The fact that education is undergoing systemic changes is no news. Some of these changes are due to globalization, but the main “culprit” is technology, with its disruptive effects in all aspects of our lives.
Gen Z students – or zoomers – the first generation of digital natives, relate to technology differently from previous cohorts. If technology is a tool for Millennials, zoomers naturally integrate technology into their everyday lives. It’s more than a means to an end; it’s a part of them.
This relationship with technology has shaped their expectations about education and learning. The whole architecture of the traditional teacher-centered model has crumbled, although some educators still cling to it. Granted, it was possible in the eighties to give a two-hour lecture without visual or written support, but those times are long gone.
Let’s see what Gen Z students expect from education now and what teachers can do to adapt.
Gen Z’s expectations about education: the four Rs
In The ABC of XWZ, Mark McCrindle identified the four Rs that are crucial for a new teaching style. They are:
This generation doesn’t expect teachers to fully understand their lifestyle or embrace their culture. However, they do expect compassion, understanding, and respect. Moreover, Gen Z students prefer teachers with a genuine passion for their field of interest.
Lessons should be focused on real-life examples and situations, while technology blend with teaching. Don’t bring sophisticated or complicated technology into the classroom for the sake of it! Integrate it in all stages of learning and assessment only if you know how to use it properly.
Gen Z students are fast learners, but they might need some help at the beginning to familiarize themselves with new apps or platforms. So be prepared to do tech support if necessary!
Read more: Computer literacy: The invisible skills gap?
Gen Z students want to learn what is relevant to them in ways that make sense for them. We’ve already mentioned real-life examples and situations. Zoomers are focused on problem-solving and are excellent team players, so teachers should create more collaborative activities to stimulate their knowledge-sharing abilities.
For this generation of visual learners, visual input should be used more than plain text. This is why infographics, charts, videos, or any kind of visual information will help them learn better. Keep in mind that good old PowerPoint is a little bit outdated! Try Piktochart, Adobe Spark, or Apple Keynote for stunning and engaging presentations!
Teachers should be receptive to students’ needs. The teacher-centered model of education is long gone and for a good reason. So, it’s natural to give prominence to learning and learners if we want to design an effective education system.
Mark McCrindle suggests a few elements to make education more effective for Gen Z students: interest, implication, inspiration. Teachers should show interest in students’ suggestions and respond to criticism. Therefore, they should teach students how to give constructed and valuable feedback.
Communicating with this generation is also about being open. Today’s students often look for open dialogue, which starts with mutual respect and understanding.
There is a hierarchy in the teacher-student relationship, but it shouldn’t be explicit in every interaction. Teachers who point out that they have a position of power will not necessarily inspire their students to learn more.
To sum up, education should be a win-win game, in which both students and teachers play their part. There have been many studies about Gen Z students and their learning preferences, which have pointed out their privileged relationship with technology, their visual learning style, their ability to work in teams, and their focus on real-life problems.
If we think about it, most of these attributes apply to previous generations as well. All generations have a special relationship with the technology of their time. It’s just that technology itself is changing, and we must keep up with it. However, the need to open communication, respect, and understanding comes up in research as one of the main needs of Gen Z students.
As Mark McCrindle points out in his book, it’s more of a communication gap between Gen Z students and previous cohorts instead of a generation gap. The 4 Rs model is a good approach for starters. Empathetic communication with a twist of edtech might just do the trick.
Veronica is a University lecturer with years of experience in language learning, a translator and interpreter, and a life-long learner.