66 Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019
New Approaches to Learning for Generation Z
Joseph B. Mosca
Kevin P. Curtis
Paul G. Savoth
The authors conducted a review of the literature to investigate how the current and future generation of
college-age students learn. The authors examined how technology and learning environments effect the
students’ ability to learn. The rapid development and adoption of mobile communication technology has
altered the way students receive and interpret information. The change in the way students learn is
leading to a need for change in the way teachers should deliver curriculum to students. Using multiple
inclusions of pedagogical approaches (MIOPA) the authors have been able to increase students’
engagement and learning.
Keywords: MIOPA, Generation Z, Educational Technology
The Millennial generation consists of those born between 1982 and the early ’90s, while Generation Z
consists of those born 1995-2012. All educators need to become aware of the learning preferences for
students from these two generations. Both the Millennials and the Generation Z students are more
technologically sophisticated and may be more self-directed than previous generations; therefore,
educators need to reinforce critical thinking skills and modify their instructional approach to maximize
the engagement of these students. Students have become accustomed to learning online and watching
videos rather than reading textbooks. Students who have grown up with the current technology are
considered digital natives, yet they lack the skills to use the technology in a strategically significant way
to plan and develop a career. Educators should adopt and employ the technology students are accustomed
to using and instruct them on how to utilize it to advance their thinking and strategically plan for their
future career goals. The hypotheses tested in this report were a.) students preferred doing hands-on
experience instead of lecturing, b.) students preferred working in groups and problem-solving, instead of
working alone and completing work that required only memorization or the recall of factual information,
and finally, c.) students preferred learning in a multimedia rich environment that utilized a variety of
Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019 67
activities and hands-on activities to reinforce their learning. The authors designed and conducted a survey
to ascertain student attitudes with regards to the stated hypotheses.
A LITERATURE REVIEW OF GENERATION Z
Previous generations were somewhat diverse, but not as diverse as Generation Z (the Z’s). The Z’s
are accustomed to biracial, multiracial offspring, and open-minded to parents of the same sex (Pew,
2014). Shatto and Erwin (2016, p.6), point out the Z’s have easy access to streaming services so they can
watch programming at their convenience on a multitude of devices. They spend up to 9 hours a day on
personal cell phones, making them increasingly dependent on mobile technology. Shatto and Erwin noted
the inability of the Z’s to analyze the validity of information and critically use the information they
receive. This technology dependence has a direct, although sometimes flawed, influence on how they
learned. Educators need to change their instructional approach and deliver concepts in smaller segments,
considering their attention span is only 8 seconds long.
Shatto and Erwin offer some teaching tips:
x Use mobile technology when possible.
x Use assignments that can be completed on tablets or phones.
x Encourage collaboration using technology.
x Reinforce concepts with YouTube videos.
x Incorporate hands-on experiences in the classroom.
Drs. Hallowell & Ratery (2011, p.28), refer to the short attention span as “acquired attention deficit
disorder” because their brains are now wired to comprehend complex visual images. Therefore, a visual
approach to teaching that includes graphics, animations or video clips is effective. While Hicks (2011)
points out that even though they may appear to be inattentive and disengaged, they are “soaking up” just
as much information as those who appear completely engaged. Williams (2015) contends the Z’s have
their eyes open and are very much aware of societal issues, mindful of the future, taking in information
instantaneously and lose interest just as fast.
In some ways, the Z’s are like previous generations, they rely on their electronic devises and their
social skills are weaking. However, advancing technology has had a major impact on both their behavior
and their thinking, which makes them different from previous generations. As a result, they possess
higher confidence and self-esteem, are very much aware of trends, and are technologically adept due to
their early introduction to technology and adaptation. They see themselves as bright, part of the global
village, accepting of a diverse population, and concerned about environmentally safe products. They are
constantly engaged in information sharing by utilizing a multitude of open platforms. Mobile devices are
their preference along with media with which they can interact (Gupta, Gagan, 2014).
University professors need to consider how important it is to establish an educational environment
with the clear objective of facilitating the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. An
optimal learning environment should foster pedagogical components that encompass information,
performance, situations, and hands-on experiences along with collaborative activities with other students,
which allows for the exchange of knowledge. It is the exchange of knowledge and the interactive
experience, coupled with hands-on reinforcement, that results in the greatest individual learning. When
students are given the opportunity to exchange knowledge among themselves, they are empowered. They
feel that what they are learning is relevant to their future. Being actively engaged with the information
they are acquiring will give them a comprehensive approach to learning and thinking critically––an
important component for Generation Z. Currently, universities who are entrenched in the traditional
model of teaching by providing most of its services face to face on a campus should consider a change.
Increasingly, learning takes place outside the classroom and instructors need to adapt to physical and
virtual educational environments in order to keep up with the current advances in education
(Jaleniauskiene and Juceviciene, 2015).
68 Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019
Preparing the current and next generation of students requires teacher preparation programs that
incorporate teaching methods that students will learn from, but also enjoy. Additionally, well thought out
professional development must be employed to prepare in-service educators so that they have the
confidence and skills necessary to properly prepare students for their futures.
The development of our current mobile communication technology has created an artificial division
between educators and students. This division has developed due to the rapid changes in technology over
the last two decades. Current teaching methods have not adapted to address the ever-changing technology
and its impact on student learning. When educators are uncomfortable with the use of technology,
students suffer. Students learn best when they are actively engaged with the content. Utilizing technology
to engage students with the content allows educators to transform their educational environment from
teacher-centered to student-centered. Utilizing professional development to train teachers on effective
technology practices can help teachers to better prepare their students for the future.
WHAT IS LEARNING?
Learning is the means by which humans acquire skills and knowledge, resulting in a long-term
change in mental representations or associations that are the result of experiences. One can determine if
learning has taken place by assessing the following:
x A new behavior has been accomplished.
x Being able to recall information, facts, and knowledge, more quickly than previously.
x Being able to view and discuss a topic with more details. (Ormrod, 2016,p.10-49),
Generation Z’s are part of a knowledge society requiring radical new approaches to learning.
Education needs to shift its objectives to life-long and life-wide learning because future employees will be
knowledge workers who will be able to transfer learned knowledge to solve a complex problem.
Knowledge is the cornerstone of technology, commercialism and cultural forces on organizations and the
economy. Z’s will require skills and general knowledge that is significantly different from previous
generations. They will be sitting in front of monitors, holding iPads and will be emerged in information
and communications (Kalantzis & Cope, 2016).
Reviewing the criteria of learning, there are three components:
x Change cannot take place without learning.
x Over time, learning is maintained.
x Experiences provide learning. (Kalantzis and Cope, 2016, pp. 26-31).
Learning is a combination of experiences to alter behavior, which occurs through practice (Schunk,
2016), therefore, exploring the benefits of hands-on and experiential experiences should be considered
when preparing to teach the Z generation of students, keeping in mind that they are visual and prefer
physical learning applications and engagement (Kalantzis and Cope, 2016). With the advent of the
information age, we have begun a new economic paradigm with knowledge as its primary commodity.
The next generations will be working in what is being called the “Knowledge Economy” in which
knowledge will be used to generate tangible and intangible values.
Future educators need to play a role in developing their students’ creative, productive and social
potential. A reconceptualization of the three R’s needs to be considered if contemporary changes to
learning are to take place, whereby the new learning will be general in its focus, rather than targeting a
particular need or use. Future students will be capable of adjusting to and causing change, problem solve,
collaborate, and comprehend diversity. That said, learning will be increasingly interdisciplinary, resulting
in an intensified engagement with general knowledge, resulting in lifelong and life-wide learning. All
those currently teaching must review the components of formal learning:
Kalantzis and Cope, (2016) stated that formal learning must be:
x Deliberate and explicit
x Structured and goal oriented
x Analytical, abstracting, and generalizing (Kalantzis and Cope, (2016, p 26-30)
Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019 69
As Figure 1 illustrates, the learner is engaged in an organic environment where a concept or topic can
be considered from many points of view. Having multiple perspectives empowers the students’ freedom
to explore a variety of avenues, actively challenging the student to become part of the learning process.
Students do not all learn the same way; however, when teachers vary the learning environment and offer
multiple choices for students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept, a higher percentage of
students will master the information. Active learning can be defined as “a combination of teaching
approaches, environment, and technology, which supports learning that is student-centered to motivate
students to take part in the learning process” (eCampus News, 2017). For the purpose of this study, active
learning classroom will be referred to as “MIOPA,” multiple inclusions of pedagogical approaches,
which are a configuration of various pedagogical approaches to instill collaboration, problem solving,
exercises such as hands-on experiences, creativity, the value of inquiry learning and the development of
the learner’s confidence.
GRAPHIC APPROACH TO INFORMAL LEARNING
According to Aurel Pera (2013), multimedia classrooms can promote a meaningful learning
environment by varying both the number of representations students are exposed to and the degree of
their engagement in the learning process. Interactivity is becoming a preferred method for learner success.
Students learn better when provided with learning environments that combine verbal, visual, interactivity,
empowerment, and hands-on experiences for more intense cognitive engagement. Pera concluded that
there is a positive relationship between higher education environments when instructors employed active
and collaborative learning techniques. As stated above and illustrated in Figure 2, the MIOPA approach
makes room for considering a multiple-pronged approach to enhance student engagement for intense
70 Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019
ILLUSTRATION IF MIOPA
The Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE), administered to 14,512 faculty members in
2016 by The Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, asked faculty to what extent they
structured courses to achieve various objectives. Ninety-three percent responded that they “very
much” or “quite a bit” structure their courses to improve critical thinking. The other primary
objectives identified by sixty-four to sixty-seven percent of respondents included writing clearly,
acquiring a job or work-related knowledge and skills, working effectively with others and solving
complex real-world problems. These goals are consistent with the discussion of the need for a
MIOPA approach that is focused on student engagement.
Question 24 of the survey asked faculty the percentage of time in class that was spent lecturing,
discussing issues, in small group activities, presentations, videos, independent student work, and
testing. Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated they spend over fifty percent of class time
lecturing. Twenty-seven percent spent thirty to forty-nine percent of the time lecturing. Seventy-two
percent of faculty spent less than thirty percent of classroom time for discussion, and sixty-seven
percent spent less than twenty percent of classroom time in small group activities. The data raises the
question of whether there is adequate student engagement to accomplish the identified objectives.
The related National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), also administered nationally by
Indiana University to an extensive body of students, does indicate that eighty-five percent of students
believed that they “very much” or “quite a bit” learned to think critically; however, only about two-
thirds of the students agreed that they acquired work-related knowledge and skills or were better able
to solve complex or real-world problems. This result also raised the question of whether there was
sufficient student engagement in the classroom.
The survey also indicated that there was a gap between the time faculty expected students to
prepare for class and the actual time students spent studying. Fifty-two percent of faculty expected
students to spend five to 10 hours per week preparing for their class; however, only eleven percent of
the faculty actually believed that students spent that much time studying. This is consistent with
student reported data on the time spent preparing for class. There are some studies indicating that
student preparation time has decreased since 1960. A MIOPA approach may improve student
Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019 71
preparation because there is a direct connection between preparation and required participation and
engagement in class.
Educators spend hours planning learning experiences for their students, but students may not engage
enthusiastically. One of the biggest frustrations for educators is unmotivated students. One way to address
this problem is through student empowerment. Instructors all have a genuine interest in their students’
success. Empowering students may increase their engagement and therefore, their learning.
Empowerment is accomplished by allowing the student to put forth their own ideas in correlation with the
concepts put forth, set their own schedules for study and providing an opportunity to discuss with each
other what they are doing and sharing the learning. As a result of student empowerment, it becomes the
process of energizing others in order to help them experience the task they are engaged in as empowering.
By considering the employment of student empowerment, the result is intrinsic task motivation (Sanders,
Boss, Boss, Mc Conki, 2009).
When preparing a lesson plan to engage students in the learning process, instructors need to create
learning spaces that foster a student-centered environment. For the most part, the traditional classroom
setting with seats/desks/tablets in a fixed lined up position facing the instructor at the front of the room
does not give rise to student empowerment or an engaging environment. Learning effectiveness increases
when the learning environment is created for a variety of settings (David Kolb, 2015). As Kolb suggests,
the authors designed a lesson plan implementing a hybrid instructional approach as indicated in Figure 3.
The images in Figure 3 are display examples of how these concepts can be applied to starting a
business, a science project, designing a product, practicing a new Math concept, etc. The objective is for
students to be given an opportunity to take an active part in using the material they have been exposed to
in the online session. In addition, students will be empowered to control their group activities, decide
how they will demonstrate to the class what was learned by combining what was learned from the online
lesson, group discussion, and interaction with other groups. It is not suggested here that these examples
are the only way to engage students in the learning process. These examples are just the beginning of
suggestions to consider when planning lessons for generation Z. According to Winsett, Foster, Dearing
and Burch (2016), students should be given the opportunity to engage in a variety of approaches such as
collaborating with others in the classroom, outside the classroom, and to be affectively and physically
involved in the learning to comprehend new concepts. These methods provide more time for students to
be exposed to a concept and a chance to practice.
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT SPACE
72 Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019
The authors developed an eleven-question survey to ascertain students’ preferences with regards to
lecture, hands-on-learning, problem-solving, group-work, informal learning, use of multimedia in the
classroom, and diversity of teaching methods in the classroom. The survey was distributed to a diverse
group of students including graduate and undergraduates at Monmouth University. Graduate students
were included in the study to discover if their attitudes toward learning were different then undergraduate
students, as the graduate students have already entered the workforce and had experienced a traditional
undergraduate education. The student population in the study was comprised of majors from the General
Business, Communication, Healthcare, Criminal Justice, Accounting, Finance, and Marketing programs.
One-hundred and thirty-three students were surveyed over two semesters during the fall 2018 and spring
2019 semesters at Monmouth University.
Data was collected through an anonymous student survey. The survey consisted of 11 questions
inquiring about student preferences conserving various aspects of the of course delivery and teaching
methods. The results are tabulated and graphically represented below in Table 1 and Figure 4.
MIOPA STUDENT SURVEY RESULTS
MIOPA Survey Results Yes No
I feel I learn more by "doing" than be lectured to? 96.2% 3.8%
Instructor used class time effectively? 97.7% 2.3%
Case analysis is a real-world learning process? 100.0% 0.0%
Class time passes quickly when students are engaged in learning? 99.2% 0.8%
Videos help to bring in real-world situations? 97.7% 2.3%
Students working in groups completes the problem-solving process? 98.5% 1.5%
Do you learn in the environment? 99.2% 0.8%
Is this knowledge usable in the workplace? 98.5% 1.5%
Do you prefer learning experiences over lecture? 96.9% 3.1%
Would you recommend this instructor to a friend? 98.5% 1.5%
Does this learning environment help you overall? 97.7% 2.3%
Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 19(3) 2019 73
MIOPA STUDENT SURVEY RESULTS
Those in higher education can observe students at the junior high school levels to get a glimpse of
their behavior and what teaching approaches might be best suited to their lifestyle, their exposure to
technology, and their reliance on social learning. This study highlighted the importance of instructors
embracing an approach that teaches students that learning takes place through the instructor empowering
the student to engage in the learning. In addition, the study found that instructors benefit from using more
than one instructional approach. As this study indicates, students want to be actively engaged in the
learning and benefit when instructors provide space for students to flexibly interact with others who are
also allowed to problem-solve on their own. The authors put forth some suggested methods that combine
a variety of approaches that could keep the Z generation students engaged considering their limited
attention span. As stated, these are not the only possible approaches, but methods to consider when the
future generations become our students, for as most educators know, each student generation has their
own view of the environment and where they fit into it.
The authors of this article acknowledge that a major limitation of this article is the lack of empirical
data to back up their assertions. In the future, these authors will attempt to validate the statements put
forth in this article by developing and conducting a survey instrument to collect data from a broader
The ideas put forth in this paper are to consider providing a creative space in which students can
interact and engage with real world problems, allowing them to collaborate among themselves and then
practice the newly learned concept. This seems to coincide with the maxim “Seeing is believing, engaging
and practicing is learning.”
In 1798, the romantic poet, Friedrich Schlegel, understood that developments did not simply go from
one point to another and then stop, but that they were an ongoing process. Likewise, educational methods
and technological development are never stagnant and should not be treated as such. Educators need to be
kept abreast of the developments in current educational methodology and technology and their application
in the college classroom.
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