You are here

Gen Z and the Future of Education


Gen Z and the Future of Education

The PreparedU Project has been and will continue to focus on issues affecting the millennial generation. At the same time, forces that have shaped Gen Yers are now having a profound effect, not just on the Generation Z cohort that follows, but on people of all ages, in all walks of life. This is the sixth in an eight-part series that will examine this rapidly encompassing phenomenon.

Get ready for your world to change as people everywhere gain access to education and the power that comes with it.

Imagine six billion individuals in the developing world fulfilling their potential and making new connections. Suddenly everyone can learn about physics or mathematics or literature no matter who they are or where they are or how old they are.

For Generation Z, every gap — geographic, cultural and generational — is closing rapidly. The spread of online learning has a lot to do with that, say Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in “The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business.

The revolution in learning started about four years ago. In 2011, three Stanford University professors offered free classes online for anyone interested. The response was stunning. A single course attracted 160,000 registrants.

Now we have a huge number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and they’re changing the nature of education, say the authors. As of 2014, more than 10 million students had enrolled in them and the numbers are rising.

The courses are shaking up traditional power dynamics. We’re accustomed to a top-down approach with knowledge moving from teacher to students. The hyperconnected classroom is less hierarchal, they say. The lines between teacher and student are more fluid and the focus is on shared learning, exploration, and discussion.

“What’s amazing is that, while the changes we talk about are already at work bridging generational gaps, many people, especially those most vested in old forms of learning, are still rabidly against modifications and disruptions that threaten traditional ways of learning,” say Koulopoulos and Keldsen.

These courses will ultimately bring strength and knowledge to those without it and raise people up and into the global community, say the authors.

To hear more we met with Koulopoulos, Bentley University alumnus, former Bentley faculty member, and current president of the Delphi Group. Here is what we can expect:

1. The teaching style is as new as the student profile and that upsets many people.

“What I find most fascinating is the classroom is changing in ways that are disruptive and unfamiliar to people accustomed to traditional education,” says Koulopoulos. “We talked about this a lot in the book.

“Gen Z will be the first generation to see virtually every last human being connected to the internet. And that means that they can be connected to a classroom. They can take a course at Bentley or at Harvard or at MIT or at Stanford and so on.

“That’s an incredibly different type of education than any of us have considered or contemplated up until now. From a global perspective, we’re still very much in a mode where we’re educating just the elite.”

2. A surge of educated and suddenly influential people will enter the global economy and change it.

“Now people will learn materials online and participate in the economy as producers and consumers. They will suddenly have influence and power. And we’ll have to address this notion about what it means to be elite and accredited versus having knowledge but not accredited.

“Will bringing six billion people in the developing world online benefit the global community and the global economy? Undoubtedly. It will also threaten a lot of conventional education.”

3. Producing strong results will win favor but a college pedigree not so much.

“We are going to see a different type of workforce and economic model — a much richer one. Online market places will pay for results. If I have a chemistry problem and you can solve it, that’s great. I don’t have to hire you and pay for the pedigree anymore.

“Many people are concerned this will take the benefits and integrity of accreditation away but all of that will still be here. This is additive. We’re creating a whole new way to bring people into the economy and that’s one of the most exciting aspects of education.

“I don’t think we’ll run out of opportunities to educate across the entire spectrum of institutions from online classrooms to the most elite universities. There’s an entire globe that we still have to educate. We have only just begun to do that.”

Referring to Gen Z as worldwide, the authors note: “The question that still remains is, how do we change the behaviors of Gen Z so that the motivation for continuous learning is always present? The answer comes from one of the most unlikely places: how we play.”

Gen Z loves to game. We are talking about the gaming of education, say the authors. In games, the learning happens primarily by observing and doing. It’s called onboarding and involves the use of videos and interactive examples that invite you and guide you and rapidly developing your confidence and capability.

“When you are looking at how to build learning into your work or life, consider that the motivation to start and continue learning is actually more important in many ways than the content itself, because if you can’t get someone on the path to learning about a topic, they will certainly never ‘level up’ their knowledge or skills,” say Koulopoulos and Keldsen.

They say we’ve come to expect adult learning to be long, drawn-out, and boring, but that no longer has to be the case. Use smaller segments of learning that can be easily consumed and applied in hours or minutes rather than days and weeks. Provide much faster feedback and keep a lively pace. Make learning fun.

“My classroom is right here,” says Koulopoulos. “We are entering a lifelong learning mode.”

Here are a few questions from Koulopoulos to you as we enter the learning revolution:

  • Have you personally used MOOCs to learn? If not, what topic of interest could you experiment with in an online course?
  • Does your business offer or use MOOCs?
  • How do you keep employees up to speed on topics of interest?
  • Do you provide opportunities for employees to teach and learn out loud?
  • Have you tried any of the new games or game-like experiences to see if you can learn a new skill more rapidly and easily than you might have expected?

The Gen Z Effect Series

Read all of the installments in this series:

We Are All Gen Z

What Comes After Gen Y?

Ride the Technology Wave or Drown
Are You Ready for the Gen Z Slingshot? 
You're Powerful and They Know It
How Online Learning Will Change the World
Lifehacking: A Playbook for Gen Z
Gen Z Will Make Life Better for All of Us


by Kristen Walsh May 6, 2019

The Black United Body fashion show, organized and put on by students, provides an outlet for students' fashion creativity and highlights on-campus diversity at Bentley. 

TOPICS: News, Campus Life


Boston Business Journal | May 5, 2019
The Chronicle of Higher Education | May 2, 2019
Monster | April 29, 2019