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How Generation Z is Influencing the Future of Instructional Design

Call them learning products, learning experiences, educational programs, training programs, a framework for modules or lessons, educational design models, education delivery systems or instructional specifications, they all point to instructional design.

Instructional design, stated simply, is a systematic method of learning, that if followed will enable the effective transfer of knowledge, skills, and attitude to the recipient or acquirer of the instruction. It encompasses the entire process of analyzing learning needs and goals and developing a delivery system, program, or experience that will meet those training requirements.

Generational differences play a huge role in how instructional design caters to the growing workforce. Millennials brought about change with their demand for open-air environments that encourage a cohesive and group working environment, as well as their approach to more austere spaces taking over a smaller footprint. However, the days of cubicles and crowded meeting spaces are not necessarily gone, but we are witnessing a shift with Gen Z entering the workforce and dictating – through their ideas and thought processes – fresh new demands for a new transition.

How the Workforce is Rearing for Gen Z Population

Gen Z – persons born between 1996 and 2012 – makeup 20 percent of the population. Projections indicate that they will make up at least 30 percent of the workforce by 2030. Their influence is rapidly growing; still, focus on Gen Z’s presence in the workforce is relatively new as most organizations balance the integration and transition between Millennials – persons born between 1981 and 1996 – and Gen Z.

Still, many organizations have yet to differentiate between Gen Z and Millennials, when asked to consider a work experience that attracts and retains the next generation of talent. Nevertheless, there is no question that the emerging Gen Z influence learning modules, systems, and programs when planning for new educational frameworks.

There is a clear difference in terms of mindset, social orientation, relationship with technology, and approach to learning that Gen Z is exhibiting, all of which impact the way we think about our future workforce. Read more on Gen Z Characteristics.

How Researchers and Designers View Gen Z

Initial insights from organizations such as consumer market research identify Gen Z as technologically integrated, realists, oriented towards social change, placing a high value on self-expression, and financially focused. They are also the most diverse and technologically educated generation in history. The attributes assigned to training Gen Z learners are also manifesting themselves as we get to know them as a workforce demographic poised to have a significant influence in a relatively short period of time. Today, there is a need to make decisions and investments based on the needs of this generation as they become vital to our future innovation capacity and competitiveness.

A tangible challenge that arises though when considering the work experience of Gen Z is developing meaningful and actionable findings for a demographic just entering the workforce. Findings from a study done in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary School of Healthy Workplaces determined that there’s a need to balance digital, natural, and human connection when training Gen Z learners. This way they can be supported so they can obtain meaningful learning experiences that will balance a workforce seeking unique self-curated learning experiences and recognize that while technology accelerates and assumes more physical and intellectual tasks, people are still valuable assets in problem-solving.

Gen Z influence learning by facilitating psychological safety through belonging and connection. Findings show that when these learning experiences are carried on to the workplace, they define themselves in the reception experience where 100 percent of Gen Z participants prefer a personal connection to a strictly digital one. The findings also show that Gen Z designers prefer a planning approach where social gathering spaces feel intentional as opposed to ambiguous spaces connecting departments. Ultimately, Gen Z instructional designers push for learning experiences that offer opportunities for team and individual expression and control via environments that are flexible and choice-rich.  

These learning experience designs borrow from other disciplines including user experience design, experiential learning ,interaction design, cognitive psychology, design thinking, and instructional design, which ultimately translate to future workplaces.

The Shift in Demographics and Trends

As we study an emerging and evolving generation, we really begin to understand our own evolution as a human to date. Every new generation enters the workforce, bringing along an innate understanding of how to respond to the prevailing social, cultural, and technical influencers of the current times, seeing these have been part and parcel of their upbringing.

We are witnessing Gen Z promote the co-evolution of technology and people through their desire to support learning and connection. They are breaking barriers and turning workplaces into environments of learning. If, as a society, we are to align with Gen Z preferences – which is the future – then we must accept and embrace a mindset of continuous learning to satisfy our need to keep pace with change.

The Role of Gen Z Instructional Designers

Instructional designers are the architects and directors of the learning experience. Hence, over the past few years, there has been a global demand for their expertise particularly in Europe, Asia, and North America as organizations are turning to them to solve instructional business performance problems through the provision of effective learning experiences.

For this reason, they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders to assess new technologies and discover new and better ways to enhance instruction. If they are to be effective, they will have to assist faculty in formulating methods of improving their instruction with and without technology.

By conducting training sessions to teaching faculty and staff, Gen Z influence learning that embraces use of new, emerging technologies.

There is an expectation then from society that the instructional designers will conduct research studies that will assess the use of technologies and their impact when used in training Gen Z learners. They have to create training materials to accommodate the self-learners and manage the implementation of new technologies on-campus for the use of instruction.

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