Gen Z students care about accessibility and personalization. They are constantly using the internet, so they’re not fazed by the shift to online learning.


With each new generation comes a new set of priorities, trends, and cultural shifts. Gen Z has already altered a lot about the current landscape, from social media to work to education. Gen Z is generally thought to comprise people born from 1996 to 2010, so many are either approaching college age or in college. 


What we know about Gen Z: They prioritize accessibility and inclusion, they are more diverse than previous generations, they’re pretty progressive, and they’ll probably turn out to be the best-educated generation out there. People in Gen Z tend to believe that college is the right step forward after high school; 89% of Gen Zs rate a college education as valuable, but they value most how their degree will give them access to their desired career. They see attending college as the way they can score a good job.


This generation is used to digital educational experiences, which were already common before the pandemic but even more so in today’s world as we’re still battling COVID-19. Online learning for Gen Z is nothing out of the ordinary, and the current state of things could tell us what the future may hold.


Here’s how these trends influence Gen Z’s college preferences and how things may look a few years from now. 


Does Gen Z favor online degree programs?


Since the beginning of 2020 and the global shutdowns, most students either took a hiatus from learning or made the shift to digital classroom environments. Online degree programs had been gaining traction, offering fast and affordable alternatives to the traditional college experience. But, in 2020, suddenly most college programs shifted online, at least temporarily. 


Gen Z already interacts with technology on a daily basis, so it makes sense that they would be more open to online education. Most people in this generation use social media platforms every day. They grew up using the internet and smartphones. They now expect that they can be connected anywhere they go. One study found that 58% of Gen Zs say they cannot go more than four hours without internet access before feeling uncomfortable.


This dependence on technology means that Gen Zs prioritize accessibility. They want instant answers and to interact in the most convenient ways possible.


So, Gen Zs are more accepting of online learning. They can take classes from anywhere they have an internet connection and a laptop. They can multitask. They can streamline their education like never before. Many of them still value in-person communication and learning, but they can adapt to anything, including remote learning.


Personalization is a priority


Even while this generation isn’t fazed by digital learning experiences, they still want to get personal and meaningful. All the technology platforms they use can now deliver customized experiences just for them (think Netflix or digital ads). 


They still want to feel like what they’re pursuing is meaningful to society. They’re more likely to trust a brand that provides personalized messaging since they’ll feel more valued and understood. In fact, 41% of Gen Zs will provide their data for a more personalized experience.


Online learning programs can provide this level of personalization. Perhaps curriculum can be catered to each student’s needs, or they can work at their own pace on assignments and entire courses. They can watch recorded lectures any time of day instead of having to attend class at a certain time. They can get what they want out of a program that meets their own goals and desires.


These shifts also mean that colleges need to change the way they communicate with incoming students. Today’s learners want to engage on social media and take advantage of conveniences like web chats. They do rely a lot on email as well, but are more open to texting brands and schools than previous generations.


What will the future hold?


It is not likely that in-person learning experiences will go anywhere anytime soon. However, online programs and educational opportunities will continue to take more of the spotlight. It’s thus important that institutions make investments in remote learning platforms and other technology solutions that will make these experiences valuable and meaningful for Gen Z students.


Educators should embrace offering alternate forms of communication, like video conferencing, phone calls, online chats, and even texting. Gen Zs also care a lot about transparency, so they expect to be kept in the know throughout their learning experience.


It’s important to remember that, while Gen Zs value accessibility and digital interactions, they still emphasize value and quality. They care about societal issues and pay attention to what institutions prioritize and what their leaders’ actions reveal about them. So, even though they want to communicate and learn in faster, more convenient ways, they by no means want experiences to be mechanical or too transactional.


These desires will drive key higher ed trends into the future, including:


A continued emphasis on personalized experiences
More flexible communication options
Greater accountability for institutions and leaders
A demand for more valuable, meaningful educational opportunities
Greater accessibility and inclusion
Dependence on asynchronous learning

Understanding just how important online learning is becoming for Gen Z will help learning institutions continue to alter their messaging, communication tactics, programs, and goals moving forward.


How to improve your online presence


Meeting the needs of Gen Z starts with understanding what they care about. As a higher education institution leader, you need the right web presence to attract and inspire students in this large generation. 


KWALL has been providing web design and development services for higher ed for over 10 years, and we bring unparalleled experience with open-source CMS. We’ve worked with more than 100 institutions, helping them improve and manage their on-brand web presence.


Contact KWALL today to learn more about today’s hybrid learning trends or to discuss your web maintenance needs.


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