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Gen Z has been on the mind of HR professionals for a long time. What was not foreseen was its impact on higher education. This generation brings with it their own tools, and their own biases when it comes to technology. They have been using the internet since they were born. They have computers, tablets and cell phones. They also have ambition to remake the world on their own terms rather than settling for what has been handed down from the millennials.

Gen Z is not unwilling to learn, but they may be unwilling to follow the standardized treadmill of building the perfect biography for a good school…

This should not put a strain on colleges and universities. They already have the tools and equipment to train students in the 21st Century. What these institutions of higher learning do not have is a way to motivate Gen Z. The methods and techniques of teaching seem outdated to people who have been learning things through the internet for a long time. What would the schools offer which can motivate and urge these students to learn, when they know they can use the internet to pull up a video in a matter of minutes to explain things?

This challenge is being addressed by various schools in their own way. At Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, they have an app for that. The iLancaster is an app with more than 79,000 users. It is used for almost every kind of student engagement, from enrollment onwards. The app itself has been described as user-centric and allows for a different kind of experience; one where the student has the university with them at all times – courtesy of the app. The student has access to course schedules, social events, various student interactions as well as grades. The app was developed with input from the students.

This seems to be the key to getting the most from Gen Z. They need to be motivated via co-creation and collaboration. Design expert Jean Mutton, who has more than 30 years experience in higher education wrote in a recent article on Efficiency Exchange that it is important for students to be agents for change in “learning, teaching and professional services.”

Gen Z Participate in the Design of Their Education

Working with the Gen Z crowd does have its advantages. For one, they are familiar with the technology interfaces and with what they want. This can go beyond helping with the design and development. With the right class structures that can challenge pre-conceptions and bring new ideas to the table.

Classroom with an interactive screen

Unlike earlier generations which have been dependent on developers to bring ideas to fruition, and then choosing which ones to succeed, Gen Z can help in the whole process of creating tech for them to use. They know the trends because they can form them through social media.

The problem with the old design process for apps and programs is that the target user has to be involved, and yet they themselves do not know what they want. This presents a unique problem where the first release is immediately outdated, as users get to know what they can do and ask for it. The second release then meets the earlier demands. It is a game of catch up where the releases are always late. With Gen Z on board early in the development process, app creation is closer to the ideal output. The release has the imprint of the users, and the final product meets the requirements much more closely.

When it comes to education, the same rules may apply. Gen Z is not unwilling to learn, but they may be unwilling to follow the standardized treadmill of building the perfect biography for a good school, and jumping through hoops to graduation.

Addressing their education needs requires involving them in the process of curriculum, schedules and accessibility. With their input and devotion to making the world better, higher education can transform from a passive to a collaborative experience. And that would be a change for the better.

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