Understanding Generation Z

By Lana Peterson, service-learning and education technology researcher.

In order to provide the highest quality education to our students, we must first understand who they are and how they learn.

Although sources vary, “Generation Z” comprises individuals born between 1990 and 2010. Often called “digital natives,” they are the first generation born into the modern computer age.

Many of the attributes of this generation derive from its access to computers and, perhaps most importantly, mobile devices. Brandon Blacketter, born in 1997, shared, “I always have my phone on me — social networking, texting. Basically [I’m] always doing something involved with technology.”

people-hand-iphone-smartphone

Members of Generation Z are adept at multitasking, and although their attention spans may seem short, their ability to juggle many tasks at one time can be beneficial in a class that utilizes service-learning. “Sometimes when I take notes in a lecture setting in school, and my professor mentions a name or concept, I’m off doing a Google search to get more information before I even realize it,” said Annie Wood, a member of Generation Z born in 1992.

Technology allows Generation Z to access a wealth of information and also to stay socially connected like no other generation has before. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” admits Katie Morrison, born in 1994. “The blessing: we are able to keep in touch with family and friends who live far away from us. The curse: with social media, we are often distracted from the people and things in the present time in our lives. That can make it difficult to just ‘be’.”

Students are able to get the whole picture on issues in an instant, and that includes immediate feedback from peers and educators. The use of social media and other online news outlets has made Generation Z very socially responsible. Climate change, terrorism, and other pressing global issues are on the minds of today’s young people. It is the role of educators to help them transition from recipients of knowledge to change agents. Each generation brings its own unique gifts and challenges to society. While approaches to education change constantly, service-learning may be the best strategy to leverage this generation’s ability to multitask, connect to others globally, and serve others faster through technology.