Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

John Ingram

John Ingram is CEO of Pamoja Education, an education technology company based in Oxford, UK, that provides online learning solutions for secondary education. John has a wealth of experience in business scale-up and change within digital and technology-enabled markets. Prior to working at Pamoja, John was the Managing Director at RM Results, offering software, services and data analytics for the global education market.

Pamoja supports schools in the successful delivery of their secondary education programmes, including the IB Diploma and Career-related Programme, and most recently, Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge International AS and A Level programmes.

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The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring is an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

Several reasons lie behind this growth. Of course, rising internet penetration in households around the world has paved the way. Another reason is the increasing importance of STEM education around the world – key for clearing highly competitive university entrance exams as well as it leading to increased job opportunities – and the leg up online tutoring can provide. Yet the most compelling reason is the motivations and behaviours shared by those behind the demand – Generation Z.

Widely defined as those born between 1995 to 2010, Generation Z is the largest generation in the world, comprising 32% of the global population, and is the first to have grown up as true digital natives – immersed in digital technology, the Internet, and social media throughout their lives. Exposure to technology from an early age has produced a generation that expects connectivity and instant access as standard, but one that is also comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information, as well as integrating virtual and offline experiences. The vast amounts of information at their disposal are enabling them to be more analytical in their decision making than previous generations, with 65% of those surveyed in a report from McKinsey last year saying they particularly value knowing what is going on around them and being in control. Raised at a time of global economic stress, Generation Z are also more responsible and pragmatic than Millennials, keenly aware of the need to save for the future as well as tending to value job stability over high salaries.

It’s no surprise then that this generation should be particularly comfortable with online tutoring. The flexibility and instant access online tutoring offers are ideal for self-directed and responsible Gen Z learners who are looking to supplement their day-to-day studies and are used to seamlessly integrating online and offline experiences.

The market around online tutoring is rapidly developing and expanding in terms of features that are available to meet young peoples’ needs: self-assessment tools, chat features, interactive whiteboards, file sharing, and the ability to consult with tutors behind the scenes or tap into a supportive peer network – particularly important for Gen Zers who have social media as a central part of their lives. Young people can access exactly what they want in terms of study and career development, and parents are given more options to help improve their children’s academic results.

Young people should nevertheless weigh up the pros and cons of online tutoring to fit their needs. On one hand, technical issues, the availability and vetting of quality tutors, as well as the issue of ensuring student motivation through remote learning are just some potential challenges to bear in mind. On the other hand, flexibility to access tutoring around busy schedules, the ability to access more than one expert on particular subjects, and tailored packages that save time and money by not locking a student into regular appointments they may not need are just some of the advantages.

Just like Millennials before them, Generation Z are disrupting the provision of education itself, and the onus is on educators and EdTechs to understand and meet their needs. A Barnes and Noble College study of 1,300 American middle and high school students found that Generation Z expect on-demand services with low barriers to access – learning for this cohort isn’t limited to just the classroom; it’s something that can take place anywhere, at any time. They also tend to be more career-focused earlier on in their college careers and are increasingly becoming the directors of their own futures – almost 13% surveyed in the study already have their own business, and an additional 22% plan to own a business in the future. All these things must be considered by those trying to reach this group of learners. An awareness of Generation Z’s online and social media habits, providing updated and meaningful content, and enabling the widest possible level of personalisation will be crucial for educators and EdTechs trying to make the biggest impact.

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