Generation Z and the Digital Future of Learning

‘Generation Z’ are comprised of children born in or after the year 1990(Grail Research, 2011). They were born in a time where school shootings, global terrorism, climate change and destruction and the international financial crisis were and still are ongoing events (Howe and Strauss, 2008).

These kids have grown up with the World Wide Web at their fingertips. They are constantly highly connected to the net. Z kids are the children of multimedia as they have 24 hour access to the Internet (Grail Research, 2011). Severing a Z generation child from their instant messaging, text messaging, smartphones, tablet computers and social networking sites is the same as severing off a limb. These technologies are part of their fibre; it is who they are and how they identify themselves. As a result, generation Z would rather text than talk. Z kids prefer to chat online (Grail Research, 2011). Furthermore, it is not unusual for generation Z to be communicating with friends they have not actually met. Generation Z kids do not spend much time outdoors, most of them are not familiar with the idea of coming home at night when the street lights turn on. Most Z’ers do not even like going outside to play unless adults force them. To Z’ers their Xbox, Wii-Fit and the net are much more appealing (USA TODAY,2012). I cannot understand this! It does not make sense to me. But then again and I am not from generation Z.

I’m a generation X child. X’ers were born anywhere from the early 1960s to the early 1980s (Grail Research, 2011). I always saw X’ers as the perfect generation, we loved the outdoors and had a complete grasp of the technological knowledge explosion that alienated our parents’ generation. We are the outdoor extremists, who can offer tech support to our parents when they need to know how to record a show on the T.V. I always thought of Generations X’ers as the perfect hybrid. Professor Christine Henseler summarizes X’ers as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all” (Henseler, 2012).

Wow, she makes us sound noble! So what’s wrong with Z kids? Are they afraid of fresh air and the sun?  I used to look down at this new generation, I used to pity them, I saw them as anti-social and agoraphobic;  but really how can I blame them? Maybe, I need to try to look at the world through the lens of a Z’er?

Author, Mark Braker states “Additionally the transmission occurs not just through the stories that are told to the young, but also through the non-verbal messages and non-verbal behaviour through which members of the older generation unconsciously externalize their wounded identities on the members of the later generations during their formative years, making the young into receptacles of unhealed identity wounds of their elders.” (Bracher, 2009. pg.98)

Nothing shapes a generation like its environment! X’ers like me grew up in homes where it was considered normal for both parents to work a 40- 60 hour week to bring home the bacon and giving birth to buzz terms such as ‘latch-key kid and yuppie’(Grail Research, 2011). Generation X’ers hated not having both parents at home and were determined that their own children would not have the same experience. Since X’ers are the parents of Z kids, is it any wonder we brought home schooling back with a vengeance?  Therefore, bringing new cultural terms such as ‘stay-at-home dad’ and ‘shared care’.Generation X’s family values;  coupled with funding cuts to public education and the horrific rise in school shootings has not only encouraged homeschooling it has popularized.Furthermore, hands on parental  tutoring aimed at creating an enriched learning environment in the home has also seen an explosion. Due to the fact that a large portion of generation Z ‘s schooling was tailor made; Z’ers will grow up with a self-learning, self-directed education  model.

Z kids are being raise by a generation that is distrustful of and has lost faith in the formal public school system. I see this sentiment reflected in all my friends! My friends entering their forties are still paying off their huge student loans while my youngest generation X’er friends are still struggling to find or keep  a menial job that they are overeducated for. These sentiments will not be lost on generation X’s children.

Alternative and enriched schooling, independent self-directed learning and unlimited access to educational information will result in generation Z being highly adaptable employees. Generation Z will be able to assess what skills they need to  learn next to make them more desirable to an employer and they will use all their multimedia tools to acquire that vital information. My own job interview experiences are forerunners of this trend. Last summer, I wished to advance my nursing career and land a position on an IMCU/organ transplant unit and although I knew very little about the nursingfield of organ transplant; that was a non-issue for me. I had the World Wide Web at my fingertips, a source of unlimited cutting edge information for any field. I used multi-media resources to intensely research all topics that I felt may be relevant to the interview. This resulted in me being awarded the position over nurses with more seniority. This example is just a taste of what Z’ers will do with the net.

“They have access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge. They network with people from around the world. They create and share content truly like never before, and . . . well, they’re on a roll. And in case there’s any doubt, the Gen Z roll is fuelled by the Internet. Students can follow any passion that they have with or without our help. The knowledge, the models, the exemplars, the networks, the funding, the mentoring all can be found online. Gen Zs write books, create comics, make medical breakthroughs, launch start-ups, create apps, lead causes, and show others how to maximize their lives (life hackers), and if they don’t have an avenue to do this at school, they can do it (and are doing it) on their own after school.” (Renfro, 2013).Perhaps what is most impressive about these accomplishments is that some Z kids are doing all this and more before graduating high school.

That being said the old proverb ‘you can only run so far from your roots’ will influence generation Z future life choices. Bracher, proposes that “it has become the child’s task to mourn, to reverse the humiliation and feelings of helplessness pertaining to the trauma of his forbearers.” (Bracher, 2009. pg.98) Tailor made grade school education, multimedia information and economic concerns may cause generation Z to forgo formal university.

Talking to a lot of my friends and cohorts, I’ve come to realize that our own negative experiences with education, unemployment/ underemployment and debt may in fact foster support for this way of thinking. For example my husband, myself and a group of our friends were all sitting around one night discussing our children ( actual and envisioned) and university education. It was shocking that most of us came to the realization that we would rather our children secure a trade and then enter into university. Trade school would offer our children jobs that are in demand without being buried by debt like their parents.For example “The unemployment rate for Canada’s youth is nearly twice as high as the national average. Being young and having a university education means you’re on average, twice as likely to be unemployed as the average Canadian…The result is a generation struggling to make ends meet in low-paying service jobs while holding advanced degrees.”  (, 2013)

Generation Z will be the first education DIY’ers and many will opt out of Ivy League schools (Business News Daily, 2013). Z’ers will look at educational opportunities like no other generation: home school, community college, ivy league universities, trade school and online degrees will just be some of their options. Other generation Z’ers will choose to start their businesses. “Creating small businesses, pitching projects to larger companies, moving from contract to contract, will all become important parts of the modern labour market” for generation Z (CBC, 2013). View CBC’s amazing documentary

To meet generation Z’s unique educational needs, other options may be waiting in the wings. Z’ers who fears the crushing debt of ivy league universities may have a future option of completing a super diploma (Renfro, 2013). What is a ‘super diploma’ you ask? “The super diploma isn’t just a merger of the college prep and technical diplomas, but it isn’t revolutionary either. This is just an evolution that better reflects where we are. The super diploma will be awarded to Gen Zs who are producers, innovators, and creators, which the Internet has empowered them to become. Right now most of them are creating their own individualized learning paths.” (Renfro, 2013). Renfro outlines how super diplomas are being created , and what communities, school boards and corporations can do to foster and promote them.

Another option North American governments can explore to help generation Z is to utilize Switzerland’s  educational /apprenticeship program model (CBC, 2013). The youth unemployment rate in Switzerland is 2.8%, the lowest in the developed world(CBC, 2013).In Switzerland, youth unemployment is unheard of (CBC, 2013). At 15 years of ages, Swiss youths in high school are given a list of 230 apprenticeship choices(CBC, 2013).  The youths are streamed into the workforce and apprenticed in their chosen field for three years while attending high school (CBC, 2013).  After that 3 year period , the youths can either select a different apprenticeship or continue on to university studies (CBC, 2013). This educational/apprenticeship program is very popular and well received by the Swiss adolescents (CBC, 2013).  No current platforms to date that resemble the Swiss educational/apprenticeship model are available for Canada’s Z generation. I believe that given Switzerland’s thriving youth employment rates; Canada may want to start developing such  program choices for  Z’ers.

What will all the current choices mean for generation Z? How will their radically different upbringing change society, formal education and lifelong learning? I don’t know…but we are about to find out.


Bracher, M. (2009). Social Symptoms of Identity Needs: Why We Have Failed to Solve Our Social Problems and What to do About It. Retrieved from:

Business News Daily. ( 2013). Mielach, D .’Gen Z’ Already Concerned About Finances

  Retrieved from :

Canadian Broadcasting Centre( CBC) Generation Jobless. (2013,  January 31).Retrieved from:

Grail Research. (2011, November). Consumers of Tomorrow Insights and Observations About Generation Z. Retrieved from:

Henseler, C. Ed.(2012,August) .Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion. Retrieved from:

Howe, N,. and Strauss, W.(2008). Millennials & K-12 Schools. LifeCourse Associates. pp. 109–111. ISBN 0971260656. (2013) Wolfe-Wylie, W.  Why Canada’s universities are failing to prepare students for life. Retrieved from :

Renfro, A. (2013, March 4). Getting Smart Blog Series, Learning, PreK-12, Smart Teachers ; The Super Diploma. Retrieved from :

USA TODAY (2012, March 3rd)Horovitz, B. After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be? Retrieved from:


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s