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Motivate Gen Z nursing students

Motivate Gen Z nursing students

By: Bridgette Bryan, DNP, MS, RN

Facilitate—don’t direct—education.   


  • Intrinsic motivators—learning facilitation, passionate presentation, content value revelation, concise information delivery, student and educator engagement, experiential learning, and meaningful feedback—improve Gen Z student learning retention.
  • Authentic relationships between educators and students promote positive learning environments and allow for meaningful feedback.

Pew Research describes Gen Z, the youngest group of nurses entering the workplace, as individuals born between 1997 and 2012. They’re the first generation of digital natives. This generation’s unique learning traits must be considered to ensure they meet healthcare’s progressive learning demands. When educators integrate intrinsic motivators, they can motivate learning and enhance retention of required information.

Seven of the most successful intrinsic motivators include learning facilitation, passionate presentation, content value revelation before presentation, concise information delivery, student and educator engagement, experiential learning, and meaningful feedback. (See Learning barriers and motivators.)

Facilitate learning

The learning process begins with educators who effectively facilitate rather than direct learning. Previously, directive teaching included long lectures in the classroom, with the educator’s voice considered most important. Many members of Gen Z have spent years learning independently via online research. Educators should embrace this desire for facilitative learning, with the inclusion of technology, and resist being overly directive.

A facilitative learning environment encourages learners to listen to the expertise of educators, as well as independently seek and discuss answers that enhance learning objectives. An effective facilitator fosters a meaningful group process by showing respect for the learners’ voices, providing support and encouragement, and challenging assumptions and beliefs. Fostering a collaborative experience in the classroom leads to intrinsically motivated learning.

Present passionately

Generation Z students want to learn from passionate educators. Instructors can achieve passion in several ways, and it begins with individuals who maintain content expertise. Passion and expertise result in enthusiastic teaching.

Educators can ignite passion in learners by fostering a trusting and caring learning environment. They can achieve trust through clear communication about expectations and develop caring relationships and environments with genuine dialogue and connection. Arranging one-on-one meetings and engaging in deep conversation create a greater understanding of the learner, which enhances trust.

Reveal content value

Many members of Gen Z want to make a difference in the world. Knowing how information will help them achieve those goals will motivate their learning. Every educator should put themselves in their learners’ shoes and ask the following questions before giving a presentation:

  • Why do I need to know this?
  • How will this information be used in my job?

Answering these questions for your students will help motivate and inspire their learning. When they understand the value of knowing the content and perceive its application as sensible and logical, they’re more likely to engage in the learning experience and retain what you teach.

Deliver information concisely

After years of consuming small chunks of information in online platforms, many Gen Z students respond well to similar presentations in the classroom. Koh and colleagues found that breaking a typical 1-hour lecture into three or four short lectures, followed by a practical exercise, improved learning outcomes.

Practical exercises can include engaging activities using technology, such as online modules or a short video. Assigned group activities also provide benefit. After delivering small segments of content and facilitating engaging learning activities, organize collaborative discussions to aid learning retention.

Enhance student and educator engagement

Members of Gen Z value peer and educator relationships. Consider pairing students or creating small groups to increase engagement after content delivery. Provide clear objectives, instructions, and time limits to help ensure effective outcomes from these peer activities.

Educators also can maintain engagement via question-and-answer sessions. Present a question and promote discussion before revealing the correct answer. Then affirm why the answer is correct and why other options aren’t.

Offer experiential learning

Experiential learning in the classroom—real-life scenarios, video case studies, clinical simulations with hands-on opportunities—promotes the application of learned content, aids the transition to the clinical setting, and promotes learning motivation and retention. Students will engage with organized, productive, and practical experiential learning.

Provide meaningful feedback

Gen Z students appreciate authentic relationships and understand the importance of meaningful feedback. When a student achieves clinical expectations, offer detailed feedback to affirm their correct decisions. When they don’t achieve expectations, offer comprehensive constructive criticism that promotes insight for improvement. Meaningful feedback enhances learning and is best received within an existing caring and trusting learner–educator relationship.

Promote knowledge retention

Many Gen Z students learn differently than previous generations because of the availability of advanced technology early in their lives. When educators incorporate teaching strategies that align with generational and individual learning traits, they promote knowledge retention. Building authentic relationships with students promotes a positive learning environment and allows reception of meaningful feedback that enhances the learning experience.

Bridgette Bryan is CEO of SPIN-Learning in Biloxi, Mississippi. 


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