From education to employment

This time it’s personal – meeting the needs of Gen Z learners

Sam Blyth

The next generation of students — dubbed Generation Z, or sometimes Zoomers — will soon be flooding into higher and further education. Millennials may be tech savvy, but Gen Z students are in a different league – they’re tech natives, with many spending their entire lives immersed in a digital world.

To engage these students effectively, educators may need to adapt their pedagogical approaches — for example, by adding more video content to the curricula. But just adding interactive material, or giving devices to all students, may not be enough to get the best outcomes from this new generation.

So how do educators best cater for Generation Z? Let’s take a look.

Tailored services for individual needs

Generation Z is accustomed to personalising everything, from Netflix shows to their barista-designed coffee choices. A range of options are at the touch of a button, and brands are clamouring to engage the newest generation of customers with ‘tailor made’ products and services. It’s unsurprising then, that there is a pervasive expectation that consumers will be able to pick and choose what they want (and, just as important, what they don’t want). And, these attitudes will inevitably influence how they view their education.

Institutions are quick to adapt to this trend. A recent report that found 66 per cent of higher education leaders are already researching the use of artificial intelligence to analyse student data in order to personalise learning.

And it’s here where learning management platforms are making a real difference. Harnessing tools like Canvas, educators can glean real-time insights into how students are engaging with their learning, allowing them to adapt and tailor programmes to meet their individual needs.

Put students in the driving seat

Student-centred learning isn’t a new concept, but it’s a particularly powerful one for our Gen Z learners.

On the most basic level, collaboration technologies (including interactive whiteboards and associated mobile device apps) are making it easier to create engaging, interactive experiences for learners. But more fundamentally, educators are working to let students control their learning journey – deciding how, where and when to engage with course material, and to learn in a way that suits them best.

Online learning has made a real difference here – allowing students to consume course materials at their own pace. The very best learning management platforms allow educators to tailor course content (and even the medium it’s presented in) according to student preferences and needs, and help both students and teachers track their progress closely.

Getting the most from the tech

Although Gen Z may be tech experts in many areas, particularly in consumer technology there is some work to do in teaching them about the hardware, software and systems likely to be used in the workplace.

According to the World Economic Forum, the skills considered vital for workplace success are rapidly changing thanks to the rise of automation (no doubt accelerated by the impact of Covid-19). The WEF says that educators will have a role to play in ensuring Gen Z students are familiar with workforce productivity applications. As graduates, they’ll need to be proficient in programming and computer hardware use, as well as adapting these basics to a variety of digital contexts.

In addition, teaching information literacy — the ability to determine when information is credible — is a good first step toward developing responsible digital citizens and employees. Content creation is another great avenue. Letting students create their own videos or programs is an engaging way to help Gen Z understand, from the ground up, what authentic digital content looks like.

So, as Zoomers increasingly reach higher and further education and as personalized learning becomes more commonplace, these new approaches to learning will become less of a novelty and more of a necessity. Colleges that want to stay ahead of the curve should start now to get to know this next generation of learners and develop the skills they’ll need to support them.

Sam Blyth, Senior Sales Director, Education – EMEA, Instructure

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