I was an educator long before I became a parent. When I became a parent, I was suddenly able to observe the ways of life for our youngest leaners around the clock. Through parenting I became intrigued and educated in the ways of Generation Alpha. Through my professional world I have finetuned the pathways to develop educational experiences that this generation not only needs but will increasingly expect from their K12 schools.
What is Generation Alpha?
When I talk with educators from around the country, very few have even heard the term Generation Alpha. A term coined by an Australian social researcher, the evidence on Generation Alpha is important to understand. The facts of this group of students are quickly emerging as educators, service providers, and marketers seek to understand the children of millennials.
- Generation Alpha includes any child born after 2010.
- Starting in 2017, Generation Alpha students began enrollment in Kindergarten.
- Generation Alpha students are skilled in navigating digital tools and have a way of “thinking digitally” about how things connect and diverge.
- Capturing the attention of online influencers that speak their language (like Pat and Jenn of Popular MMOs), Generation Alpha is seeking a storyline (not just commercials).
- In a recent survey of parents in the United States, a reported 81% of parents say that their Generation Alpha kids influenced parent technology purchases.
- Unlike other generations, Generation Alpha kids are part of the decision-making conversation in their households. Weighing in on purchasing priorities, vacation plans, purchases, and more.
- Technology is not just a toy or distraction, but a way of living, connecting, and learning for Generation Alpha kids.
- Recent reports suggest that this generation will surpass the technology skills of their parents by age eight.
- Their somewhat radical approaches to communication shouldn’t be shocking, 50% of them don’t have home phones and use free messaging services to text friends, relatives, and parents.
- Their use of Artificial Intelligence is commonplace and natural that they understand how to use Siri and Alexa (among others) from the age where they learn to speak.
- They will use technology to learn and interact with content and demonstrate mastery in ways that many of our teachers have not yet mastered.
- Generation Alpha comes to K12 with the propensity to expect personalization. They will expect meaning and purpose behind their learning and expect hands-on instead of didactic or teacher directed experiences in classrooms.
- Parents of Generation Alpha kids are expecting high quality experiences that they didn’t have.
- These same parents hold the responsibility of parenting and making choices in the best interest of their children as a high priority. They will seek choice, they will seek value, and they will seek a differentiated experience.
- Generation Alpha kids expect diversity and value diversity among their friends and classmates. They know they are different from their peers and find value in learning with and from others.
What challenges will Generation Alpha bring to K12 education?
The data and information we have on Generation Alpha kids points to a clear need for innovation; and quick innovation at that. When Generation Alpha kids joined the ranks of students in K12 classrooms we lost our opportunity for the “slow pace of change” to pass as the educational norm. Rather this population (and their parents) will demand rapid-cycle prototyping and responsive systems of learning to meet the dynamic needs of this tech-savvy generation.
I was reminded of this when a group of eight-year old boys told me about their social experiment of, “Finding out if everything their teacher taught them in a week could be learned with quality resources on YouTube.”
Further, existing evidence suggests that our schools will have to establish their presence in more than content and skill. Generation Alpha students will look for reasons to go to school that are beyond learning to read and master numeracy skills. These expectations start in Kindergarten and are expected to continue. They will love their teachers and enjoy their friends but question why they have to spend six hours (or more), five days a week inside of a school. They will look at software programs that are used (often with fidelity) to develop literacy and numeracy skills and wonder why they are using programs at school (instead of being in the comfortable confines of their home or public library). For this generation it is the experience and action that leads to learning; not just instruction and content-based inquiry.
The learning challenges for schools to meet the needs of Generation Alpha are real and need to be addressed now through innovation and a complete overhaul of learning environments. Two facets of Generation Alpha students that have a base of full-scale implementation are critical thinking and problem solving. These are simple targets that can serve as a starting point.
This generation expects to think, solve, create, and document. If they can’t do that at school (in every classroom) they will question (like no-other generation before them) why they are physically present. If their parents can’t respond to those questions about mandatory education, they may be seeking alternative options for their kids. Options that engage and empower their Generation Alpha kid.
The challenges that Generational Alpha will present to our educational systems are real and have far reaching impact. As millennial parents participate more in telecommuting, K12 systems of education need to be cognizant of the increasing options for school (including home school). Participation in home-schooling has increased 50% in the past fifteen years, as has telecommuting (growing 140% within the same timespan). While there isn’t national data to support any correlation between Generation Alpha and school choice, there is cause to pay attention and do our part to ensure that public schools are our first choice not our last.
The insistence from Generation Alpha to innovate our K12 education systems to thrive and meet their needs will be something that many of our educators and leaders are not prepared to address. Given the current data, we can’t ignore the forthcoming expectations for public education. Our elected officials, our superintendents, our building leaders, and our classroom teachers must be ready and willing to leap. If they do not, we may need to answer the unfortunate question: Where did all of our students go?
If we are truly going to create systems of learning where our Generation Alpha kids will thrive we must not stop and we must not go slow. We must be strategic, use data, think bigger, educate ourselves on how 21st Century skills and hands on learning really develop skills and content knowledge, and we must fully believe that these new opportunities will be best for our kids. Be eager to fail fast and reflect on what worked and didn’t. Be purposeful in your challenges and actions. Be focused and ready for what is next, not what is now.
Start with one simple question to educational leaders: Generational Alpha is here, are we ready?
References that contributed to the knoweldge-base of the article include:
Adrianne Pasquarelli and E.J. Schultz. (2019) MOVE OVER GEN Z, GENERATION ALPHA IS THE ONE TO WATCH. Available online at https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/move-gen-z-generation-alpha-watch/316314
Brett Creech. (2019) Are most Americans cutting the cord on landlines? Available online at https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-8/are-most-americans-cutting-the-cord-on-landlines.htm
Khumo Theko. (2019) Meet Generation Alpha. Available online at https://www.fluxtrends.com/meet-generation-alpha/
Joe Nellis. (2017) What does the future hold for Generation Alpha? Available online at https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/som/thought-leadership-list/what-does-the-future-hold-for-generation-alpha
Christine Michel Carter. (2016) The Complete Guide To Generation Alpha, The Children Of Millennials. Available online at https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecarter/2016/12/21/the-complete-guide-to-generation-alpha-the-children-of-millennials/#7c99c1dc3623
Ilyse Liffreing (2018) Forget millennials, Gen Alpha is here (mostly. Available online at https://digiday.com/marketing/forget-millennials-gen-alpha/
Susan Fourtané. (2018) Generation Alpha: The Children of the Millennial. Available online at https://interestingengineering.com/generation-alpha-the-children-of-the-millennial
Laura Vanderkam. (2016) How These Parents Work And Homeschool Too. Available online at https://www.fastcompany.com/3055528/how-these-parents-work-and-homeschool-too
Pamela Price. (2013). How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice, Tips, and Strategies from Parents. Available online at https://www.amazon.com/How-Work-Homeschool-Perspectives-Homeschooling/dp/0615811728
Derrick Vargason (2017). Meet Generation Alpha: 3 Things Educators Should Know. Available online at https://www.nwea.org/blog/2017/meet-generation-alpha-3-things-educators-know/
Alex Williams (2015). Meet Alpha: The Next ‘Next Generation.’ Available online at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/fashion/meet-alpha-the-next-next-generation.html
Shannon Pfeffer (2019). Lessons learned from my generation alpha consumer. Available online at https://www.campaignlive.com/article/lessons-learned-generation-alpha-consumer/1580908