Understanding Gen Z—the New E-Learning Generation
As Generation Z graduates from college and enters the workforce, how should online educators respond to their learning and training needs?
For about the past decade, countless articles have been written about Millennials and the way they’ve been shaping office culture. However, this generation has now (with the exception of post-graduates and late-comers) graduated from college and established themselves within the workforce. The elder Millennials are now mid-career and approaching middle age, and even the younger cohort has mostly passed the difficult “0 years of experience” stage and are now settled into their career paths.
This means that the focus must now shift to the incoming generations: Gen Z, otherwise known as iGen. This group is comprised of individuals born between 1995 and 2010. Their parents are mostly Gen X, and they’re the first generation whose parents were on Facebook before they were.
The point of looking at generational trends isn’t to cast judgment on one group for being lazy and another for being entitled. Rather, it is to look at which experiences have shaped a generation so as to put the expectations of that group into context. This is especially true as a new generation enters the workforce, as this group, being inexperienced, will need support and training so that they can grow into their new roles and responsibilities.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what we know about Gen Z.
1. Gen Z are the least likely to have work experience, but the most likely to have already experience online education.
According to the Pew Research Center, up until about the year 2000, roughly have of teens held a summer job. In the past two decades, that number has shrunk to about a third. Teens aren’t working in the summer as much as they used to, and that means they’re entering the workforce with less job experience.
This isn’t to say Gen Z have been lazy. What is interesting about this trend is that the parents of Gen Z, why typically belong to Gen Z, were more likely to hold summer jobs than any other generation. Despite their experiences, however, they have prioritized other experiences for their children, including academic and athletic summer programs, volunteer work, and unpaid internships.
All of this has been part of a larger trend toward more and longer college education, with Gen Z representing the largest number of college graduates of any education, despite being a smaller cohort than the Millennials or the Boomers. And, because of the steady increase in online education, this generation will already have experienced some part of their education online, and be more open to online education options.
2. Gen Z are keenly aware of their lack of job skills, and eager to close the gap.
Their lack of work experience isn’t lost on Gen Z. In fact, it’s something they’re both aware of, and anxious to change. This is particularly true for their computer skills, which are likely to be less-developed than their Millennial predecessors.
As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, Millennials quickly became adept at a range of computer skills, particularly those related to desktop programs and using the Internet. But Gen Z have spent far more time on their phones, which means they are power users of mobile apps, but not of desktop.
3. Gen Z are used to finding information online and are often looking for quick answers.
If there’s one trait Millennials and Gen Z share, it’s that they both reflexively google any information they don’t know. Knowing how to make an accurate search query, refine that search to get better results, and then compare answers to find a reliable source are second nature to this demographic, particularly when it comes to “how-to” knowledge.
Furthermore, Gen Z are used to learning things from the Internet. This is the generation that has taught itself countless skills from Pinterest boards and YouTube tutorials. They even spend a lot of time making these tutorials themselves.
However, their need for easy-to-consume information means they are more drawn toward micro courses with well-crafted video content. They’re also drawn to interactive content, which brings us to our last point.
4. Gamification is more likely to be a selling point for Gen Z than other generations.
Gen Z may need help with their computer skills, but that’s not all they’re looking for. The fact that Gen Z are mobile natives should give online educators motivation to test their courses in a mobile learning environment, where most users will want to access them.
Gamification elements also appeal to Gen Z (and to most of the rest of us, too). They frame learning in a fun and intuitive way, and help motivate learners to keep going with a course.
Gen Z not only have the need for training and the desire to learn, they also prefer online education.
With every generation that goes by, learners become more and more accustomed to online education, and more ready to turn to it when they needed training and support. For businesses trying to decide whether they should invest in online training, or educators looking for the next demographic to target, understanding what Gen Z needs and how to deliver it are key.
Most importantly, educators shouldn’t dismiss these learning preferences as being indicative of the short attention spans of young people addicted to smart phones. Gen Z does like to read—just not on their mobile phones. And their lives are very busy, with packed schedules and multiple part-time jobs.
Gen Z want to learn. Your challenge is to build a course that will engage them and meet their needs.