Generation Z

So far I have looked at learning theories to try and understand the needs of the user, and although more research is required I am starting to understand that people have differing needs when it comes to learning and there are different ways in which you can try to accommodate these needs. But is the delivery of education material via computer based media different to the delivery of education using more traditional methods? And do we need to deliver education using computers and other digital devices?

Caroline Geck, a bibliographic instruction librarian at Kean University Library, Union, NJ, wrote an article in which she identifies a generation of people that she calls Generation Z, Geck defines this generation as youths born in or after the year 1990, although this is not a universally recognised expression for this section of society, her naming of this group is based upon the Encarta World English Dictionary’s definition of Generation Y which is defined as people born in or after 1980.  Geck argues that the children she has labelled as Generation Z were born into a time period that is fundamentally a more advanced technological world than the previous Generation Y.  It is Geck’s belief that the Generation Z birth years correlate to the early stages of the World Wide Web.

Geck ,C (2006), http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/397034/the_generation_z_connection_teaching_information_literacy_to_the_newest

This association between the generation and the rise of digital technology has also been made by others; Marc Prensky describes the generational change in his 2001 paper Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, he explains that “A really big discontinuity has taken place!” This discontinuity is the rapid emergence of digital technology, he talks about how this generation is the first to have grown up under the influence of the new technology and how it has become integral to their lives, he say’s:

“It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. “

Prensky (2001) then goes on to provide his own terminology to describe this generation:

“What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives.”

Another term used for this generation is described by Author Don Tapscott in his book “Growing Up Digital” he calls them “The Net Generation” In his follow up book “Grown Up Digital” Tapscott explains why the influence has set this generation apart from its predecessors

“. . . the most significant change affecting youth is the rise of the computer, the Internet, and other digital technologies. This is why I call the people who have grown up during this time the Net Generation, the first generation to be bathed in bits” Tapscott (2009 p 17).

Geck (2006) also describes this generational distinction by asking the question “Why is this generation so special in today’s world?” and the answer is

“they are the most electronically connected generation in history”

Geck talks about this generation of humanity who are the first to be born into a digital world, and how technology has surrounded them from infancy.   She tells us that technology is common place to generation Z by saying:

“ these young people know no other reality than their Internet-based world, they are likely to have heightened technical expectations, attitudes, and beliefs.”

The identification of this generation’s familiarity with the new technology shows a change from the previous generation, an evolution of sorts and to meet the educational needs of these new students an evolution of teaching media may be necessary to hold the students interest.  To keep education relevant to the surrounding world, digital technology should not replace traditional methods completely but it should enhance the learning environment for today’s students but there are still many questions; Is the delivery of educational material via computer based media different to the delivery of education using more traditional methods?  Should it be different?  Is it currently being designed and delivered differently?  How can we make it more efficient and make the best use of the medium’s possibilities?

The challenge is to provide a learning environment that is relevant to Generation Z, their learning environment needs to take into consideration both the educational content and individual learning styles while also providing access to a wide range of media.

In the journal ‘World Academy of Science, Engineering & Technology’, Apostolia and Jenny Pange (2011) look at the correlation between E-learning and teaching theories, in their article ‘Is E-learning Based On Learning Theories? A Literature Review’, they believe that E-learning does not correlate to teaching theories:

“E-learning aims to build knowledge and skills in order to enhance the quality of learning. Research has shown that the majority of the e-learning solutions lack in pedagogical background” Pange & Pange (2011)

They also highlight the diversity of E-learning solutions available but they also draw attention to the deficiencies of the:

  • teaching strategies and content delivery,
  • time and pace management,
  • interface design,
  • preservation of learners’ focus.

Although these are all relevant to the application I intend to produce, for the purpose of this blog post I will just be looking at their views on teaching strategies and content delivery and I will return to the other points at a later date.

The authors explain the way technology can support differing educational content, text, graphics, audio and video, but the technology  is not the going to be effective without the correct educational structure, they say:

“Yet, the fundamental problem for the quality and effectiveness of the educational procedure is the structure of the teaching and not the mean of delivery [10]. Any technology is pedagogically neutral [6]” Pange & Pange (2011)

According to Pange and Pange the delivery of education material via computer based media is different to the delivery of education using more traditional methods?  It is different because of its neutral pedagogy.

This provides weight to my theory that, to improve my own designs and make them more effective, an understanding of teaching/learning theory would be a great asset.  In fact Pange and Pange (2011) go on to say this

“All educational systems should be designed to promote knowledge. For that reason, even before the design and implementation of any educational solution, designers should be aware of the LTs and the way learners learn.”

They also discuss how currently developers just reproduce existing textbooks in on-line environments, but this is not appropriate for the educational process to be effective they go on to explain their reasoning for this belief:

“Traditional textbooks are not always suitable in e-learning settings where tutor and learners are physically separated. As previously mentioned, the educational content should be accurate, concise, thorough and well designed so as to be suitable for quality and effective online learning. The structure of the material should go from simple to more complicated concepts, from known to unknown situations, from theory to practice. “Pange & Pange (2011)

But here is the problem; there are many learning theories but which one is appropriate for e-learning?

“Many LTs exist, but none is especially formulated in order to support e-learning environments. With the continuous research on this area, new LTs are emerging, but still the most common approach is the combination of more than on” Pange & Pange (2011)

This article suggests that the delivery of education material via computer based media in the field of E-learning needs to be different to the delivery of education using more traditional methods and in order to make it more efficient it needs to be delivered using teaching theories, but there is currently no defined theory that is appropriate to the platform but with further research a combination of theories could be the way forward.  It seems that Caroline Geck’s Generation Z are a generation that the world is not currently prepared for, a generation who’s needs cause problems that we don’t yet have solutions to.  The main problem with the current situation is that we are reacting to a situation and by the time we find suitable solutions the situation may have changed or further evolved.  Could we be facing a period of time where we can’t effectively support the educational needs of learners?  With technology developing at such a rate what will be the next effect?  I am looking at E-learning in this blog post ‘The Digital Generation’ but I have not yet covered how this may effect information kiosks or mobile devices?  I hope to answer these questions and more in my future blog posts, please feel free to follow my progress.

Geck, C. 19th February 2006,The Generation Z Connection: Teaching Information Literacy to the Newest Net Generation, [online] Available at: http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/397034/the_generation_z_connection_teaching_information_literacy_to_the_newest  [accessed October 2011)

Healing, G. & Jones, C. Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning; Oct2010, Vol. 26 Issue 5, p344-356, 13p [online] Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=53710621&site=ehost-live  [accessed October2011]

Pange, A & Pange, J. (2011) Is E-learning Based On Learning Theories? A Literature Review, World Academy of Science, Engineering & Technology, Vol. 80, p62-66, 5p [online] Available at:

http://www.waset.org/journals/waset/v80/v80-13.pdf  [accessed October 2011)

Prensky M. (2009) H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. Innovate Journal of Online Education Volume 5, Issue 3. [online] Available at: http://www.innovateonline.info/  (accessed October 2011).

Prensky M. (2001b) Digital natives, digital immigrants part II: do they really think differently? On the Horizon Vol 9,Issue 6, pp 1–6.

Tapscott D. (1998) Growing up Digital: the Rise of the Net Generation, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tapscott D. (2009) Grown up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World, New York: McGraw-Hill.

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