Navigating the Digital Landscape and Its Impact on Learning for Generation Z

Bonnita Nyamwire Jan. 23, 2023

In today's digital age, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, and this is especially true for the younger generation, or "Generation Z." Born in the 1990s, this generation has grown up with constant access to digital tools and the internet, and it has shaped the way they learn, communicate, and interact with the world around them. This blog explores the impact of the internet and digital technologies on learning for Generation Z, delving into how they use these tools and platforms in their daily lives and how it shapes the way they approach learning. It also discusses the challenges and opportunities that arise from this constantly evolving digital landscape and how they affect the education system as a whole. So, come along as we navigate the digital landscape and understand the unique perspective of Generation Z.

Gen Z

Young adults referred to as "Gen Z" or "Gen Zers" are self-motivated, social, highly collaborative, adaptable, and genuine. Gen Z consists of young adults who were born in the 1990s, during a period of digital and technological innovation around the world. Digital technologies such as social media, smart mobile technologies, cloud computing, analytics, and the Internet of Things have become an integral part of their lives due to their cost effectiveness, usability, and configuration simplicity. They are perceived as having grown up with constant access to digital tools. They are the most technologically diverse generation, handling a great deal of information online and being virtually always connected. The Internet permeates every aspect of their lives, including work, education, and interpersonal relationships. Compared to older generations who grew up without the Internet, Generation Z initially views the Internet as a means to communicate with friends and family, and later as a tool for learning or consuming various forms of content.

They employ digital technology in their daily lives and anticipate being challenged by the information-rich environment. Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok are popular, flexible, and entertaining on-demand digital platforms among Generation Z. When necessary, Gen Z will always have access to information regardless of their location. Common among them are remote learning, acquiring new skills online, and gaining new experiences. They have limitless opportunities for virtual communication, as they can converse with people from all over the world and make new friends from all over the world.

In March 2022, we interviewed Gen Z in higher education institutions in Uganda, and their preference for digital platforms was consistent with the rest of the Gen Z population globally. They prioritize entertainment through video games, sports, and fashion. Online educational content is ranked second. Gen Z is also more comfortable with decentralized online services, online shopping, and online banking, which require less time and money to obtain than traditional methods. They also mentioned that digital platforms allow them to learn on their own by immersing themselves in tutorials on various subjects available online and then adapting to these learnings, which is typical of Gen Z's self-reliance and pragmatic nature. They called the use of digital technology "easy and quick."

TikTok was mentioned as their "favorite app," as they stated, "it has everything you need in education, fashion, and movies." If you need to learn a language, TikTok is a great place to start. You can watch a movie on TikTok if you need an update on a movie. On this app, you can also learn from other people's life experiences. If you need basic digital training, you can follow some people on Tik Tok who will assist you. It essentially has everything—more than all of these other apps combined. It's educational; a lecturer explains things you don't understand; simply search for this information on YouTube. Previously, one had to go to the video library to purchase a disc containing these videos, but that is no longer the case. This is both cheaper and more convenient.

Because the internet is such an integral part of their lives, Generation Z has picked up language skills almost unintentionally. Their vocabulary and digital literacy skills have grown as they frequently communicate and interact with various digital tools in their own unique style. Although English is by far the most commonly used language on the internet, many other languages are also available. The Gen Zers we spoke with alluded to this fact, stating that they find useful content online in languages other than English; however, most of this content has subtitles for videos and options for translation to English for written documents. If they require content, they will have someone watch the video and interpret it for them, especially if it is in a language other than English and does not have subtitles.

Speaking with various Gen Zers, we discovered that educational institutions have established computer laboratories and internet connectivity to promote the use of digital technology and digital literacy among students and faculty. There are also established ICT departments with appointed tutors to lead them and guide the use of technology in these institutions, which includes training students and faculty in internet use as well as monitoring it.

Despite these significant efforts to promote the use of the internet and digital technology, Gen Z acknowledged a lack of use of digital technology in classroom teaching and instruction. The traditional in-person lecturer-student method in lecture rooms is used for the majority of instruction, though the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced its use in favor of e-learning. The widespread availability of internet connections has significantly reduced the gaps in accessing digital services; however, significant gaps remain in the availability of digital materials and services such as digital training, which has a significant impact on Gen Z's ability to capitalize on such opportunities. Other challenges include Gen Z's lack of knowledge to correctly verify the correct information they interact with on various digital platforms, despite the fact that their smartphone addiction may be harmful to their health. Inadequate digital tools, poor internet or WI-FI connectivity, and an unstable power supply are all issues. This may result in missed opportunities because not all Gen Zers use internet services only when they are required.

These technological advancements have had an impact on Gen Zers in both positive and negative ways. On the plus side, Gen Z has access to a wealth of information, allowing them to broaden their knowledge and be proactive in their learning. On the other hand, excessive screen time can exacerbate feelings of isolation and result in underdeveloped social skills. Furthermore, as low-income Generation Z enters the labor force, technology is changing the economy, making them vulnerable. In contrast to previous decades, stable jobs and good wages nowadays almost always necessitate a postsecondary education as well as digital literacy.