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by Catherine Man

It is a perennial problem to solve for teachers everywhere: How do I adapt my methods for each group I teach? Every group or class is different. The nuances of the problem become more complex when variables such as age, ability range, and current culture are factored in. Even for professors who teach the same age range at the same school year in and year out, the culture in which the students live and breathe will determine which teaching methodologies are effective for them.

This is particularly true for this generation’s youth cohort, whose ages range from the teens to early 20s in 2019– dubbed Generation Z. Even more so than their precursors, the Millennials, they have been constantly immersed in digital interaction and video culture since birth. They watch YouTube videos for entertainment instead of TV shows. Like Millennials, they redefined learning and education for themselves and other generations. When faced with uncertainty in a task, they take to learning from peers on the internet– and online videos in particular; they also embrace an entrepreneurial spirit that has them contributing their own YouTube content. They are both the consumers and the producers.

In a 2018 survey administered by the digital education company Pearson to more than 2,500 respondents, Generation Z were found to prefer learning from watching YouTube videos over other modalities, even more so than Millennials.

The findings also indicate that this YouTube generation does not wait idly for instruction; they are very likely to attempt to figure out problems on their own first. They are incredibly connected and plugged into social media; they are easily on five media platforms at the same time.

Teachers may infer that this resourcefulness can also foster impatience, attention issues, and result in a quickened drain on their cognitive energy. The drain on cognitive energy is particularly concerning because of the magnitude of information online and a greater need for the critical skills to differentiate the useful from the irrelevant, and truths from untruths. When cognitive energy is used up, humans tend to rely on biases and short cuts when making decisions.

Interestingly enough, the survey also found that Generation Z appreciated and valued interpersonal interactions more than Millennials. A clear majority of survey responders reported that teachers were among the most influential presence in their lives. And despite their aptitude for knowledge building on the internet, they were generally less impressed with online classes, and preferred face to face activities in an on-campus environment.

What can teachers take away from this report?

The current generation of youth highly value:

  • a self reliant approach to problem solving by supplementing knowledge with YouTube videos
  • targeted guidance from influential adults in their lives
  • real-time interaction and relationship building

The findings from 2018 underscore the value of many online education components that the Office of Educational Technology endorse when helping professors develop courses. These include but are not limited to:

  • inclusion of multimedia elements
  • strong instructor presence
  • ease of navigating the course
  • ice-breakers to help students connect
  • collaboration tools that encourage students to interact with each other

If a Generation Z student opts to take an online course, then it becomes even more imperative for professors to craft a thoughtfully structured and easily navigable course– and at the same time, cultivate online community by encouraging students to get to know each other and the teacher.

In the most general terms, seeking a fair balance between technology and human interaction would be our blueprint for developing an online course in this juncture in time.




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