Visual Literacy Resources & Toolkit

Learning Preferences of Generation Z

One of the most fundamental differences between the contemporary college student and their educators is that today’s student is dependent upon technology, and is labeled a “digital native”. They tend to be more comfortable using a keyboard than writing in a notebook, and prefer readings from a screen than from paper. They multitask and prefer visuals to text (Black, 2010). In contrast, faculty and administration in higher education are left feeling like “digital immigrants” as most were not born into the digital world (Black, 2010). With the rise of social networking, technology has redefined the concept of friendship to include cross-country and international relationships and conversations that thrive online. The current generation of college student tends to prefer physical isolation in social and learning activities, but prefers collaboration in online communities. Ironically, while they are considered the most socialized generation in the digital world, they may be the most isolated generation in the physical world (Black, 2010).

Despite these differences, many educators are still teaching in ways that worked for them fifteen years ago or more. As they become cognizant of the changing landscape of today’s college student, educators will need to determine how they can best address the needs of the current generation of learner. Often bored in the traditional classroom, these learners prefer multiple streams of information, and need constant stimulation and challenge. They prefer inductive reasoning, desire frequent and quick interactions with content, and display remarkable potential for visual literacy skills—all essential traits for navigating digital technology used in society (Black, 2010). While this generation of learner accepts continuous change in their technology, they also expect faculty and school to keep up with these changes. The implication of Generation Z’s changing nature includes a demographic that is collaborative, and works and learns best with others. They are assertive and confident, and therefore more demanding of personal accommodation and higher grades. They are also dependent upon technology, with expectations of these tools in their learning (Black, 2010). The way in which this generation learns has been characterized by greater fluency in media use, more collective sharing and learning, and cooperative design of learning experiences.