Designing Courses for Generation Z

Aug 13, 2011

Most of my courses are targeted towards Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, but my next course will be for learners in the age 18-20 range. Does anyone have experience designing courses for that age group? If so, what are the main differences you notice when designing for Gen Z as opposed to other generational groups? Have you noticed any approaches that seem to work better than others (or conversely, common approaches that definitely don't work)?

3 Replies
Jeanette Brooks

Interesting question, Mike! What's your course about? Do the learners have some internal motivation to learn what you're preparing for them? Or is this more of a "required" course for compliance or similar reasons?

This article has a summary of stuff you probably already know about that age group, but to me it's still helpful to see it sort of listed out like that. Probably one of the biggest factors would be to give your learners choices for the way they absorb your content, and let them move around and explore. Most learners prefer to drive their own learning experience, but if my high-schooler is any indicator, this is especially true of younger learners - they certainly don't like being locked into one rigid way of learning something. In your course, could you provide a few different ways of helping them absorb the content - i.e., a scenario, a job aid, a quick/distilled "top 10 facts" ... and then let them chocs which one(s) work best for them. Also helpful would be a practical way of letting them "test out" or demonstrate mastery of your objectives, so that they feel in control and aren't forced to sit through stuff that they already know.

One characteristic of that age group that could work to your advantage is that they are naturally more comfortable with exploring stuff digitally... they aren't afraid to just start clicking all over the place and just see what happens! (Unlike older learners who sometimes worry that they're straying off course or that they'll miss something important or break the flow of the course).

Mike B.

Jeanette, thanks for your reply; your own observations about your teenager are more helpful than the articles I've read over the past few days. I can't really say much about the course at this point, except that it's geared towards first-year college students. It will be about half compliance, and half "what's in it for me."

I had already intended to use scenarios. I'm also trying to avoid narration and content that "speaks down" to the learners. I love your ideas for the job aid and top ten facts, and will definitely think more on that.

A couple of things to share with anyone viewing this thread:

Part of the problem on researching this topic is that much of the data is based on children 12 and younger. It's always hard to predict generational characteristics with certainty (I remember a few early assumptions about Gen X turning out to be wrong), but the main themes I've seen for Gen Z have to do with a preference for visual learning over text, and an ability to learn while multitasking. I'm also getting the idea they're shaping up to be more independent (as opposed to being team players like the Millennials).

I think it's always important for previous generations to not dismiss a style because it's different from the way we operate. The article linked in Jeanette's post paints dire predictions because Gen Z students weren't creating websites. (Other research shows they're also not big Twitter users.) But they do self-publish information through a variety of other channels, including YouTube and Tumblr. This should really open up some new ways for us to create courses over the next few years.

Saenna B Ahman

Great discussion topic, Mike B! I have two things to add.


Sometimes I see courses that are intended to be for young-ish learners, and it seems as though the designers have tried "too hard" to appeal to that generation. The slides & content seem to be reaching too hard  to be funny, or "in"-looking, and it comes off feeling kind of disingenous or cheezey. It's a fine line to walk. I believe that many times even young learners are ok with simplicity - especially if it's a required training. If they "have to" take a course on the 5 principels of such-and-so, sometimes it's okay to just give them the 5 principles and show them what's in it for them - rather than build a game or a complicated scenario ... which can end up being costly for you and time-consuming for them. (Not to discourage you from using a unique & trendy approach (because sometimes that is helpful), i am just saying be careful where & how you invest in these things; sometimes they are not as effective as one might think.)


The other thing that comes to mind is that if you make the course intuitive, they won't need a big long insttructive slide on "how to use this course." If there's value in the course, and it's easy to use, the navigation and purpose should be apparent. I am on a rant about this because some of the designers i work with insist on prefacing every course with a way-too-long speech on "how to navigate this course." LOL.

That's my two cents! I can't wait to hear what you build and how you build it!!!. Thanks again for posting a good discussion.

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