Staying Relevant with Tech Trends While Meeting the Needs of Future Students

June 2018 marked my seventh year in the eLearning/Instructional Design field. In September 2018 I became a full time Instructional Designer. You would think that after seven years, I’d have all the knowledge, skills, and tools I need to do my job well.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m still learning.

Recently, I’ve been exploring and learning about the next generation of learners: Generation (Gen) Z.

A new chapter of education has arrived sooner than we realized. In recent years, the rapidly changing styles and needs of this generation of students launched a shift that we’re scrambling to prepare for.

Students of the Future

In an article featured in Forbes Magazine, Sieva Kozinsky (2017) describes how Gen Z students are changing the face of higher education “in the innovation of new learning tools, teaching styles, and unlimited access to resources. And they are proving that college is headed in a direction of a more learner-centric environment where students will become the directors of their own futures.” 

I’m technically a millennial, but I resonate with the learning wants and needs of a Gen Z student. Kozinsky (2017), provides insight into this next generation of learners. Gen Z students:           

  • Embrace social learning environments where they can be hands-on and directly involved in the learning process.
  • Expect on-demand services that are available at any time and with low barriers to access.
  • Are more career-focused earlier on in their college careers.
  • Thrive when they are given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience. They even enjoy the challenges of being a part of it.
  • Are comfortable with learning alongside other students using digital tools such as Skype and online forums.
  • Expect digital learning tools to be deeply integrated into their education. For them, technology has always been a fully integrated experience into every part of their lives. They desire to seamlessly connect academic experiences to personal experiences through these same tools.

If I’ve learned anything from my journey and experiences in online education and eLearning, it’s that education will always be around. Learners will always have a desire and need to learn. Those in higher education and eLearning need to work together to meet these wants and needs.         

Gen Z and Technology

As I progressed from a student employee to a part-time Instructional Designer Assistant to a full-time Instructional Designer, I’ve noticed something: people who work in eLearning tend to focus more on the world and language they know: technology.

We should always strive to improve technology. However, it’s easy to get so focused on advocating for and integrating new and improved technology that we forget the human factor.

Many think of Gen Z students as self-sufficient “digital natives” who can quickly grasp and learn with technology. However, according to a study conducted by Pearson (2018), these students still value their interactions with their teacher and classmates.

  • 78% think of their teachers as “very” or “extremely” important to their learning and development 
  • 57% prefer in-person activities with classmates
  • 39% prefer learning with a teacher leading their instruction
  • 22% prefer self-directed learning

We can’t assume that GenZ students are so technologically advanced that they don’t need or crave human interaction. At the same time, we can’t implement technology that they are less likely to engage with or that they are not comfortable using.

So, how do we bring a human factor to technology?

In her blog posts, Solutions to the Top Blended Learning Challenges and Blended Learning Challenges from Instructional Design, Jennifer Hofmann discusses the technological, organizational, and instructional design challenges and solutions to blended learning. She describes how when new technology is introduced, more attention is paid to the technology than how it will fit in the course design. When the design (i.e., curriculum and content) of a course is left by the wayside, an organization is left with little to no time to budget and create a successful program.     

One of the instructional design challenges Hoffman addresses is: “Looking at How to Teach as well as What to Teach.” She observes that an organization may run into obstacles when examining how and what to teach if they want to  incorporate technology because

  • They think it’s trendy or will save money
  • They don’t understand what the technology can do, or
  • They don’t consider how the content fits into the blended learning modality.

Hoffman stresses that the team in charge of developing a program including subject matter experts, project sponsors, facilitators, and instructional designers cannot predetermine “the delivery answer for a particular program” but rather go through “a thoughtful design process,” and decide the best delivery modality once the program has been built.

If you want to explore the topic of integrating technology into online and blended courses deeper, I shared some questions to ask about implementing these types of activities Teaching Presence.

Now What?

Education and the need for re-education continue to grow at rapids rates. As leaders in eLearning and higher education, we must seriously consider and answer the following questions:

  • How can we provide quality learning experiences to meet students’ learning styles, wants, and needs?
  • How can we collaborate and combine visions so that we serve future generations of students in the best possible way?
  • How are we making sure that when students receive their diploma, they look back at their experience and say, “Not only did I receive my degree, but even more so, I received a quality education that fully prepared me for the work I’m supposed to do?

Are we ready to equip Gen Z students for the future?

What are your thoughts as you reflect on these questions? Have you had similar thoughts or problem-solving tactics in your field? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!

References:

Hoffmann, J. (2018, May 21). Blended learning challenges from instructional design [Blog post].

Retrieved from Learning Solutions website: https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/blended-learning-challenges-from-instructional-design

Kozinsky, S. (2017, July 24). How generation Z is shaping the change in education. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/sievakozinsky/2017/07/24/how-generation-z-is-shaping-the-change-in-education/#551b8c736520

Pearson. (2018, May 24). What do generation Z and millennials expect from technology in education? Retrieved from Pearson website: https://www.pearsoned.com/generation-z-millennials-expect-technology-education/

Author: Ann Broda, Instructional Designer

Ann is completing her Master of Arts in Theatre and also teaches speech online. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, participating in theatre, drinking coffee, biking, and reading.

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