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How Generation Z Students are Learning

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Generation Z is here. Born after 1995, members of Generation Z are the current faces on our college campuses. Is higher education doing everything it can to prepare this new kind of student for the workforce?

Perhaps the most crucial question institutions can ask is, “How do Gen Z students learn?”


Generation Z students crave autonomy in learning. They desire learning that is self-paced, self-directed, and independent with a freedom of what/how they learn. Leading Generation Z researchers Corey Seemiller and Meghan M. Grace found these students may enjoy learning in a social setting with others but prefer working on their own.

Another preference is for bite-sized learning that is time-efficient rather than time-consuming. Considering they grew up watching YouTube videos for instructions on just about anything, this is no surprise. They also look to maximize their time with active learning– they prefer engagement in the classroom over lectures because they would rather “learn by doing.”

Lastly, learning is effective for Generation Z when it is personal. While they are individualistic in many ways and tech-savvy, their preferred communication style is in-person and one of their driving motivators are relationships. This is a group that grew up with personalized experiences (Netflix, Chipotle, etc.), so personalizing their learning through technology or approach is ideal as well.


While other generations had to learn new technology as it emerged, Generation Z students are tech natives, meaning technology (including YouTube) has been a part of their lives from day one. They grew up with easy and quick access to information at any time of day in variety of forms, so tools that are accessible are extremely important for this group.

Learning tools that are visual are a match, too. Generation Z learns best with material that is on-demand, so mixed media (including mobile and video) are their go-to’s for learning. For example, 90% of Generation Z students surveyed in the Generation Z Goes to College Study reported their primary platform for new information was YouTube. In addition, these students find digital textbooks to be more engaging and cost-effective tools than traditional textbooks.


What is the best way to position your material for optimal learning with Generation Z? Show them the connection between mastering what’s in front of them and career advancement. This generation is more career-focused earlier in college and is motivated by working towards milestones for advancement.

It can also be useful to appeal to other values of Generation Z; advocacy, making a difference, and being altruistic are a priority to them, so if you can frame what they are learning as a skill that contributes to the greater good, you will find success. Diversity also matters to them, so creating inclusive environments as well as demonstrating how concepts you are teaching might support diversity is an excellent framework that connects with this group.


How can learning institutions adapt their efforts for Generation Z? First, lean into technology–embrace personal devices and ensure tech is a naturally seamless part of their educational experience. Use technology for a multi-delivery method of instruction and communication beyond email. Consider conducting online office hours as well.

Next, strive for experiential learning in the classroom, exemplified by Fanshawe College. This kind of group learning can work for Generation Z because it is highly-interactive and hands-on, but the traditional group project may not. Instead, assign individual projects that focus on digital content creation, appealing to their desire for independent work and and familiarity for visually-stimulating material. Lastly, continue to seek out additional ideas for the classroom and resources that offer practical tips to create a learning environment that fits Generation Z.

From engagement outside the classroom to instruction inside the classroom, it is critical institutions understand the needs of Generation Z and adapt their efforts to ensure student success. While faculty can evolve their teaching style to meet the needs of the current student, peer tutoring can be key in bridging the gap since Generation Z students are naturally in-tune with how their peers learn best.