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How to Teach Gen Z Nursing Students

Part of a nurse educator’s teaching preparation is learning about the students — how they think, what they value and how they learn. Taking this step enables the development of strategies to help meet the students’ learning needs. As members of Generation Z enter nursing, it is important to know how to teach them and how they learn best. Gen Z comprises people born in 1995 or later, and experts consider them to be the exact opposite of Gen Y students, also known as “Millennials.”

What Are Some Traits of Gen Z Students?

Gen Z is different in many ways than the three generations that precede it. Understanding what makes Gen Z unique helps nurse educators assess and capitalize on Gen Z students’ unique strengths in the classroom and clinical environments. Some traits of Gen Z students include:

  • They are mature and know what they want.
  • They are eager to begin working.
  • They want to learn and seek information primarily on social media sites like YouTube.
  • They are more independent and self-directed than the three previous generations.
  • They are comfortable multitasking and use an average of five different sources of digital technology.
  • Gen Z students have shorter attention spans than previous generations, although research shows their brains can process more complex information.
  • They have greater respect for the elderly because many of them grew up in multigenerational families.
  • They understand that making “traditional” career choices does not necessarily mean they will be successful.
  • They have a sense of social responsibility and want to “make an impact” globally.
  • They have an entrepreneurial mindset, with 72% of high school students saying they want to start their own business at some point in their career.

Teaching Strategies for Gen Z’s Learning Preferences

In Generation Z: Educating and Engaging the Next Generation of Students, Seemiller and Grace (2017) identify the learning preferences of this cohort. They note Gen Z students prefer hands-on learning opportunities that they can apply immediately to “real life.” Although Gen Z students strongly prefer applied learning through a hands-on approach, they are also “observers” and like to watch someone perform an activity. This allows them to watch before they try to do it themselves. Using video-based learning will resonate with their learning style and likely engage them better than instructor demonstrations. Concepts learned online through TED Talks, or other online video learning will suit this generation best.

Gen Z students also want to learn information they can apply in various everyday situations. They tend to want internships early in their educational programs rather than at the end. Designing hands-on internships early in a nursing program for students with limited knowledge and skills can be important to this generation of learners.

Unlike Gen Y students who like a more collaborative and team-oriented approach to learning, Gen Z initially prefers more independent intrapersonal learning. These students would rather have some time to think through a problem or information before joining others to discuss or work through it. However, Gen Z students also see value in their peers and instructors when they need help and cannot learn something independently. Seemiller and Grace (2017) suggest designing learning activities with “multiple checkpoints” along the way that allow for independent learning and reflection followed by group work when students are ready.

And finally, because of Gen Z’s social awareness and sense of social responsibility, learning activities that incorporate key nursing concepts such as ethics and community health may be taught by having students develop solutions to local issues affecting patients in their community or clinical area. This may include using technology to develop an app that solves a problem or creating a YouTube video for online learning.

By keeping Gen Z’s values, technological skills and learning preferences in mind, nurse educators can teach in new and innovative ways that are engaging and exciting for students and educators alike.

Learn more about University of North Carolina Wilmington’s online MSN Nurse Educator program.


Slideshare: Meet Generation Z

Wiley Online Archive: Generation Z: Educating and Engaging the Next Generation of Students

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