Defining the birth and decline of a generation of people is not a precise science by any means. An academic article by Kehl et al (2014) highlights the difficulties of establishing generational boundaries. In this article, the work of 8 other academic contributors is discussed and none of them are on the same page regarding the generational boundaries…
It should, however, be safe to assume that the first Millennial was born in 1980-1981. Based on this assumption, the oldest Millennial is 38 years old today, give or take a few months. The oldest person from Generation Z (born from 1995-2000 onwards) is 23 years old.
Why is this important? Because this means that our classrooms have, for the last couple of years, been filled with students from Generation Z and the Millennials have moved on from the schooling system into universities, colleges and the workforce. The research on Generation Z is still very sparse and therefore large marketing companies and research organisations are speculating about Generation Z. Amidst this uncertainty of exactly who and what Generation Z is, there are four interesting facts that have come to the fore:
1. The first truly global generation
Some have even taken to calling Generation Z “Homo Globalis”, indicating their unique position as the first people of a new evolutionary phase of humankind. They are the first generation to be truly globally connected and this is evident in their memes. Memes are a global phenomenon where certain pictures consist of a globally applicable meaning. They generally make no sense to less global generations such as the Baby Boomers, Generation X and early Millennials.
2. Same problems different tools
Kehl continues by noting Generation Z experiences the same problems as other young generations, but they have vastly superior technical skills to approach their contexts with. This technical proficiency means that they can create new and innovative frames for their challenges. The solutions sprouting forth is essential to the future of workforce innovation.
Millennials had freedom and flexibility as one of their primary aspirations in life (just look at all the travel blogs that Millennials maintain). It can be tempting to think that Generation Z would be even more radical in their aspirations but according to a variety of research done, Generation Z values security and stability. This is a dramatic shift and holds interesting implications for the future.
4. Highly individual
As reported in a 2014 research report, 42% of Generation Z (as represented in the research sample) expect to work for themselves, 63% of them feel that entrepreneurship should be part of their education and 72% feel that they should be able to design their own university degrees. As reported, their individualism is not at odds with the current tertiary context as 81% of them believe university degrees still hold value.
These four interesting facts and the other research on Generation Z help us understand the students that sit in front of us daily. By understanding how they view and integrate with society, we can enhance our pedagogies to better support their learning journeys. Keep in mind that generations are a lens through which to understand societal change and the students that fill our classrooms, it is not a replacement for well-grounded pedagogy.
Are you interested in understanding the 21st-Century Student and their educational challenges? ITSI offers a short course on this topic discussing Generation Z in more detail. Visit the professional development section of the website for more information.
Nicolas Matthee is an educational researcher at ITSI. His work focuses on Cognitive Psychology, Educational Neuroscience, and Pedagogy. He further specialises as a Ritual Studies specialist with a focus on Ritual, Liturgical and Thanatological Studies and how they relate to different technologies and cyber contexts.
He is a research associate at the Department of Practical Theology at the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria. Non-academic related expertise includes game and 3D graphics development for computer and mobile environments.