Generation Z defined; The 5 characteristics of today's students

Friday, September 09, 2016

For today’s students, growing up with the emerging technologies at their fingertips has blurred the lines of work and social, of study and entertainment, of private and public. They now live in an open book environment – just a few clicks away from any information. They connect in a border less world across countries and cultures, and they communicate in a post-literate community where texts and tweets are brief, and where visuals and videos get the most cut-through.

At McCrindle, we are regularly engaged by a variety of organisations to assist with understanding who Generation Z is, what context they are being shaped in the traits that define them. Before we can engage this generation, we first need to understand them.

So how can we understand the emerging generations and their learning habits? Well, based on our research, here are five characteristics of today’s students:


Traditionally, learning took place in the classroom and the practice and application through homework. However, in the 21st Century, content can now be accessed through technology anywhere, and often in very visual and engaging forms. Thus we have the flipping of education where the learning takes place outside the classroom, but the essential engagement and practice is still conducted at school, by the all-important facilitator, rather than the teacher.


Not only through technology do today’s students interact, but they are mobile in terms of the jobs they will have and the homes they will live in. It is therefore important to think about how you can equip this generation with not just content but resilience in a changing world.


Today's generation of students are truly global, and are the most likely generation to work in multiple countries. They’re the most globally connected and influenced generation in history and are not limited to the local, but are global as never before.


We've called the emerging generation, Gen Alpha, but we also call them Generation Glass, because it is not just pen and paper, but iPads and screens on which they will learn, which are designed to not just display the written but the visual. While today’s students need literacy they also need digital skills to thrive in this changing world.


In an era of information overload, messages have increasingly become image-based and signs, logos and brands communicate across the language barriers with colour and picture rather than with words and phrases. Communicating symbols and pictures with stories isn’t an entirely new concept. Most ancient forms of communication such as indigenous rock art, reinforces the notion that it is pictures not words that tell the story. Visuals are also the way in which the brain processes information best. It can retain visual symbols and images rather than just written content. Our analysis of learning styles has shown the dominance in the visual and hands on learning styles, above auditory delivery form, which has traditionally dominated the classroom.

To find out more about Generation Z, visit our site and if we can assist with any presentations on the topic of the emerging generations, please feel free to get in touch.

About Ashley McKenzie - Team Leader of Communications at McCrindle

Ashley McKenzie is a social researcher, trends analyst and Team Leader of Communications at the internationally recognised McCrindle. As a trends analyst she understands the need for organisations to communicate with the emerging generations to effectively engage and motivate them. 

From her experience in managing media relations, social media platforms, content creation and event management, Ashley is well positioned to advise how to achieve cut through in these message-saturated times. 

Her expertise is in training and equipping leaders and teams on how to communicate across generational barriers.


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