Designing learning experiences for Generation Z
“They understand the need for a practical and marketable skill set”
Gen Z was born between 1997 and the early 2010s and are now in high school, university, or looking for their first job. They grew up during the 2008 recession. Their older friends entered the workforce juggling a few part time roles serving the needs of the on-demand economy.
The last year has seen Gen Z’s time at high school, university or their first job disturbed by the global pandemic. Potentially there is also a post-pandemic recession brewing which will further affect their future career opportunities.
In order to tap into their interest in online education and cater to their needs, learning needs to meet three criteria: be affordable, mobile-first and help them future-proof their careers. Hanna Celina, director of insights at FutureLearn.com, explains.
Affordable and subscription-based learning
Gen Z are very pragmatic and price-focused (based on the context in which they grew up, we can’t really blame them), which is why they love pay-as-you-go models like Netflix and Spotify. This gives them the opportunity to maximise how far their money goes.
We know that they’re also the most likely generation to take an online course for both self-development and career development, according to our recent report on The Future of Learning.
They understand the need for a practical and marketable skill set and tend to be more pragmatic and career oriented than the generation before them, the Millennials.
In fact, our Future of Learning report found that Gen Z are more than twice as likely than the older non-retired generations to say they’d consider spending time or money on career-related training (34% v. 16%).
This is exactly why we have recently launched ExpertTracks – our newest professional skills development subscription offering, designed with Gen Z in mind.
Preference for social, mobile and video interaction
When I worked at Google, helping build our YouTube business, we often advised our clients against migrating their existing TV ads into YouTube, telling them “they don’t work, it’s a different medium”.
The same thing can be said about building online learning experiences for Gen Z. It should not be like what they do in the university lecture halls, and we’ve seen the pitfalls of this during the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
With Gen Z’s love for accessible 30 second video formats, we are now entering a new era of educational content: hello TikTok education (yes, it’s now a real thing, and very popular).
Gen Z spend almost 4.5 hours a day online, most of it on their phones and in apps.
They are the generation with the highest smartphone ownership and are embracing the ways in which this can help expand their knowledge. They are social media natives who often take sophisticated features of social media for granted, spending more than two hours per day consuming social media content on a variety of platforms.
These platforms are now also being used to learn new skills and to watch educational content, such as learning about environmental issues or watching fitness tutorials.
Our Future of Learning report also found that younger generations are more interested in seeing educational features on social media platforms, with almost three in 10 Gen Z members (29%) reporting they would like to see this technology, compared with just under a fifth (19%) of older respondents.
Investing in future-proof skills
Gen Z don’t remember the world before the internet, and few grew up without a cell phone in hand. They’re more keen on new technologies, and recognise the need to train up on new skills.
We see this on our platform, with Gen Z being the most dominant age group in our tech and coding classes, accounting for almost a third of all learners.
The interest in new technologies is not entirely career orientated though – 50% of Gen Zs we surveyed also believe that that education will have the power to help save the planet in the future. Education leads to innovation, often technological, and innovation leads to solving problems.
Keeping people in their comfort zone is rarely a good recipe for learning – one needs to consistently challenge learners. We can help design learning which will challenge learners to consider the type of problems that Gen Z will likely face as they join the workforce, and the urgent ones like global warming that have been left behind by the generations before them.
These problems will require agile teamwork, design thinking, high amount of emotional intelligence and high level of tech savviness. Gen Z clearly have the savviness and drive to gain these skills despite the tumultuous year they’ve had, and it’s encouraging to see the education sector shifting towards this new future of learning.
About the author: Hanna Celina is director of insights at FutureLearn.com. She holds a PhD in Computer Science (Digital Interaction) during which she conducted research in self-organised student-led online learning environments.