Perception of learning enablers – Generation Z, the new entrant in third level education
Teaching and learning are inseparable activities. The ever-evolving nature of technological achievements require humans to learn, re-learn and continuously adapt. Using online platforms alone provide a possibility for a student to learn anytime, anywhere. But gaining knowledge and assessing skills, are not easy to measure. This essay will discuss some of the findings of a study conducted by Redmond et al. (2016) regarding learning enablers in first semester nursing and midwifery students. The aim was to identify the most successful learning enablers and their appropriateness considering the study group’s main age population (Generation Z- more than 70%).
The study took place in Ireland’s largest university, according to Irish Universities Association (2018). From 226 students, 206 participants handed back a SALGs questionnaire (Seymour et al., 2000) which was a 91% response rate. The participants were primarily school leavers, i.e. direct entry students from secondary education. The study approached eight main areas and each part received a 1-4-point score where 1 is the lowest and 4 is the highest grade.
As some studies outline this age group as Generation Z (Digital Natives or eBay-babies) would challenge and even redevelop teaching and learning strategies (Mohr and Mohr, 2017).
This generation could be more critical and has less preference working with others (Seemiller and Grace, 2016). Many would prefer a jigsaw format where they are part of a bigger project but working alone (mainly online) and contributing with smaller elements. A study conducted by Baker et al. (2016) points out they might suffer from Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) anxiety which could be explained by their 24/7 on-line presence-mobile availability. Also, many of these students have a desire for frequent educational opportunities which are based on online technologies and visual media (Cook, 2015) (Educause, 2017).
Gen Z and the used learning enablers
The aim of this study was to explore students’ perceptions of their learning gains to identify factors that support student learning and identify elements that need improvement if specific learning needs are to be met.
Redmond et al. (2016) pp.242
The findings of the study ranked enablers with most useful ones clinical skills laboratory (CSL) and the multiple-choice questions (MCQ). These two received the highest accumulated excellent/very good grade by the students (CSL with 95% and MCQ with 76%).
It is worth mentioning that there are many other enablers such as lecture attendance, collaborative work projects, work books, written assignments, feedback from lecturers, online contents which all contributed to the overall student learning experiences. In the contrary there is one area where 15% of the students felt they did not learn much: lecturer feedback. This could be further investigated as it is not clear from the study if feedback was automatically given or it had to be requested.
Team work skills such as communication, leadership and competency were named as critical skills in nursing. Understanding and using these skills were important for the students as well. Despite of this, 16% of the surveyors felt working in groups was challenging. It is corresponding with some of the characteristics of this group. In the study most of the mentioned enablers had a rather positive feedback from the participants. However, the pace of the lectures scored the lowest with a 2.53 summative score. 50% of the students ranked the pace excellent versus 36.5% rated only satisfactory, and the rest rated it no/little help.
As the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) sets the standards and require students to reach certain academic knowledge, the third level institutes are bound to certain curricula. Moreover, NMBI (2018) states:
Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in nursing and midwifery in Ireland’s 14 Higher Level Institutions (HEIs) must comply with the standards and requirements set down by NMBI
These requirements are forcing institutions and lecturers into teaching structures which are established and guaranteed a relatively high success rate of learning outcomes. However, using and incorporating new techniques and actively monitoring student learning outcomes may enhance learning experiences. Furthermore, measuring teaching effectiveness may also need further reviews. Previously most studies concentrated on teaching evaluations by the students (SET) but Hornstein and Law (2017) argues its purpose.
As Redmond at al. (2016) outlines this study was one of the first of its kind. If evaluations of learning gains by students are analysed, these findings may inspire other specialised studies to be undertaken and develop further leaning tools. These could also be incorporated as useful enablers. Identifying and utilizing learning enablers for new learning processes for students can encourage gaining and developing new skills. The high relevance of returned surveys (91%) shows students are willing to take part in their own education. Using and rating these tools they are active participants of their own educational journey which enables them to realise what might or might not work to reach their true potential.