Great techspectations: Generation Z and its edtech needs

Sam Blyth, Director of Schools and Further Education at Canvas, discusses the expectations of GenZ, and how educators can keep up

In a statistic that’s likely to make many of us feel pretty old, 2018 has marked the first year that all 18-year-olds entering university will have been born after the turn of the millennium. Many call Generation Z the most researched demographic yet, and in the world of education this insight means that institutions are able to tailor teaching and learning more closely to students than ever before.

According to research by Pearson, as digital natives, GenZ members diverge significantly from millennials. Members of GenZ use more social media, spend more time with online visual and video media, and are more likely to share content through social channels. Notably, GenZ says that video is its preferred method for learning (by large margins over millennials), suggesting that visual media has to be rich and compelling to hold the attention of a GenZ audience.

We believe that this departure in learning prefers marks a significant shift, which consistent with GenZ’s higher rates of digital literacy and early-stage technological adoption. And as Generation Z enters and settles into education at any level, technology has already shaped their educational expectations. Generation Z expects more, and it’s up to teachers to deliver.

So how can teachers and institutions deliver? Let’s take a look.

Flexible, blended learning

Generation Z’s learning experiences are becoming more of a routine, integral part of daily life and the boundaries between the classroom and life outside of school are blurring. To that end, it’s important that institutions are able to bring learning to students – however and wherever they want to learn – not visa-versa.

For many, this means blended learning. Using this model, educators have embraced technology like virtual learning environments (VLEs) to combine in-class and out-of-class learning, maximising the educational impact for students as a result. While retaining the traditional student-teacher format, it breaks the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model by taking education beyond the physical classroom and allowing students to learn anytime, anywhere.

The same technologies which give power to students can bring significantly more influence to teaching staff.

What this gives to GenZ isn’t just flexibility but empowerment – to take control of their own learning. It’s not always an easy shift for teachers to make though, and for many, student empowerment brings with it the threat of diminished teacher influence. For staff where control  has always meant standing at the front of a class, imparting knowledge by rote, such significant changes to teaching and learning can be daunting.

However, giving students ownership of learning is not the same as abdicating control of a classroom. And the same technologies which give power to students can bring significantly more influence to teaching staff. The savviest teachers tell us that control is now ‘all about the data’, and online tools which collect information on performance, and enable real-time and actionable insights are crucial. Being able to alter teaching quickly to address student needs can increase engagement, better motivation, and ultimately improve results. And being able to deliver and act on performance data throughout the school year, rather than just at exam times, is vital to delivering an education experience based on flexibility and insight, rather than being reliant on rigid tests and measures.

Learning to do, be and learn

In a hyper-competitive but cash-poor global education market, Governments and analysts talk about the need for more budget, a focus on the core curriculum, a back-to-basics approach to delivery , and the need for more teachers.

But these are conventional solutions to new problems, and a new approach is required to deliver impactful learning to Generation Z and beyond. Educators must think beyond traditional league tables and rote learning and look to organisations like UNESCO who promote a broad approach to changing education, looking holistically at skills, community, knowledge and collaboration.

UNESCO prioritises four pillars of learning; learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together. This more rounded approach to education moves beyond the classroom, developing skills and knowledge needed to live and work in a competitive and fast-moving digital economy, the future home of our GenZ students.

Rather than encouraging the development of narrow skill sets that can (and ultimately will) be commoditised, this new approach lays the groundwork that encourages the development of a polymath mindset where students are adaptable, flexible and multi-skilled.

So to teach GenZ effectively, educators need to be committed to doing things differently, and to look to new delivery models for their education provision. And in this world, we believe that no longer is technology a luxury, but an all-important necessity. The right technologies help institutions change pedagogy and deliver a flexible, progressive and student-centred learning approach which focuses on meeting the demands of this new generation.