Addressing generational differences in course design is an essential yet challenging task for instructional designers. In theory, design for younger learners is less complex than design for mixed-age adult learners. Much has been written comparing Baby Boomers to Millennials; however, today’s secondary schools are not filled with millennials. These students are from Generation Z (also known as post-millennials, iGeneration, Homeland generation).

Both my sons are millennials and, for the most part, exhibit the classic learner traits of their generation. Generation Z began in 1995 and continues through our current time. However, millennials from the last generational year (1994) graduated high school in 2006. This means that the majority of secondary school students are vastly different than children in the millennial generation.

What does Gen Z look like?

1. Gen Z is less focused with shorter attention spans. Their daily life is a life of fast-paced distractions that compete for educational commitment and time. Smart devices, Snapchat, FaceTime, and many similar apps are the norm for even the youngest children.

2. They place less importance on education. Gen Z believes that they are capable of learning things for themselves. They prefer learning that does not force them to conform to what they perceive as useless knowledge that does not apply to their chosen profession.

3. They are more entrepreneurial. Inspired by forward-thinking companies like Google, Tom’s Shoes, and Apple, it’s no surprise that 72% of Gen Z high school students plan to start their own business (Kadakia, 2015) following high school.

4. Gen Z is the iGeneration. They were born into a highly connected social environment. It is reported that 92% of Gen Z children have a digital footprint (Spencer, 2018). The average age of significant exposure to technology is now 2-years-old (Spencer, 2018)!

5. They are disruptive. This is a no-brainer since they consider formal education inferior to their desire and capacity for self-education.

6. They are true digital natives and dependent on technology. As a result, they encounter parents, teachers, and society scolding their “technology addiction.” This, in turn, makes a Gen Z’er intolerant of less technologically advanced generations.

So, what does this have to do with instructional design?

It illustrates the importance of understanding age-related differences and the need for accurate learner analysis in course design. Consider my preferences as a Gen Xer: a course that consists of readings from a textbook, exams, and writing a paper is often an endurance exercise. However, if the course incorporates current information in the context of real-world opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills, then I’m all in. I’ll devote hours and hours to researching and developing the assignment. However, someone from Gen Z may hate this course design model that fits my generational preference and possibly resist or withdraw completely. Generation Z, especially the child learners, want fast-paced, technologically advanced learning elements. Things like augmented reality, gamification, mobile learning, virtual labs, social learning, and micro-learning are a few examples of design elements that appeal to Gen Z.

The bottom line is that, as an instructional designer, I can not neglect age-related issues within learner analysis. The differences between generations are astounding and, if ignored, often result in lower engagement, satisfaction, and learning.

Crystal Kadakia’s TedX talk (below) is an excellent explanation of the differences between Millennials and Gen Z.

*Read this article on Linkedin.


Oblinger, D.G., & Oblinger, J.L. (Eds.) (2005). Educating the net generation. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.

Spencer, B. (2018). Digital Literacy: The Quest to Become Digitally Literate

Comments are closed