Gen Z Learning Tendencies: A Call for Next-Gen Learning Platforms

The next generation comes with eyes glued to screens. Better to meet them where they are, with mobile learning technology that features video and collaborative features.

Gen Z in the workplace? Could it be? Members of Generation Z, or the iGeneration, were born between 1996 and 2010. The oldest members of Gen Z now are entering the workforce at the ripe age of 21. This generation has grown up in the midst of the digital revolution and are the first true digital natives. These digital natives will be taking over jobs as their Gen X parents and Baby Boomer grandparents retire. In order to keep this pool of young talent engaged and set them—and ultimately the company—up for long-term success, Learning professionals have to understand the tech-savvy generation’s working and learning preferences. So what does the iGeneration want?

There’s a lot to be determined about Gen Z and their learning tendencies in a corporate setting (after all, they’re only just starting to break into the workforce), but some preferences are emerging. Before diving in, let’s take a look back. Video hosting on the Internet really took off around 2005, meaning that at the age of just nine years old, now-21-year-olds had instant access to videos. They don’t know what it’s like to not be able to find what they’re looking for when it comes to online video content. According to college marketing and insights agency Fluent, 80 percent of Gen Z members flock to YouTube for any video needs (or wants). This statistic is a good indicator that video learning is popular among the younger population.

Our team recently spoke with a few members of Generation Z about their learning preferences and gained some insight specifically related to video learning. One Colorado teen told us that video-sharing platforms are her go-to resource for nearly all learning. She referred to her generation as the “scary smart” generation because they know what questions to ask in order to find information quickly. So when digital natives head to their favorite content platforms, they are able to articulate exactly what they want to learn, find the right content in a few seconds, learn about a concept they’re stuck on or curious about, and then be on their way. This process all takes place in a matter of minutes. The key here for Learning professionals: Empower employees to easily find useful content that is visual and to the point. Microvideo learning, anyone?

After growing up in the era of “streaming.” members of the iGeneration also know how to curate their own content. They trust various resources and know how to build lists or follow people who relate most to their needs and learning desires. Another Spain-based Gen Zer told us she even references her own curated resources to verify what she hears on the news. Gen Z is skeptical, but again, scary smart.

The Current Video Learning Landscape

Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 Video for Learning Pulse Survey noted that 95 percent of companies use some form of video learning in business. This can mean anything from training videos to full online video content libraries for self-directed learning. It’s no surprise, really, that so many organizations are incorporating video into their trainings or learning programs. Since 2000, attention spans have decreased by four seconds. The average attention span, as of 2015, was only 8 seconds.

To capture and keep attention, learning resources and trainings have to involve some form of active learning. It’s not just about watching a short video. What employees need to truly retain knowledge is the ability to collaborate with peers and discuss or challenge concepts presented in the video. It’s interesting that this concept keeps getting brought up, because it falls perfectly in line with Gen Z learning preferences. One young woman we spoke with mentioned that her biggest disappointment during class instruction at universities is the lack of time for collaboration following a lecture.

Will the iGeneration Disrupt Video Learning in the Workplace Altogether?

A few months ago, I sat in on a Webinar hosted by Brandon Hall Group that explored video learning, its current landscape, and video learning challenges. I learned that 61 percent of K-12 teachers now are using videos from the Web for instruction. In addition, a recent Barnes & Noble College report called “Getting to Know Gen Z: Exploring Middle and High Schoolers’ Expectations for Higher Education” says that 45 percent of students want access to online videos as part of their secondary education.

Given that elementary school students are already exposed to video learning and expect to have access to video content as they continue their education, there’s little doubt that video learning will continue to grow as an expectation for learning in the workplace. In conjunction with having easy access to videos for learning purposes, Gen Zers also prefer to learn with their peers. The Barnes & Noble report says collaborative learning provides leadership opportunities at an early age (50 percent enjoy these opportunities). In addition, 60 percent of young people surveyed said they like to exchange ideas and consider new perspectives.

With the background knowledge of where the youngest members of the Gen Z population stand when it comes to learning, we can only predict what the future of learning will look like in the next five to 10 years, especially as technology continues to advance at rapid fire speeds.

How Can L&D Pros Prepare for Next-Gen Talent?

• Provide an expert video content library with seamless search functionality. Expanding on a point made earlier, members of the iGeneration are skeptical and “scary smart.” They fully understand the concept of fake news, and prefer to verify what they hear with their own trusted resources. Understanding this trait, companies exploring learning platforms should research the platforms’ video content libraries to ensure content is expertly produced and has gone through a publishing process. If provided access to a high-quality business content library early on in their careers—one that includes videos of experts explaining concepts paired with direct access to network with those experts—iGeneration employees will gain trust in the content and content producers more quickly. As a result, they’ll be much more likely to immerse themselves in videos that explore workplace training topics more in-depth. And they’ll likely use the library for self-directed learning, as well. For self-directed learning, seamless search functionality is key to keep Gen Z coming back. Yes, video hosting platforms and Websites are out there now, but anyone can produce content on these platforms. As Gen Z grows, they’ll appreciate having access to a vetted library that’s easy to navigate—housed in a collaborative setting—given their skepticism of what’s factual.

• Establish a collaborative learning culture, backed by digital technology. Learning platforms these days are plentiful. Rather than choosing something that will work right now, consider the learning preferences of the next generation to avoid having to change pace again in a few years. Collaborative learning platforms that give employees the power to learn on their own from multiple content formats—most importantly, video—and then discuss and challenge concepts with their peers likely will prove most effective for young and emerging professionals. The tendencies to crave collaboration in universities will carry over to the workplace. Best to prepare now.

• Don’t forget to go mobile. In the discussions we had with a small group of young adults, they told us how seamlessly their personal and school/work lives integrate. The link? Mobile devices and mobile connectivity. It’s so easy today for young adults to chat with their “friends” all around the world, to use video apps to build relationships and to share their favorite curated videos with others. This connectivity needs to carry over into the workplace. One young European-based student said mobile access to video resources and other learning content—paired with the ability to collaborate—is key, especially while traveling. She said her generation is so used to using phones and would be more likely to use learning platforms that are accessible via mobile devices. The caveat? Organizations need to provide mobile learning as a perk, rather than something employees would have to pay for. This doesn’t sound like too difficult a challenge or sacrifice, when compared to the lack of employee engagement if mobile capabilities lag behind.

In closing, there’s still a lot to learn about the learning styles and preferences of Gen Zers, especially as the youngest of this generation are still in elementary school. But we do know that elementary teachers, college universities, and young adults about to enter the workforce are either already using video for teaching or using video to find answers. And don’t forget, mobile learning is going to continue to grow. Markets and Markets projects the industry could be worth aproximately $38 billion by 2020. The next generation comes with eyes glued to screens. Better to meet them where they are, with mobile learning technology that features video and collaborative features.

Let’s keep an eye on the video learning landscape and the collaborative learning space, and better yet, consider the platforms that already incorporate both video and collaboration. Why wait?

Heather MacNeill, a 15-year technology veteran, serves as head of communications for BlueBottleBiza collaborative learning platform for business professionals.


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