gen z

3 things schools must know about the rising “phigital” student

Why education must adapt now in order to accommodate Gen Z—but how?

A major generational clash is underway, says a foremost expert, and it’s affecting all industries, including education. The clash is coming from so-called Gen Z, the first generation to be considered fully “phigital”—unwilling or unable to draw a distinction between the physical world and its digital equivalent.

So what does that mean for educators? Well, buckle up and hold on.

In an article published in, of all places, Delta’s Sky Magazine, writer Allison Kaplan details her interview with generational expert and author David Stillman on how Generation Z will begin graduating from college this year and what businesses should expect. Here’s a hint: Don’t expect Millennials.

And though Gen Z is starting to graduate this year, there’s still a massive amount of them within various levels of education—nearly 74 million (born between 1995 and 2012), according to Forbes magazine.

Since education has been focusing more on adapting itself to its students, rather than students learning to adapt to its educators, there’s never been a better time to re-examine strategies ranging from classroom pedagogy to campus-wide technology initiatives.

Here are three things K-12 and higher ed must know about the rising “phigital” student:

1. Digital is King

According to Stillman and his 17 year-old son and co-author Jonah, Millennials can still remember a time before the internet. However, Gen Z are truly the first digital pioneers, in that they cannot remember a time when they were not Wi-Fi connected.

“Gen Z has only known a connected world, and as a result, they don’t draw a distinction between working in an office and working in a coffeehouse—it’s all work; they’re always online,” writes Kaplan. According to the Stillmans, Jonah sees dialing into a meeting via video conferencing as no different than sitting face-to-face in a boardroom. This has coined the term “phigital” when referencing the mindset of Gen Z.

For education, this means heavy focus should be placed on incorporating not only digital materials in the classroom, but incorporating mobile devices in class and mobile strategies within the school or institution.

Already, K-12 schools are beginning to leverage the E-Rate for a digital transformation [read here and also here]. And more schools are incorporating mobile tablets and smartphones into their curriculum [read about the staggering growth of Chromebook implementation here].

For higher education, it’s never been more important to allow prospective students to explore their potential institutions via mobile and online methods. For example, according to business recruitment specialist Jeff Boodie, the uptick in job candidates coming to his web-based employment platform via mobile is astounding; so much so that he created his new venture, JobSnap—a smartphone app that lets users upload a 30-second video to showcase their personality, and lets businesses swipe left or right, like Tinder, when choosing job candidates.

Already, mobile has shown to yield tremendous results in student recruiting, and leading colleges and universities are creating mobile apps to communicate campus messages, curb sexual assault, gain instant student feedback on classes and events, create inclusive social experiences, and provide unprecedented access to student-based services.

Top universities are also harnessing IT talent to help satisfy Gen Z’s diversified web needs both in and out of class.

Higher ed is also leading the way in online presence to attract and retain phigital students, like with state-of-the-art websites [read also what mistakes to avoid in campus website creation here].

Yet, even though higher ed is on its way to becoming the leader in digital integration (especially in its implementation of digital textbooks compared to K-12) there is still a long way to go in order to please Gen Z’s phigital nature. According to a recent multi-national research study, one-third of students polled feel that student administration systems do not meet their expectations, making them less likely to recommend the institution. Students also say a lack of digital technology options and tedious online protocols make them think less of their university.

(Next page: Individualization and the real-world for Gen Z)

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Meris Stansbury

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