In this post, we are going to discuss what’s important to be aware of about students who belong to Generation Z and how you can adapt your teaching methods to their needs and learning styles to reach better learning outcomes.
Since our first course in 2005, a generational shift has happened, and we have understood that we need to adapt our courses and methodology of teaching to the actual needs of today’s participants. To do so we need to be aware of the challenges this generation faces, as well as what motivates them and what they value.
But first, let us introduce them:
Who exactly belongs to Generation Z?
Although there are different notions of when Generation Z appeared, generally it is understood to be formed by individuals born around 2000 onwards. Generation Z succeeds the infamous Millennial generation and is today either in school or entering university.
The change of generations can be identified by the different behaviours, values, and attitudes they demonstrate to separate themselves from the older generations, and which results from the specific experiences they share and the conditions they grew up in.
Much is yet to be researched and written about Generation Z. What we present in this post are the five characteristics we’ve identified as most influential on their learning and important for educators to be aware of:
1) Generation Z are digital natives
As opposed to all previous generations, members of Generation Z were born into a digital, ever-connected world.
While everyone born before 2000 – the “digital immigrants” – has witnessed the digital revolution and experienced the need to constantly learn and adapt to the digitalization of more and more areas of life, Generation Z individuals have never experienced a world without the Internet, which presents a constantly available source of information and communication tools.
Generation Z’s way of social interaction is, naturally, greatly influenced by technology, but they are also very aware and critical of it, especially about social media.
Generation Z, as opposed to the previous generations, communicates more visually – via videos, pictures, emojis, and GIFs.
What´s important to note is that members of Generation Z are not just consuming online media. According to Tim Elmore, they are also engaged in creating digital content themselves as a way of expressing their creativity and making their first entrepreneurial steps. They are also aware of the benefits of non-formal online education which is both cheaper and more moldable to their needs than traditional higher-education paths.
2) Generation Z is environmentally conscious
…and have a strong wish to positively impact the world with their work. They are aware of the already visible consequences of climate change and that they will be the ones most affected by it in the future.
Generation Z cares about alternative energy, pollution reduction, environmental conservation, recycling and impact of the products they purchase on the environment.
3) Generation Z students do have a shorter attention span than any previous generation
… but also the ability to multitask and scan text for the information they’re looking for, which is a positive consequence of the use of online media. As Francis and Hoefel state, generation Z members are excellent at “collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.”
However, it is evident that Generation Z students have difficulties concentrating on a particular task for a longer period of time, especially when it comes to reading longer and more demanding texts., solving complex problems, or reaching long-term goals.
4) Generation Z students want to know THE USE of what they’re learning
Since they are used to having constant access to information, they are pragmatic and analytical but also ready to question universal truths and much more open to diversity and inclusion.
Generation Z students are also reported to show a higher interest in entrepreneurship than the previous generation and hope to open up their own businesses or use their hobbies to earn a living. Since they are aware of their access to any information they might need at any given moment, they expect their formal education to be more than just the pure passing-on of information and to teach them practical skills.
5) Generation Z students are more cautious than the previous generation
An International Federation of Accountants’ survey shows that Generation Z students are more cautious and concerned about their (professional) future than the Millennial generation was. Having grown up in times of recession, what they consider most important public policy priorities are the stability of the national economy, the quality of education and the availability of jobs. However, they are reluctant to take over leadership positions.
Comparing them to the Millenial generation, Tim Elmore also states that Generation Z members are more inclined to saving money rather than spending it, they are more cautious, pragmatic and less confident due to the apparently more insecure conditions they’re growing up with.
What does that mean for educators?
In order to efficiently communicate and teach Generation Z students, educators should be aware of the many strengths that this generation shows unprecedentedly and build on them.
In order not to fall into the trap of believing that everything was better in the old times, it’s important to stay updated on the scientific research about this generation, as well as open and curious in the interaction with your Generation Z students.
So what should you be aiming for when teaching Generation Z students?
- Don’t neglect their ability to navigate in a technological world.
Incorporate digital technology into your teaching and their assignments. Use online communication channels to stay connected to your students.
What is important to teach them is how to process the large amount of information that they encounter, how to distinguish the reliability of different online sources and how to think critically.
- Pick up on your students’ environmental awareness and encourage them to put it into practice.
Engage in sustainability-themed interdisciplinary projects with your students.
Discuss and practice waste-reduction and management, debate food production and food waste as well as energy-efficiency with your students and let them become environmental ambassadors in your school.
These topics are also perfect for trying out experiential learning methods with your students – why not start an urban organic vegetable and herb garden with your class?
- Help them stay focused.
Be prepared to break down your lessons into shorter and diverse activities, using different teaching methods to keep them engaged. Assign them problem-solving tasks. Use pictures, videos, graphs and other visual tools to communicate your lessons’ content efficiently to your students.
Set up device-free classes (it’s not necessary that all are), include short physical exercises in everyday classes and take them out of the classroom and into nature whenever possible.
Help them stay focused on their goals by teaching them time management and planning skills as well as how to define smaller, achievable steps that lead them to a long-term goal.
- Learning to learn is one of the eight key-competences for life-long learning defined by the EU’s Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Put emphasis on the students’ self-evaluation. Help them develop awareness about their own learning styles and how to look for learning opportunities themselves, both concerning hard- and soft skills. Make them understand that non-formal learning also matters and encourage them to take part in online and offline courses.
- Encourage your students to take risks.
Provide them with learning opportunities that they won’t receive any grades for but will self-evaluate their learning and results.
Try and find opportunities for your students to get out of their comfort zone. Not only will it provide them with the opportunity to develop courage and the ability to assess their skills, but it will also grow the cohesion among classmates and teachers which will result in more mutual trust.
How can outdoor education courses benefit Generation Z students?
Outdoor education is particularly important for Generation Z students and gaining more visibility and recognition of the wider public recently. With about 1500 participants per year, most of whom are aged between 10 and 18, we at Outward Bound Croatia are quite familiar with the quirks as well as all the beautiful sides of Generation Z.
This also gives us the opportunity to witness daily all the benefits that youngsters can draw from outdoor education courses:
- During our outdoor courses, the digitally native students are going through a “digital detox” – our courses are technology-free, which has the purpose of letting the participants be more focused on the present moment and engage with their group, the instructors and the natural environment.
Usually, it is the participants themselves who are the most surprised about how much they enjoyed the time without their smartphones.
- Spending several days in nature on an expedition where they need to be almost completely self-sufficient the course participants understand how much impact all of us have on the natural environment.
- Once they face the amount of waste that they have produced in a single day just by preparing their food and maintaining hygiene, students become additionally motivated to live more sustainably and actively prevent further pollution.
- Our courses are based on experiential learning in nature, which particularly caters to students with a shorter attention span. Experiential learning helps students be more focused since all their senses are being occupied.
During the course, they face real problems which can only be solved working as a group. Courses involve a lot of physical activity, which is a welcomed change to their usual sedentary way of living.
- Our outdoor education courses are specifically designed for participants to develop transferrable skills which they will be able to use in their everyday lives. A lot of focus is put on the development of soft skills, such as communication, team-work, leadership, and self-awareness.
Together with the instructors, participants set up a personal action plan for the period following the course, in order to achieve a long-term positive impact.
- Outdoor education courses let the participants push their inner boundaries by getting them out of their comfort zone. With the support of the instructors and the rest of the group, participants learn to trust themselves and others, take risks and develop confidence.
Generation Z students have grown up in a world which significantly differs from the world their parents, educators and even older siblings grew up in.
- a completely digitalized and interconnected world
- a world was shaken by environmental catastrophes and the climate change
- a world completely globalized but at the same time terrified of global menaces such as terrorism and economic crisis
As with any previous generation, Generation Z has strengths we need to recognize and quirks we need to help them overcome.
Education courses designed for Generation Z students should aim at developing students’ critical thinking and media literacy, use problem-solving and experiential learning methods to keep them engaged, encourage their awareness about the importance of sustainability and put it into practice.
We should encourage them to pursue non-formal education both on- and offline, help them set goals and break them into smaller steps, facilitate the development of the competence of learning to learn, encourage them to take risks and take them to the outdoors to experience all the benefits of nature on the young people’s development.
What about your experience in teaching Generation Z students?
What is it that you find most challenging about working with them? What are they particularly good at?
What are the biggest generational shifts you’ve noticed and how do you adapt your teaching practice to them?