Millennials came of age along with much of the technology that’s part of our day-to-day life. It wasn’t part of their childhood or early adolescence, but by the time they were in their late teens and early twenties, smartphones were becoming popular. At the same time, social media was on the rise and technology was part of the workplace.
However, the generations following them – generations Z and Alpha – are true digital natives. It’s no surprise then, that this group of people have different educational needs and expectations compared to the generations before them.
Born from 1997 onwards, these generations have grown up with limitless information and communication at their fingertips. They are experts when it comes to digital tools and experiences. They are also very aware of politics, injustices, and innovation. In terms of values, sustainability, diversity, and well-being are important for the older cohort in Gen Z.
So, how can we ensure that we are best catering to Gen Z or Gen Alpha students’ education?
First, we need to know what they are looking for from their education.
1. Provide tech-based learning tools
Nearly 70% of Gen Z prefer lessons that incorporate emerging technology. This is unsurprising, considering how well-versed in technology young people are.
But students don’t simply want to stay up-to-date with the latest tech trends. Instead, Gen Z students want the best resources in education to innovate and make an impact in the world. So, they value technology that helps them engage with subjects and content more deeply and efficiently.
Educators should be integrating smart devices and AI into their lessons. They should facilitate the learning experience with the use of virtual classrooms. Not only will this help educators create more engaging learning experiences for their students, but they’ll also be able to make their classes more accessible to students with varying capabilities.
For example, there are tools which have a screen reader for students with visual impairments, keyboard navigation for students with limited mobility, and other types of assistive features. These types of learning tools can create a truly engaging and inclusive learning environment for all students.
2. Design flexible learning experiences
When the Covid pandemic hit, remote learning posed a challenge for millennials and Gen X. But younger generations were able to adapt much more easily. Their digital literacy means they can access online materials, attend virtual classes, submit work via learning platforms, and easily collaborate with others in digital spaces. This adaptability is why Gen Z students prefer non-traditional course structures.
Hybrid learning is popular with today’s students because it allows them to study in different spaces. It also aligns with their priorities like reducing carbon emissions because they don’t have to commute to a physical school every day.
Self-paced courses are equally attractive to Gen Z learners. After all, they like having independence to manage their progression on their own time.
So, how can schools accommodate this kind of personalized, self-paced learning?
One option is the introduction and expansion of online learning. This will give schools the opportunity to experiment with different combinations of in-person and digital teaching models, helping them find the optimal ratio based on how students perform.
Some subjects lend themselves to self-paced learning more than others. For instance, if students excel in remote essay-writing tasks, it could be worthwhile to implement 100% self-lead literary courses.
By adopting this adaptable approach, schools can offer students the flexibility they prefer.
3. Build practical and soft skills
Gen Z and Gen Alpha have impressive digital literacy skills, but they also recognize the importance of offline capabilities in education.
They’ll be graduating into a working world that will inevitably look very different from the current job industry. AI is set to replace many human roles, and an enormous number of jobs will be automated.
Therefore, students want to be taught skills that can’t be automated and will help them confidently navigate their careers. For many young people, this means building soft and practical skills that can be applied in many situations.
One survey reveals that Gen Z actively seeks to know more about areas like first aid, personal finance, basics of law, and communication. Educators should therefore integrate more hands-on learning, where their students have to respond to real-world scenarios, not only abstract digital spaces.
In a globalized world, students will also need to be able to communicate with people from different countries and cultures. With more practical skills and transferable soft skills, students will be better prepared to enter the workforce and for the challenges of the future.
4. Create diverse, inclusive learning spaces
Students nowadays have a passion for equality and justice. It’s important that people from all backgrounds have access to the same, quality education. In fact, the majority of Gen Z believe that diversity in education is necessary for the advancement of society.
That’s why they want classes, activities, and discussions that reflect the makeup of society. They want to know that all voices can be heard in school settings, especially from marginalized communities.
Education institutions must design curricula covering a broad range of histories and peoples. They should also foster regular conversations about inequality in the world. Launching programs that empower underrepresented students can offer them pathways to opportunities they previously may not have had.
At the same time, teachers should engage their emotional intelligence and empathy to create learning spaces where all students feel safe about sharing their experiences at any time.
5. Engage with mental health awareness
Research shows that teenagers nowadays have higher rates of mental health issues than generations before them. Factors like high social media usage, increasing unemployment rates, climate change, and the pandemic have all contributed to anxiety and depression among young people.
However, it’s not all negative. Young people feel able to have open, honest dialogues about mental health with their peers.
Future generations want teachers who are knowledgeable about mental health and able to both identify signs of poor mental health and make accommodations to support it. They also want professional help to be available, such as school counselors and therapy tools.
The younger generations are certainly pushing for a transformation in education. They want greater flexibility in how they learn, greater diversity in where they learn, and greater sensitivity in who they learn from.
These preferences can fuel an evolution in both the schools and the world of tomorrow. Educators who invest in the changes now will arguably uplift the smartest, tech-savvy, and socially-conscious generation.
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