Understanding Generation Z

ScholarNet Blog Articles | June 1, 2021

The torch has been passed to a new generation of students, so let’s explore who Gen Z is and find out how they learn and communicate.

For so long we’ve focused on understanding the millennial student, but now that time has passed. As millennials and the first wave of Generation Z (Gen Z) students have graduated and joined the workforce, it’s time to focus on better understanding Gen Z: who they are, and how they learn and communicate.

Millennials (Born 1981-1996) vs. Gen Z (Born 1997-2015)

Raised during an economic boom, millennials are an optimistic generation often seen as being pandered to by adults in their lives. Millennials buy more products or services that will give them a positive experience. As the oldest members of Gen Z enter adulthood, research shows that their experiences in living through multiple recessions are leading them to make more practical spending decisions than their older peers. That pragmatic pattern is exemplified in how today’s teens tend to be more interested in saving money than millennials were at that age.

While millennials grew up during the advent of cell phones, dial up internet services, and DVD players, Gen Z had access to smartphones, unlimited Wi-Fi, and streaming services that put DVD players to shame. Millennials watched incredible technology innovation begin, but Gen Z was immersed in it from day one.

Defining Traits

Pew Research Center identifies interesting trends in ethnic diversity and educational levels among recent generations. Gen Z is more ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and the most educated as of yet.

Have At Least One Immigrant Parent:

14%                   22%
Millennials        Gen Z

18-21-Year-Olds Enrolled In College:

43%          52%              57%
Gen X      Millennials    Gen Z
In 1987    In 2003         In 2018

Nearly all Gen Z teens have access to smartphones, and use them to do pretty much everything. Teens have mixed views on whether social media has a positive or negative effect on their generation, as it’s great for connecting with friends and family, but can also lead to bullying and rumor spreading.

How Does Gen Z Learn?

With digital technology having always been fully integrated into their lives, as a whole Gen Z expects that learning tools will be available on-demand, with low barriers to access any desired knowledge. For them, learning isn’t limited to just the classroom; it’s something that can take place anytime and anywhere. They believe they should be able to seamlessly connect academic experiences to personal experiences through the same tools. With online grading portals, Gen Z wants access to scores within hours of finishing an exam.

Gen Z ranked YouTube and video as preferred methods for learning, with YouTube ranking second only to teachers as a learning tool. For Gen Z, YouTube ranked higher than lectures, in-person activities with classmates, learning applications, and books.

How Does Gen Z Communicate?

While multiple channels are important, one communication mode rises above the rest: texting over talking. For Gen Z, their phone is an extension of one’s self, and their digital life occupies a greater portion of their time than their offline interactions.

With Gen Z, attention spans are decreasing, making this generation the ultimate consumers of short-and-sweet snack media. They prefer videos and images over text – and punchy headlines and concise text resonate better than lengthy passages of words.

Members of Gen Z acknowledge that technology has weakened their interpersonal skills, and they need help developing these skills as they approach the workforce. They need more face time by going to events or meeting with friends instead of texting. While many don’t possess the social skills of previous generations, they are known for having a strong sense of pragmatism.  While Gen Z wants to make a difference in the world, an innate historical wariness makes them seek security and growth opportunities as they prepare for careers.

We’ve shared some information about Gen Z, now we’d love to hear what you think. Share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, so we can all better communicate with this new generation.

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