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Going “Phygital”? 4 Things Schools Need to Know about Gen Z Learning

I can remember when my family got our first internet connection.

I remember having to ask my parents if I could tie up our phone line so that I could surf the “world wide web.” I can still hear those annoying bops and bips as the modem connected over our land line. And I recall waiting for what felt like hours for a single page to load.

How times have changed.

Today’s young people have never known a time without the internet. For them, smart phones, wi-fi, and social media aren’t technological luxuries, they’re essential parts of daily life.

Generation Z — those born between 1995 and 2012 — is the first generation to be “phygital,” according to researcher David Stillman. To them, there is no separation between the physical world and the digital world, says Stillman, and his 17-year old son and research partner, Jonah.

This interconnected relationship with technology shapes Gen Z’s attitude toward how they work, how they relate to others, and how they learn.

As you gear up for the upcoming school year, here are four defining characteristics that set the “phygital” generation apart — and what that means for your classrooms.

1. Digital or physical—it’s all the real world

I still catch myself saying “I’ll go online” to do a Google search, look up a new restaurant, or shop. It’s a very Millennial way of looking at things.

According to the Stillmans, Gen Z sees no boundary between being online or being in the physical world. To them, all interactions — whether in-person meetings, video conferences, the digital classroom, or text conversations — are one-and-the-same.

To relate this generational characteristic, the Stillmans shared a story from their own lives with writer Allison Kaplan. David talks about how he became angry with Jonah for skyping into a meeting with a potential client rather than attending the meeting in person. While David was upset at Jonah for not being at the meeting in person, Jonah says that, as far as he knew, he was at the meeting — to him there was no difference between the physical or virtual world. This clash of definitions is something many schools are already dealing with.

2. Mobile learning is just Gen Z learning

While school districts have made a point in recent years to introduce mobile devices as tools for digital learning in their classrooms, many still haven’t made the adjustment required to make digital learning successful.

mobile devices aren’t just tools to enhance their lives, they’re essential to how they live their lives — and interact with the world in which they live. To meet students where they are, school districts must make mobile an integral part of the digital classroom life as well as the physical classroom life.

3. Make it personal

If individuality was a defining characteristic for millennials, it’s even more so for Gen Z, the Stillmans say.

In the workplace, Gen Z seeks to dictate their own job descriptions and tasks. In the classroom, they also want more say in what and how they learn.

While school districts are working to make “personalization” a priority by enabling students to learn at their own pace, often with the help of technology, there’s more schools can do to ensure more choices.

4. Discovery over memorization

For Gen Z, learning isn’t about memorizing arcane facts. In a world where information is available with a quick Google search, Gen Z learning is more about experiencing the world and solving problems, rather than knowing the answers to every question.

To stay relevant, schools will have to shift their approach from a top-down dispensing of canned knowledge and facts to one where teachers coach students through their own journeys of personal discovery in the new “phygital” world.

What unique characteristics have you observed in Gen Z students? What steps, if any, are you taking to adapt your district’s strategy to these attitudes? Utilize the K12 Insight Let’s Talk platform to compile customer feedback.