Get Ready, Higher Ed—iGen is going to College

The oldest iGen is about 18 years old, give or take a few years—depending on the research group you ask. And, now, they’re going to college.

Although researchers disagree on this generation’s start year, as well as what to call them—Gen Z, Digital Natives, Post-Millennials, Centennials, Net Gen, Plurals, Gen Tech (to name a few), most do agree that iGen, being the first generation to have been born with the Internet in their hands, is living digitally like no other generation before them.  So how does their indigenous digital literacy translate to higher education?  It doesn’t… exactly… yet.

The challenge seems to be in their style of learning.  But, wait. That’s nothing new. Educators have been challenged with multiple learning styles since the 70s. So how is Gen Z different?

Consider the expectation of students who have grown up with the ability to personalize virtually every online experience to suit their specific needs. They create their own unique user profiles- in mercilessly vetted online environments, subscribe only to information they choose to receive, post content designed to prove their point , collaborate (share) with peers, and evaluate (review) the value of these experiences… all on their own terms, and with no apologies.

Granted, Digital Natives’ Internet savvy is mainly used in social and entertainment environments, but that’s only because business and education sites haven’t caught up yet.  And therein lies the problem.

Whereas their Millennial predecessors’ style of learning revolved around the delivery of pre-determined content & services via their choice of online vs hybrid or even virtual venues, Post-Millennial  students already live online and they are accustomed to an adaptive style of learning. In other words, they choose environments in which they receive content and services that adapt as they create their own learning pathways and interact with information at their own pace.

Wait. Adaptive Learning isn’t new either; educators have been manually personalizing learning paths for individual students who don’t fit the traditional mold since the invention of the student portfolio. Yes, but Centennials require an automated and predictive process—for each individual user. Today’s educators have neither the time nor the digital savvy to personalize learning for every student. So, post-secondary institutes will need to start investing in Adaptive Learning systems if they want to attract Net Gen students.

It may sound like a tall order for many schools, but smart adaptive learning systems, such as Osmosis, Smart Sparrow, and Knewton are already being used in medical schools and university computer tech programs worldwide.  They are designed to collect student feedback and formative assessment data, and apply cognitive scientific algorithms to generate sequential content that reinforce concepts and evaluate learning. Campus Technology. “11 Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2017.”  So, it’s not like higher ed institutes have to reinvent the wheel; they just have to get it rolling-although they may need to form a committee to discuss it, first.

But when they finally do invest in Adaptive Learning systems, colleges shouldn’t forget to market to prospective students on social media sites, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, because the chances of Plurals finding information outside the Internet are slim to none. In fact, 95% of Gen Tech use YouTube on the regular, and 50% of them “can’t live without it.”  Facts & Trends “What Technology Drives Gen Z.”

Of course, then, schools will need to invest in training faculty and office staff to incorporate these adaptive systems into the campus culture and curriculum. But that’s a whole other challenge for another discussion.

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