, Prensky wants to take things further than dealing with Internet or social media.

Digital wisdom has in his vision always 2 components: both how to use technology in a smart way and how to get smarter through technology.

Like in many of his earlier works, Prensky devotes a lot of attention to education and asks a question I also think crucial: he gives a plea for a renewed discussion on the ‘what’ in education. While we often concentrate on the question how technology can change or improve our education, we seldom discuss the influence on the content of the curriculum.

The suggestions Prensky gives will probably provoke a lot of people, such as do children still have to learn how to write or do we still need those old math theorems in an age in which we rather should learn how to code.

I think he takes it too far and is forgetting the task of conserving education still has. To stand on the shoulders of giants, we still need to know those giants. I read in an interview that Presnsky is now working on a book or article on a zero based curriculum. What do we need to learn, when everything can be found on the Internet? By doing this he seems to ignore everything we now know about learning and digital skills, namely that, maybe ironically, need more knowledge for those 21st century skills. In this chapter Prensky shows himself as an anti-Furedi. Still they both think the teacher as most important with technology in a supporting role.

An often-read complaint about Prensky is that he sometimes simplify things to much. Actually, I discovered many nuances in his story, although I sometimes had the feeling he did some cherry picking in his sources. A point of criticism I have is that that Prensky becomes a bit too insistent in the first, more theoretical part through the plenty examples and repetitions.

The questions he raises about the future deliver an excellent starting point for further thinking. Too me, this is an important merit.

Oh, btw, just one more thing. In this book Prensky abandons the metaphor of the digital natives himself. He acknowledges the many research and criticism the concept received and thinks of this concept less useful in present day. I also agree with him on this point ;).

2 thoughts on “My review of ‘Brain Gain’, the new book by Marc Prenzky + his response!

  1. […] Prenzky doesn’t use it anymore. Research has shown over and over again that it isn’t true, but people keep on calling young people digital natives and . Well, some more (literature) research by Erika Smith (University of Alberta) giving arguments to stop doing this (HT @wrubens). She sees 8 claims in the digital natives discourses for which she sees little proof: […]

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