All Your Students Are Generation Z

Gen ZWhen I started working at a university in 2000, there was a lot of talk about Millennials. That generation gets a lot less attention these days. I am not much of a fan of these generation generalizations, but that won't stop them from being topics of conversation. They are particularly of interest to marketers.

The generation that follows the Millennials are those born between 1995 - 2012. That makes them 5- 22 years old. I don't know how we can generalize very much about that wide a range of people. But educators should take note because they do include kids in kindergarten through the new college graduates and all those students in between.

The post-Millennial generation hasn't gotten name that everyone agrees on. I hear them called Generation Z, Post-Millennials, iGeneration, Centennials and the Homeland Generation.

Although "iGeneration" might suggest that they are self-centered, the lowercase i references the Apple world of iPods, iPhones, iPads etc.

"Homeland" refers to the post-9/11 world they grew up in. September 11, 2001 was the last major event to occur for Millennials. Even the oldest members of Generation Z were quite young children when the 9/11 attacks occurred. They have no generational memory of a time the United States was not at war with the loosely defined forces of global terrorism.

I'll use Gen Z to label this demographic cohort after the Millennials.

Here are some of the characteristics I find that supposedly describe Gen Z. You'll notice that much of this comes from the fact that this generation has lived with the Internet from a young age. This is usually taken to mean that they are very comfortable (don't read that as knowledgeable) with technology and interacting on social media.

Besides living in an Internet age, they live in a post-9/11 age and grew up through the Great Recession and so have a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity.

They get less sleep than earlier generations.

They are mobile phone users - not desktop, laptop or landline users.

They are wiser than earlier generations about protecting their online personalities and privacy, but they live in a world that also offers more threats.  For example, they are more likely to create “rinsta” and “finsta” Instagram personas. (Rinsta is a “real” account and finsta is a “fake” or “friends-only” profile.)

They are wiser to marketing and more resistant to advertising. Less than a quarter of them have a positive perception of online ads (Millward Brown). But, perhaps ironically, they trust YouTube stars, Instagram personalities, and other social media influencers and that includes when they make purchasing decisions.

Having grown up with more of it, they are generally more open to efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.

They’re easily bored with an average attention span of eight seconds (Sparks & Honey). Of course, the attention span of the average millennial is supposed to be 12 seconds. That makes them hard to engage, but they self-identify as wanting to be engaged.

That haven't had or expect to have summer jobs.

They are said to be slower at maturing than earlier generations. They postpone getting a driver's license. Many of them even postpone having sex.

Rather than a generation gap, like the one made famous in the 1960s, they are more likely to hang with their parents.

They are very open to sharing their opinions in many ways from consumer reviews and other consumer behavior, and online they like collaborative communities and the exchange of ideas and opinions.

The Myth of Digital Natives

baby with computer

When I was fairly new to working in higher education, there was a lot of buzz about the students we were getting being "digital natives."  This was around 2001 and educator Marc Prensky had coined the term in an essay.

The claim was that these digital natives had a kind of innate facility with technology because they were born into it. This was also extended to them having increased abilities to do things like multitask.

Prensky took it further by saying that educators needed to change their ways to deal with this tech-savvy generation.

But new research (see below) indicates that this digital native theory is false. 

A digital native who is information-skilled simply just because they never knew a world that was not digital doesn't exist. This is also true in that any special abilities of students in this generation to multitask is also untrue. In fact, designing learning with this assumption hurts rather than helps learning.

We were naive to think that someone could pick up digital skills intuitively. But this may also be a dangerous fallacy that risks leaving young people lacking certain skills that were assumed to be known or so were not taught or emphasized.

I was never a proponent of this digital natives  - and digital immigrants - because I viewed "tech-savvy" as a very superficial kind of knowledge. I found most students in this group to be users of technology, but using a computer or cellphone doesn't impart understanding.

In 2007, I wrote about earlier research that was pointing towards this idea being false. Now, it seem definitive that all of this generational separation is a fallacy. It turns out that none of us is good at multitasking. We do it out of necessity, but something always suffers. Some studies have shown that a driver using a cellphone is the equivalent of a drunk driver.

Millennials - the group often labeled as being natives - don’t necessarily use technology more often and are no better at using basic computer programs than older generations.  Researchers also found that besides educators Millennials also have bought into the myth. Twice as many of them self-identify themselves as digitally proficient as actually would be assessed at that level.

The only aspect of all this that makes sense is that those people born into a technology are less likely to hesitate to use it or fear it. Clearly, a toddler today who is playing with a smartphone at age two and using apps will have no problems using it in other more serious ways in kindergarten. If these young people are better at using a totally new technology than a 70 year old person, I will consider that more about an aging brain than a birth year.

Read More

blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2017/07/27/

ecdl.org/policy-publications/digital-native-fallacy

sciencedirect.com/science/