Creating eLearning Experiences For Digital Natives
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Developing Virtual Courses For New Generations

In 2001, Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native,” now commonly applied to both Millennials and Gen Zers. The term implied that a new generation of students was emerging and that educators would need to adapt to their tech preferences and learning styles. These generations grew up in a world where the answer to any question was just a few iPhone keystrokes away. The challenges of engaging them in an impactful way have been further exacerbated by the pandemic, which has necessitated a rapid and abrupt shift to a virtual learning model.

Through our work with leading education, corporate training, and publishing organizations, we’ve learned how forward-thinking educators are overcoming these challenges to deliver exceptional eLearning experiences. While digital natives are tech-savvy, they also require empowerment and stimulation in their courseware to stay engaged. Here are some considerations for organizations tasked with teaching in a virtual environment.

Establish “Best Practices” For Communication

It is important for educators to create structure within their Virtual Learning Environment. While video calls can replicate the classroom experience to a degree, it is far more difficult for digital natives to pick up on social cues in the remote setting. Establishing rules upfront about when questions can and should be asked, for example, is a good way to avoid disruptions. By clarifying online communication guidelines in advance, expectations are set and students can receive the assistance they need efficiently.

Tell Them Why

In order to ensure that digital natives engage meaningfully with an eLearning program, it is important to make sure they understand the reasons they should participate and how they will benefit from the program. Effective teachers will clearly communicate overall objectives at the beginning of the course and then continue to take time to introduce each section of new material with an overview of what’s to come and why.

Moreover, much as in the in-person academic setting, it is crucial to provide examples of real-world applications of material being presented to students. If digital natives appreciate the pragmatic nature of the course and the skills they can acquire by learning the content, they’ll be much more engaged.

Make Them Interact

A Barnes & Noble College report demonstrated that 51% of Gen Zers prefer “learning by doing” over any other method. This creates obvious challenges when educators are communicating with students through an internet connection. Fortunately, the internet also offers exciting new possibilities to introduce a more interactive curriculum to better engage digital natives. Breaking up the day with multimedia-powered learning modules can help keep learners stimulated. Options include:

  • Videos and other online visualizations or illustrations
    Connecting lessons to the outside world with engaging visual content can provide real-world context for students and improves retention. According to a study by Pearson, 59% of Gen Zers express a preference for learning by viewing YouTube videos. YouTube is also host to a wealth of distracting and problematic content so educators must also keep this in mind when incorporating it into lessons.
  • Tech-enabled collaborative learning
    In-class collaboration plays to digital natives’ social nature and has positive emotional and engagement benefits. Post-course workshops that require active collaboration can also be effective.
  • Frequent quizzes and comprehension check-ins
    It is often much more difficult to determine whether students are absorbing new material in a virtual setting. It’s important for educators to check in frequently throughout the day to ensure lessons are understood. Creating a low-pressure environment where students are free to ask questions is critically important.
  • Gamification
    Educators can take advantage of learners’ competitive and social nature by serving up knowledge in digestible chunks, capitalizing on psychological findings about how our brain processes and absorbs information. When teachers gamify the learning experience, the student is presented with new information and then must quickly recall it. This “chunking” of information allows the student to immediately start processing it for storage in long-term memory. As the game builds, the learner must consider and recall previous chunks of information alongside new ones, and the overall result is more effective storage in long-term memory.

Give Them Control

Digital natives are largely self-motivated and eager learners who want (and need) to learn at their own pace. Empower them by incorporating a self-assessment at the start of the course, asking them to establish a personalized plan to achieve course objectives on their own terms. This will motivate them to not only complete the training, but concentrate more mindfully on the subject matter required to meet these objectives.

Address The Digital Divide

Students' ability to access online classrooms and digital content is often limited by the technology available in their homes. Courseware must be accessible and responsive on a broad range of devices, including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices.

While it may be tricky at times, it is critical that forward-thinking organizations adapt to the learning needs of digital natives. Like generations before, these students are products of their environment, which means technology, accessibility, and flexibility are key. Virtual classrooms are likely going to be a staple of the modern learning experience, so it is imperative that educators incorporate creative strategies into course design to empower and motivate their students in new and exciting ways.

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