How to Engage and Inspire Tech-Savvy Gen Z and Gen Alpha Students

Three eighth-grade students work together on an assignment in a school courtyard.

The students filling the hallways in today’s schools are comprised of two unique but similarly minded generations. Gen Z, also known as the “iGen” generation, are students born between 1995 and 2012. Their younger counterparts, Gen Alpha, are those born in 2013 or later years. So what do they have in common? They are both digital natives and have heavily relied on Google to answer their search-related questions for most, if not all, of their lives. Educating those individuals who have grown up with easy access to technology means leveraging learning techniques that are meaningful and influential to those who are reliant on search engines, voice-controlled personal assistants, and interested in multimedia experiences. Today, if you want to help shape the minds of Gens Z and Alpha, you’ll need to understand how they like to learn and explore their world, and adapt your teaching modalities accordingly.

Characteristics of Gen Z

Compared to their Millennial elders, Gen Z-ers are more cautious and reticent to act independently. They are:

  • More comfortable interacting with others digitally and less interested or reliant on face-to-face interactions
  • Heavily involved in digital gaming
  • Less interested in reading books
  • Likely to stay up late on social media or using their smartphone
  • More likely to report feeling isolated than previous generations

Characteristics of Gen Alpha

Researchers predict that Gen Alpha is on pace to be the most educated generation in history. They are also:

  • Tech-savvy
  • Likely to prefer communicating using social media
  • Comfortable with AI tools like personal home assistants and voice-activated search tools
  • Expectant of personalized learning experiences

Teachers are realizing that our youngest generations learn best from teaching modalities that differ greatly from their predecessors. To maximize your academic impact on Gens Z and Alpha, consider these four strategic teaching approaches:

1. Leverage Experiential Learning Modalities

For Generations Z and Alpha, anything they want to explore is only a Google search away. Even more empowering, computers and the Internet give young people a way to learn, practice skills, and explore new worlds in a hands-on—albeit virtual—environment. For this reason, traditional classroom lecturing does not always resonate with tech-savvy students as it did with their predecessors. Instead, leverage experiential learning practices where applicable to make lessons and theories more meaningful to today’s youth. Such hands-on learning opportunities may involve asking students to build rockets to understand physics principles, act out a scene from a story to understand a character’s motivations or take students to a museum to learn about local history.

2. Continue to Use Technology to Reach Digital Natives

Most of your students are likely already comfortable and confident learning using digital tools, especially after a year of pandemic-necessitated social distancing. Continue to leverage interactive digital tools to make lessons creative, engaging, and relevant by bringing movies, videos, interactive games, virtual field trips, and other education-based technology tools into the classroom. Such platforms can enable digital natives to explore a topic or process confidently.

3. Link Prior Experiences, Knowledge, and Personal Interests to New Information

Gens Z and Alpha are also being raised in a societal culture that prioritizes their needs and interests. Often associated with receiving participation trophies for every endeavor, these young people are more likely than other generations to tune out information that they don’t feel is personally relevant or interesting. To make any subject matter resonate, demonstrate to your students how they can relate by associating it with their interests, experiences, or existing knowledge. For example, if you’re teaching students about the historical impact of Galileo Galilei, ask them to recall a time when they used a telescope so that they can understand how the discovery of a man born in 1564 is still giving them modern-day opportunities to explore the universe.

4. Encourage Students to Collaborate

Today’s students value working in teams. Whenever possible, allow them to practice what they’ve learned in class through team projects or partner work. For example, ask students to explore storytelling by taking turns writing a story together one page at a time, ask pairs to quiz one another on spelling assignments, or invite them to practice their Spanish proficiency through partner dialogue. These moments of collaboration will help reinforce theories and give students a chance to challenge and learn from one another.

From the year that the Internet began to power computers in nearly every home, many teachers realized that there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Students’ digital experiences and expectations would forever shape education. By adapting your teaching style to accommodate Gens Z and Alpha’s preferences for exploring their world, you’ll continue to shape future leaders who are confident, curious, and self-motivated.

For more information and inspiration on teaching tech-savvy students, check out PLS 3rd Learning’s online course.


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

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