Teaching methods change from generation to generation.

Teaching beyond Generation Z: What needs to change?


There is a lot of discussion around teaching and learning strategies for different generations. This is because in the workplace, for the first time in history, we have the potential of up to four generations working side-by-side. But how about when it comes to the classroom?

Nowadays we are empowered with undertaking training and education at any age. So understanding the traits of these generational cohorts is essential for any educator.

Getting to know the generation we are teaching

Different websites vary in their definitions of generation names. For the purposes of this article, this is what we will go with:

Generation Z – born between 1997-2012
Millennials – born between 1981-1996
Generation X – both between 1965-1980
Baby Boomers – born between 1946-1964

Our youngest cohort, who are currently in education, do not yet have a name! The generational name tags given may also appear to be purporting unfair stereotyping, but we are not assuming that people have age-specific differences. Instead, we are considering the life and social experiences that inevitably influence different generations in different ways.

How different generations learn

Baby Boomers

This cohort have grown up in the ‘chalk and talk’ era. Although many of them are tech-savvy and respond to different teaching methods, they respond well to traditional styles. They are typically motivated by a sense of achievement and like their contributions to be acknowledged.

Generation X

This generation grew up around new opportunities and learnt the rewards of hard work. They tend to respond well to interactive lessons where they have an opportunity to participate in their learning. Although they are adept to learning new technologies and using it for learning purposes, they are not of a generation who are reliant on it. They therefore see it as a means to an end.

Millennials

Millennials have grown up in an environment filled with rapid technological developments. They are therefore accustomed to adapting to new ways of working and learning. This generation tend to also prefer independence and value the opportunity to apply what they have learnt.

Generation Z

This generation has grown up around technology and are experienced in using it in most aspects of their lives. Their experience of technology has influenced their preference for immediate feedback. They are also interested in nurturing their careers and are attracted to training that impacts more than their current job.

This leaves us with our youngest cohort. Not only are they constantly around technology, but they are growing up in an educational culture that embraces the use of technology in learning. They are also accustomed to participating in their learning and like Generation Z, respond well to collaborative approaches.

What does this mean for teachers?

If you are a classroom teacher, you will have experienced the direct relationship between an interesting and dynamic lesson, and student engagement and behaviour. It is not unusual for pupils to lose interest if they are not finding the work engaging. And they only find work engaging if it is thought-provoking and interactive. However, if you teach privately or in a different type of establishment, you could be teaching any generation.

Having an awareness of generational learning preferences and motivators should underpin your approach. Fortunately, there are many overlaps. For instance, most people respond well to immediate feedback and interactive tasks. Most also respond well to having an input into their learning. But, while some generations may prefer to utilise technology, others prefer more traditional methods.

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Sumantha is an education and training specialist with over ten years' experience in developing and delivering adult and secondary level education. Her professional journey includes a six-year stint as a secondary school teacher. She is currently a freelance content writer and learning and development consultant. Sumantha also has a portfolio of private students who she teaches up to GCSE level.

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