Is Your Continuing Education Program Ready for Generation Z?
Generation Z? What Happened to the Millennials? Those game-changing Gen Y youth who have been the subject of so much research and speculation have now hit the ripe old age of 30-ish. They have begun to settle into careers and families, and although they are the first true digital natives, they have proven to be a lesser disruptor than initially anticipated. (Case in point: read the Millennials & Training whitepaper.) That torch has been passed along to the next generation—Generation Z.
Who is Generation Z?
Although there are some reported variances in the dates that define Generation Z (also known in some circles as iGen—thank you, Steve Jobs), generally they are the children of Gen Xers—born between the mid-to-late 1990’s (roughly 1995) through the 2000’s (roughly 2010).
The eldest (around 20) are soon to be graduating college and hitting the workforce, while the youngest (around 6) are busy creating Google presentations, blogging and documenting prairie burns via iMovie as part of their first grade curriculum.
They are the largest generation—larger than the Boomers and larger than the Millennials. Today they represent over 25% of the U.S. population. And in just 5 years, they will represent approximately 20% of the workforce.
They are also the most multi-cultural generation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 50% increase in the multi-racial youth population since 2000.
They are the product of events and innovations that have completely changed even the world that Millennials knew. This is (potentially) a very different generation.
A Pragmatic, Entrepreneurial, Connected Group Defined by Turmoil and Technology
Generation Z has never known a world without terrorism. They witnessed the fallout from the Great Recession. Unlike the so-called “entitled” Millennials, they understand that success isn’t guaranteed. They are prepared to work for it and to make it their own.
- They are looking for stability and growth in their careers and actively seek out opportunities to learn, develop and grow.
- Because their lives were terribly disrupted early on, they aren’t necessarily set on taking a linear path to success.
- They have a greater entrepreneurial drive than their predecessors and have grown up in a world where they’ve seen (via social media) even their youngest peers have success with self-derived ventures.
- They are also more financially conservative than their predecessors.
Beyond Tech Savvy
While Millennials were considered to be the first digital natives, Gen Z are mobile natives. Technology isn’t just present in their lives, it is fully integrated into everything they do. It has changed the model for how they interact with the world around them, how they learn and, most importantly, how they process information.
- Where Gen Y is the generation that shares content, Gen Z is the generation that creates it.
- They are the ultimate self-educators, particularly when it comes to technology, as they have already seen how quickly it can become obsolete.
- In the classroom, a Gen Z student uses multiple platforms (including both print and digital) simultaneously to learn and reinforce a single concept and often has the opportunity to choose how they want to learn.
- Thanks to DVRs, media streaming and 24/7 connectivity anywhere, the concept of appointment-based anything is fading fast.
- While it appears that their attention spans are getting shorter, early research suggests it may be a reflection of the fact that they have developed the ability to process more information at faster speeds.
Social Media Maturity
For Gen Z, social media is no longer a new fad. It’s an established reality. And while it is the basis of a majority of their social connections, Gen Z is much more “mature” in their use of it than Millennials are.
- Social connections matter even more to Gen Z more than to Millennials. They want to be culturally connected and have a tremendous fear of missing out.
- At the same time, they are more conscientious of social media privacy and tend to be drawn to more private forms of social interaction such as Snapchat, Secret and Whisper.
How Gen Z Might Shape Your Training & Education Programs?
Today, many organizations grapple with how to develop new and innovative programs that attract participants and facilitate greater learning. Looking to the future, there is good news. Gen Z will find tremendous value in the growth opportunities that come with increased skills and knowledge… as long as you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms. Their current learning preferences coupled with their techno-behaviors may force continuing education professionals to develop unconventional learning delivery models.
Here are 4 things to consider in your next program planning session:
- Would it make sense to develop a program delivery model that is even more accessible and self-directed, allowing learners to learn on their terms, when and where it’s convenient for them—any hour, any place? At the same time, might your new program build in opportunities for more virtually-based social connection and collaboration with peers and with instructors, locally and across the globe? Could this social connection continue after the training session is complete, to help reduce any “learning loss” that may normally occur?
- Is there an opportunity to develop curricula that allow attendees to co-create content (versus having all materials pre-produced and pre-distributed) as a means to facilitate learning?
- How might you incorporate new technologies across multiple platforms to teach and reinforce a particular concept, including print, video, interactive tools, virtual and 4D technology? Could you use a printed piece to introduce a concept, and then offer multiple ways to conduct a more in-depth, hands-on exploration of the concept?
- Do you need to take a closer look at your current training materials and course books and determine if there are opportunities to restructure and redesign them to provide shorter blocks of information with more visual cues that support the text?
Although the needs and preferences of Millennials are still extremely relevant—soon they will make up a large majority of the workforce—it won’t be long before all eyes are on Generation Z. How accurately can we predict future preferences based this current profile of a very young generation? It’s too soon to tell for sure. What is certain, however, is that, just as with Millennials, it won’t be long before we’re reevaluating and reconsidering today’s best practices. And it’s never too early to start planning ahead.