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genzWho are these people?

This generation, now reaching college age, was born between the mid-1990’s to roughly 2010 and is so new that there is not a clever, catch-all phrase to describe them. According to Social Explorer’s Professor Susan Weber-Stoger, Generation Z has 60 million people, one million more than generation Y. This generation is also growing in diversity. From 2000-2010, the Hispanic population in the United States grew at 4x the rate of the United States population itself.

Large, diverse, and what else what makes them special? They are world-weary, entrepreneurial, multiscreen, Wifi multitaskers. This is due to the social context in which they are growing up. The combination of Gen X parents, 9/11, constant wars, terrorism, mass migrations, the Great Recession, and ever expanding technological ubiquity create these habits as the norm. In fact, David Bell, professor of marketing at Wharton and a CrossKnowledge Faculty, said that “ If the millennials are the “digital natives” — so named because of their comfort and seemingly innate facility with digital technology — then this age bracket might be the ‘Internet-in-its-pocket’ generation.”

They are growing up as more than passive consumers of media. They are active and savvy. For example, my daughter has set up a Finsta account. This ‘fake Instagram” empowers her to be silly and avoid curating a seemingly perfect online persona. Snapchat is popular as well to regain the ephemeral nature of life from what is now a permanent digital history. Googling is pure instinct. Why wait for an answer? But, by the same token, determining quality sources and complex problem solving can be a challenge. This group trusts friends and family more than traditional authority figures, so top-down practices fail as ways to engage.

They create as they learn and are innate ‘makers’ of media as much as they are consumers. The Musical.ly app is popular because it allows kids to take hit songs, and add themselves as the lip synch stars. They can then share these with friends and an online community. Makey Makey enables users to take common objects, like a banana, and by adding some electronics and light programming, create a playable piano. There are coding camps and entrepreneurship camps transforming how kids think of summer vacation. This is truly a clever, entrepreneurial, and experiential learning generation which is to be expected given the constantly uncertain times shaping their psyches.

They are also growing up while the Internet of Things is changing how we live. Mercedes and other cars can sense you are leaving your lane and apply brakes on one side to steer you back into your lane. Nest thermostats (now owned by Google) learn your habits and adjust your home’s heating automatically. GE is building sensors into industrial equipment to detect issues and request service before failure. These profound changes mean that new business models are and will be introduced with great frequency.

And, these new business models will transform the work world Gen Z inhabit in ways we cannot define today. We can predict that computer science skills; analytical skills are already important. We know that any repeatable activity can be automated, so we need to prize the value of critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Are you ready?

So how do we learning and development leaders welcome this generation now reaching our companies? On a human level, we each need to learn how to think about business models in new ways. How do we create value? What analytical skills do we need to add human value to the exabytes of information we will have at hand? For this generation, let’s make learning:

Visual. Since they grew up with highly engaging games, their brains are wired for rich, stimulating learning experiences. That is fine, why should learning and development be any less fun? This also means that learners can access the learning within seconds. The poor interface will prevent learning.

Experiential and project-based. This generation is adept at finding solutions. Throw them into a simulation. Let them explore and make mistakes. Experiential learning lets them understand why an approach is right in context. This generation is used to creating digital experiences whether using Google Drive in middle school or using apps to mash up songs and videos. Traditional top-down learning will clunk. Allowing learners create, and in so doing, prove knowledge by teaching, will resonate and is a time-tested way to demonstrate comprehension.

Pulsed. Task switching, or as we like to think of it, multitasking, is a reality so consider what you can deliver in short bursts, even if strung together like beads on a necklace. You can make the most of the short attention span by using hooks and what we now call gamification to pull learners back into focus. The need for immediate and social gratification is a proven motivator.

Together. Learning will be de facto social, digital, and mobile. We may think now that is a tall order but in many ways, it is a return to how we learned for centuries; together, not in a classroom. Now, digital can enable new ways to collaborate. This will no longer be about a ‘teacher’ as much as a coach or facilitator who can help with how to make a decision but not tell the learner what to do. Everywhere. As wearable technology becomes more common, the act of learning and doing can meld. Your watch can tell you your pulse and skin temp. It can know who you are meeting with. It could track your voice and recognize if you are in a challenging situation and later play back the phrases that stressed you out. What a great coach that would be! Consider how you can enable learners to access key learning points when they need it (even without a smartwatch).

For Everyone, not just Gen Z. Experiential, visual, quick, social, and always available, These concepts do not only apply to Gen Z, we can offer this to all employees to help them adjust to the way the world is thinking While we are each shaped by our generational context, age is also an attitude, let’s learn and grow together!