Preparing for the future of work means understanding the makeup of your workforce and creating an environment where all members can thrive. In the coming years, we can expect an influx of new employees who belong to Generation Z or Gen Z — those born roughly between 1999 and 2010. What are the main characteristics of Generation Z and how is this likely to manifest in the workplace? 

In the first post in this series, we looked at Gen Z’s personality traits and the skills they’re likely to need to thrive at work. See 6 Skills to Prepare Your Gen Z Employees for Success at Work. In today’s post, we’ll examine Generation Z’s learning preferences and how you can take this into account when designing an engaging L&D program.

Generation Z prioritizes growth

Good news for L&D professionals: As they begin to enter the workforce, members of Gen Z place a strong emphasis on growth and learning opportunities. In a recent survey by LaSalle Network, members of Generation Z rated “opportunities to grow” as their number one priority. Research by Robert Half confirms that development is a priority for Gen Z, specifically when considering job opportunities: 91% of Generation Z employees view professional development and employee engagement as leading factors when they’re picking a company to work for. 

4 Generation Z traits that should shape your L&D programs

1. An expectation for personalization

Members of Generation Z have grown up with personalization across all aspects of their digital experience, whether it’s personalized playlists on their favorite music streaming platform or tailored advertisements that seem to anticipate their every need. According to a McKinsey report on Generation Z, “This personalization is increasingly expected as Generation Z navigate learning and development within companies. They want a learning tool that is personalized to their interests — a platform that serves up customized learning pathways to help them acquire the skills to achieve their goal or solve a problem in the moment of need. To appeal to them will require organizations to truly personalize career experiences (the way we think about personalizing offers we make to customers).” 

Similarly, Deloitte anticipates that Generation Z employees will expect personalization in their career paths: “Employers will need to understand the behaviors and tendencies of a generation that expects much more personalization in how they want to be treated by their employer and is seeking more than just filling cookie-cutter roles.”

Udemy offers a number of tools to help you personalize the learning experience for your Gen Z employees (and everyone else at your company). By utilizing the billions of learning interactions created by the 50 million users on Udemy and Udemy for Business, we help identify what employees should learn next through Smart Recommendations. We surface highly relevant and personalized content recommendations so that learners not only deepen their skill expertise but have the opportunity to expand their areas of knowledge as well. 

Learning Paths help employees, teams, HR, L&D, and functional leads achieve specific learning outcomes by enabling anyone to combine Udemy content and resources into a customized learning path. Whether it’s helping a team master critical competencies, learn new skills, or grow their careers, Learning Paths enable anyone to combine high-quality Udemy courses, custom courses, and web links to achieve unique learning goals. See A Powerful Way to Drive Learning at Your Organization.

2. An expectation of consumer-grade and user-friendly learning experiences

According to McKinsey, members of Generation Z are “true digital natives: from earliest youth, they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems. That context has produced a hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.”

Given their lifelong immersion in the digital world, it’s not surprising to hear that members of Gen Z are what McKinsey describes as “self-learners who feel more comfortable absorbing information online rather than in traditional styles of learning.” As a result, they expect their experience with technology at work to mirror their experiences outside of work — they believe digital experiences should be consumer-grade and user-friendly. According to Pearson Education, “Gen Z wants to seamlessly jump from their personal experiences to their educational experiences on-demand and do it outside the classroom anytime, anywhere.”

At Udemy, we’re constantly making updates to our product with the consumer in mind. For example, we recently announced a redesigned course taking experience, making it easier to access critical learning features like Q&A, Transcripts, Bookmarks, Course Description, and Assignments. We’ve also introduced a new theatre mode for high-quality course playback and added a course progress bar to easily monitor course progression. See Enhance Your Learning with Our New Course Taking Experience.

3. A preference for self-paced online learning

Generation Z has grown up with screens of all shapes and sizes: smartphones, TVs, laptops, desktops, and tablets. Research shows they spend 10 hours a day engaging with digital devices. This has transformed the learning experience, with some studies showing 78% of students using digital course materials rather than traditional textbooks. 

Video has also become a staple of the Gen Z digital diet, and one of their preferred methods of learning. A study by Pearson found that “Gen Z ranked YouTube and video as preferred methods for learning by large margins over millennials. In fact, YouTube was second only to teachers as a learning tool, and ranked higher than lectures, in-person activities with classmates, learning applications and books.”

In the workplace, video content often supports just-in-time or microlearning because learners can quickly access the information they need and then return to the task at hand. Rather than traditional classroom learning that takes employees out of the work context, this type of learning occurs in the flow of work. This is why Udemy courses are divided into short lectures — to help employees quickly gather the information they need.

To further support this type of microlearning, we launched Smart Tips courses taught by bestselling Udemy instructors. These courses cover critical professional skills: Excel, Communication, and Productivity. Each Smart Tips course is comprised of 3- to 8-minute lectures that cover one specific topic or tip. See 5 Reasons to Use Microlearning in Your L&D Programs.

4. A need to foster real-life connections

Despite their familiarity with the digital landscape, Generation Z employees still prioritize real-life connections. Research from Robert Half shows that the majority of Gen Z employees prefer to communicate at work through face-to-face conversations versus text, instant message, email, or social media. At the same time, McKinsey finds that members of Gen Z “don’t distinguish between friends they meet online and friends in the physical world. They continually flow between communities that promote their causes by exploiting the high level of mobilization technology makes possible.” 

Employers can support Gen Z employees’ desire for fostering connections by encouraging social learning. This may include a blended learning approach that incorporates time in the classroom, participation in social communities, and self-guided online learning. 

Udemy’s Senior Learning Designer Audrey Espey recommends this approach, writing: “There are many benefits to blended learning. It helps reinforce learning by giving employees the opportunity to practice and reinforce what they’ve learned through spaced repetition. When you use a blended learning approach, it means people can learn online first at their own pace to become familiar with new concepts. You can then focus valuable classroom time for people to practice and apply what they’ve learned. For many adults, the social learning that occurs in the classroom with their peers is also important to building their understanding of the topic.”

Understanding and accommodating the needs and expectations of your Generation Z employees can help prepare your company to face the challenges of the future.