Visitors & Residents

Visitors and Residents is a simple way of describing the range of ways individuals can engage with the Web. It’s a continuum of ‘modes of engagement’ not two distinct categories. I’ve used V&R as a way of framing research (as have others internationally) including the development of an openly licensed mapping process which can be used to kick start conversations about how individuals or groups are using the Web in various contexts.

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

The following outline of the Visitors and Residents idea is taken from the Jisc infokit on V&R which also highlights some of the key themes which emerged from V&R related research:

(or you could try the Visitors & Residents Wikipedia page)

For more than a decade Marc Prensky’s (2001) notions of digital natives and digital immigrants has had a powerful influence on how educational institutions perceive students and technology:

Prensky’s distinction between people who are entirely at ease within a digital environment and those who manage to learn to exist but who (in his view) will never be fully competent, has gained enormous currency and, until recently, widespread acceptance. Similarly, his linked assertion that the differentiation also signals the need for an educational revolution, requiring a new approach which accommodates the up-and-coming Natives, has not only been largely believed but has provoked a sense of panic among ‘Immigrant educators’ who now perceive themselves wrong–footed and unable to step up to the plate.

In recent years educational researchers have come to treat the natives and immigrants idea with suspicion. Nevertheless it has become embedded in many areas, and still forms the basis for much strategic thinking and implicitly underpins the decision making process in universities where the digital is concerned.

Visitors and Residents is a simple way of describing a wide range, or continuum of, modes of online engagement. It has proved to be a useful way to come to an understanding of individuals’ motivations when they use the web in differing contexts. Even in the matter of ordering medicines online. We are not proposing that one mode of engagement is better than the other, simply that different modes are employed depending on the individual’s motivation and context at the time.

The V&R continuum


When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task.

We propose that Visitors understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to make do so long as some progress is made.

In Visitor mode individuals do not leave any social trace online. Much online activity is undertaken in this mode as illustrated by our research participants:

Well, I’ll Google and see what comes up, and if I need to know just the basis and just to get my head around it I’ll use Wikipedia.


When in Resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.

Residents, on the other hand, see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and offline is increasingly blurred.

Resident behaviour has a certain degree of social visibility: for example, posting to the wall in Facebook, tweeting, blogging, or posting comments on blogs. This type of online behaviour leaves a persistent social trace which could be within a closed group such as a cohort of students in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)/Learning Management System (LMS) or on the open web.

In information-seeking, Resident behaviour is more relevant in cases where individuals are going online to seek out other people for information. This might be by asking a direct question online or by asking for advice on trusted sources.

The Facebook group is extremely active also, if not just for complaining about an assignment or trying to find a particular reading, but also sharing current news articles with each other.

In this case the provenance of information shared is partly related to the person who shared it, and also in how trusted they are in assessing the validity of a source. They are vouching for the course and are bringing a social dimension to the information-seeking process. The other significant factor in Resident behaviour is the production of non-traditional sources such as blog posts, which are in turn used by learners.

For a detailed discussion of Visitors and Residents (V&R) we recommend reading the First Monday open access paper, or watching the short video outlining the idea.

14 thoughts on “Visitors & Residents

  1. Mark Ingham Reply

    perhaps we are a mix of both at different times and spaces and places?

    The Rhizomatic is a method of thought that I find helpful!

    I am writing an article called

    “The Art of Teaching in the Age of Digital Reproduction Or Who is Afraid of Wikipedia?”

    It would be good to meet


  2. Aaron Davis Reply

    I am really intrigued by the concept of visitor and resident, especially the idea of mapping experience. Having done some reflection on it, I was just wondering if there was another level to it all. A sort of ‘off the grid’ where we are neither visiting or resident, just simply not there?

    What stands out to me as a teacher is the change brought about by Web 2.0 revolution. In order to participate and become a resident we often require some sort of login/account. For those that don’t have an account, they are simply not there? So if someone does not use Kik then they are neither visitor or resident, they are not there?

    I am not sure if I am missing something, if I have misunderstood the concept.

    1. David White Reply

      Visitor activity leaves no social trace online so you don’t need a login. For example, browsing Wikipedia or shopping. I’ve never found anyone yet who was totally off the grid. Even the most ‘offline’ people will Google search and have email.

      1. Andrew Jacobs Reply

        I’ll have to introduce you to my Mum. Has a 2G mobile phone and no internet connection. Has no email and has never done a google search.

  3. Antonio Ángel Reply

    Hi David, i’m a student from MEXICO, and I really liked your blog, and the video was very helpful.
    Keep doing this kind of stuff man.
    Kind regards.

    Antonio Angel

  4. Chrissi Nerantzi Reply

    Hi David,

    I am re-reading your work around R & V and am wondering how you did come up with these two ends of the continuum? Are they the ends? Did these modes of engagement emerge through evidence-based research or is it a conceptual construct in response to Prensky’s work? Looking forward to your reply.


    1. David White Reply

      The ends of the continuum were created in response to a number of inputs. The Jisc Isthmus project in which I interviewed a number of fully online distance students, the Jisc Open Habitat project which was exploring the use of technology virtual worlds for education and as a response to Prensky. I think people recognised the idea as a simple way of representing the breath of activities and motivations involved in engaging with the digital environment.

  5. Chrissi Nerantzi Reply

    Thank you so much for your reply to my questions Dave. What methodology did you use, if you don’t mind me asking. Did yo create the continuum and then asked them to respond to this? What was the process you followed?

    You might be wondering why I am asking all these questions… and why now… very happy to explain. As part of my PhD I have created framework for collaborative open learning and I feel that it would be useful to refer back to your continuum. Very happy to share so that you see what I mean… hopefully it will make sense. Maybe, it would also be good to have a chat, if you would be available?

    Thanks again,

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend,


    1. David White Reply

      I developed the continuum as a response to the interviews I undertook. I realised that for some people the Web was just a set of tools and for others it was a space they, in part, lived in. The ‘difference’ between these two, overlapping, groups wasn’t their technical competence but their motivations to engage. So it started as a communication tool which helped to explain what I was seeing. Then we gradually evolved it into more of a research method via the mapping process. Always happy to chat about this 🙂


  6. Chrissi Nerantzi Reply

    Thank you Dave. It would be lovely to chat about this when you are available. Can share the framework I developed before we speak? Or maybe the findings?

    Thanks again for responding here.


    1. David White Reply

      Of course, email me the framework. I’m around for much of Oct and Nov.


      1. Chrissi Nerantzi (@chrissinerantzi) Reply

        Hi Dave,

        Just seen your reply. Apologies for the delay in responding here. Will email you the framework. Would like to include some more specific information about your work around this. How many interviews? What methodology did you use? What students were they? Do you have any related information you could share? Thank you in advance.

        Will include the abstract to.

        Thanks again,

  7. Iain Reply

    Splendid stuff (as always). We played around with it on the basis of the CC licence terms and popped some of it into an online lesson as part of our sharing of CPD resources project, and partly to work with this new, simple online learning authoring tool. Hope ye don’t mind???? here it is: There’ll be a digital badge soon too.

    1. David White Reply

      This looks great. Always good to see CC licensed material getting remixed. 🙂

Leave a Reply to Andrew Jacobs Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *