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Generations of Learners Change-Do I Need to Change Too?
Charlene Williams, PharmD, BCACP, CDE 

As Generation Z or the iGen generation of learners begins to enter schools of pharmacy (born approximately between 1995-2015), preceptors may be wondering if they may need to adapt their teaching styles to these learners.  

Data are still emerging on Generation Z as they are just beginning professional school and entering work environments. Given each person’s unique socio-cultural factors, it is important to not generalize generational information or stereotype individuals or groups as not all people will display the characteristics ascribed to their generation.1,2 Generations may also overlap. Nevertheless, preceptors may find some of the emerging information about Generation Z helpful to keep in mind while precepting. Data currently suggests that some individuals in this generation may exhibit:3-4  

  • Reliance on technology for knowledge, communication, and interaction  
  • Less developed social and relationship skills which could place them at greater risk of isolation, anxiety, insecurity, depression, and other mental health concerns 
  • Possibly lower attention spans 
  • Less risk-taking with more pragmatism (may like to have back-up plans/options) 
  • More cautious and concerned about emotional, financial, and physical safety than millennials  
  • Comfort with diversity and differences 
  • May prefer to advocate through technology versus being physically present  
  • Preference for visual learning with observation and practice over lecture and reading 

Notable differences in generations raises the important question of whether we should adapt our teaching styles to specific generations. This question is the topic of debate.1,5  Below are some example teaching strategies suggested for Generation Z:3 

  • More frequent, succinct, and prompt feedback 
  • Inclusion of learners in decision-making 
  • Transparent communication 
  • Modeling appropriate group and interpersonal skills 
  • Including activities that require short periods of social interaction 
  • Reminders about social media policies 
  • Utilizing technology and visual materials (applications, platforms, videos, gaming, concept maps, infographics, questioning and feedback exercises, short group-based activities, simulations) 
  • Instruction on how determine reliability of digital resources 

In contrast, a literature review of generational differences in academic pharmacy suggests that presently there is no outcome data to support adapting styles in a prescripted way to different generations.  Instead, the authors suggested that effective leaders utilize their own leadership styles and choose which of their own methods best fits a specific follower in order to maintain authenticity.1 This underscores the importance of self-awareness as a leader and getting to know your learner. The use of adult learning principles (recognizing learners’ prior experiences and knowledge and linking those to new learning, sharing the reasoning behind learning, making learning relevant to the learner’s current situation, centering learning on problems versus content, connecting learning to learners’ motivations)6,7 and blending of precepting strategies as appropriate may help meet the needs of a variety of learners, regardless of generation.3,4  


  1. Pinelli NR, Sease MM, Nola K, Kyle JA, Heldenbrand SD, Penzak SR, Ginsburg DB. The importance of authentic leadership to all generations represented within the academic pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ 2018;83(6):6694.   
  2. Smith SM, Coleman M, Dolder CR. Evaluation of generational influences among 4th year pharmacy students and experiential preceptors. Curr Pharm Teach Learn 2019;11(9):888-894.
  3. Chicca, J., & Shellenbarger, T. Generation Z: Approaches and teaching-learning practices for nursing professional development practitioners. J  Nurses in Prof Dev 2018;34:250-256. 
  4. Schmitt CA, Lancaster RJ. Readiness to practice in generation Z nursing students.   J Nurs Educ. 2019;58(10):604-606.
  5. Boyle CJ, Gonyeau M, Flowers SK, Hritcko P, Taheri R, Prabhu S. Adapting leadership styles to reflection generational differences in the academy. Am J Pharm Educ 2018;82(6):6886.
  6. Knowles M. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 3rd ed. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing; 1984 pp 45-49.
  7. Taylor DCM, Hossam H. Adult learning theories: implications for learning and teaching in medical education .Med Teach 2013;35:e1561-e1572.


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