Generation Z—those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s―are coming of age and, as “digital natives”, are changing the world around them. This generation was born into the world of the Internet and has never known a time without instant access to a wide range of information. Their technology-enabled upbringing has also led them to learn differently than did previous generations, including the Millennial generation.
As Generation Z begins to enter their college and university years, educational institutions are recognizing this difference in how these students prefer to learn, and are starting to adapt their curricula to better engage their students and promote active participation in the classroom. Students are no longer willing to merely listen to a professor lecture, take copious notes and then pore over those notes to study for a final exam; they want a classroom environment that is more like the world in which they have grown up, with information gathered through multiple media sources and experiences that are tailored to their preferences and strengths.
In many cases, professors and their institutions are rising to the challenge. They’re not only learning about the technology that in many cases enables this richer learning environment, but they’re designing environments to support these tools. Many universities offer training to their professors on how to use available tech and tools to both adapt their curricula and to create an environment that fosters better learning for students who have grown up with this technology.
A number of trends that embrace this new learning style have risen to the forefront recently.
Personalizing the student experience is one of these trends. These students have grown up with content that is personalized to the individual, and they want their study program to be just as customized. Educational institutions are testing new combinations of artificial intelligence (AI) and academic video, to create programs that are unique to each individual.
Increasing the amount of rich content, such as HD video and video conferencing, digital textbooks that provide personalized quizzes, feedback and study plans, and lectures in a podcast format, are prevalent trends. Virtual reality installations within the classroom are also helping students to more directly experience what they’re learning.
Active learning classrooms, which have become more common in the K-12 educational environment, are now graduating to the post-secondary learning environment. These are typically classrooms built specifically to create an active learning environment and which facilitate group learning through their shared technology and spaces. Teams are seated at group tables, with shared screens that can actively share with other screens and groups in the room. The design of the space is a priority, and this has initiated a new area of specialization: the field of learning space design.
These classrooms are not only designed to accommodate the use of laptops, with convenient power and WIFI but also optimize the use of collaboration tools. These may include digital whiteboards, from which notes can be saved and shared, mobile device applications that can be used to respond to group questions, polls and surveys, or wireless projection, which allows seamless sharing of content between multiple users.
Ongoing user input and feedback on these innovative learning methods will be critical to the successful integration of these new tools and designs into the classroom. As these trends are embraced by greater numbers of professors, programs and institutions, they will continue to evolve, and as the next generation of learners enters the educational system, they’ll bring their own innovations to school.