There is one thing that I have learned in my mere 22 years, it is that humans love to categorize themselves. Whether one has defined themself as a dog lover or a country music hater or a life-long learner; humans have been programmed, partly by nature and partly by our imagined social structures, to categorize themselves by the things they love and hate. Even people who don’t want to classify themselves are still placing themselves in the uncategorized category.
Although individuals have the autonomy to categorize themselves throughout their lifetime, each generation, as a whole, has been classified. From the Greatest Generation to Millennials to Gen Alpha, the media has marked each generation with a set of characteristics, some being very relevant and others being very, one could say, objectionable. For instance, Gen Z is sometimes tagged with notions of being lonely, tech-savvy kids who are subject to trends and addicted to their phones and social media. Now, as an early member of Gen Z, I find some of these accusations offensive and untrue. Still, sometimes this is how my generation is marked by society.
It is true that we are tech-savvy. The remarkable digital technologies that we have today have been woven into our everyday lives, and those threads are not coming loose anytime soon. As I moved through grade school and into college, the amount of technological change has been drastic. From learning to type on a desktop computer in a computer lab to students now having their own personal iPads provided by the school, this technology has been altering the education system in ways we could’ve never imagined.
There is a claim that Gen Z and the upcoming generation, Gen Alpha, learn better with technology. For many people, when they hear the word technology, they think of cool gadgets, futuristic societies, and improving workflow efficiency, not necessarily education. However, the EdTech market is surging and even more rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The market is projected to reach $404B by 2025 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.3%, according to HolonIQ. So, if educational technology is growing so quickly, that bears the question, how will students efficiently and effectively use educational technology for learning?
Gen Z has become masters of what we think is multitasking. In fact, multitasking doesn’t really exist when it comes to learning. Instead, as stated by Anita Acai at TedxGuelphU, Gen Z has actually become masters at task switching. In other words, this generation has become extremely efficient at switching back and forth from one task to another. Although this efficiency at task switching seems to be beneficial, it actually has shown to be poor for learning as it can result in more errors and take longer than you may think. Thus, if technology promotes quick task switching that is not necessarily beneficial, how can we use technology to enhance students’ learning?
In 1978, Neil Fleming introduced the VARK learning model, in hopes to help people understand how they best learn and process information to enhance their learning abilities. This model was adopted quickly as individuals could categorize themselves (and we know people love to categorize themselves) as Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, or Kinesthetic learners. I’m sure you, yes you, reading this right now, just took a second to think about what kind of learner you have defined yourself as, and if you didn’t, you could take this quiz that tells you what kind of learner you are!
There are misconceptions about the VARK model; you won’t fall into just one category as many believe — you will see from your results that you are a mixture of the different types of learning strategies. For example, my scores were 14 for visual, 14 for aural, 8 for reading/writing, and 16 for kinesthetic. Meaning that although I like to learn by doing, I will need a mixture of all these techniques to learn effectively. Thus, one of the most effective ways to learn is through a technique called interleaving. Essentially, by studying multiple topics at once, your brain has to work harder to retrieve the information needed. Retrieval practice makes your brain work harder because your mind has to search for the information and patterns needed to solve the problem; this, in turn, strengthens memory associations. In addition to interleaving learning, another effective learning strategy is simply testing yourself, as this is another type of retrieval practice. Although many don’t enjoy testing themselves because it can be quite difficult, the struggle actually improves learning.
So if we have figured out the best way for students to learn, how can it be implemented into their daily educational technologies, especially during a pandemic that has required distance learning to become the new normal?
Education technology companies are aiming to solve this issue for Gen Z and Gen Alpha students. They have the power to integrate these kinds of learning techniques into their platforms — creating a learning environment that does not benefit only some students, but all students. On platforms like ecoText that bring textbooks and open educational resources (OERs) to life, students and educators can learn and teach in a multitude of ways. Through integration with learning management systems, blending visual and aural learning resources alongside a medium for peer-to-peer collaboration and student-to-teacher collaboration, the different learning methods are combined to create an effective and efficient educational experience, even when students cannot be in the classroom. Learning no longer has to be one-dimensional. It can be multidimensional and as layered as we are.
With that being said, the next time you go to categorize yourself, just remember that when you put yourself in a specific box, it may be comfortable, but you are likely holding yourself back from new experiences and intellect that could sky-rocket you to places you never even imagined.