Shaping the Next Generation of Learning

Get ready. Generation Z is taking the world by storm and already making their mark.

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

They are self-directed learners who embrace hands-on social learning environments; they grew up in the digital age with the Internet, smart phones and social media. They want their academic experiences to connect with their personal experiences. And they comprise the most diverse and multicultural generation of all time.

They are Generation Z – the next generation of learners. Globally focused and optimistic, they are already making their mark on the world.

Born sometime between the late-1990s and the 2010s, some members of Generation Z are now attending university, and in the next few years, they will be applying to professional schools.

The majority of Generation Z, however, have already mapped out their future educational and career paths.

With characteristics and life experiences vastly different than their predecessors Millennials and Generation X, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is readying for this new generation of learners by making changes to the medical school admission process and curriculum.

“The education system has to be responsive to how learners have been raised and the influences of their environments,” said Dr. Jay Rosenfield, vice dean, Medical Education.

Dr. Rosenfield will be overseeing changes being made at the School to meet the needs of these prospective students and future physicians and is enthusiastic about the coming changes.

Dr. Tisha Joy, associate dean, Admissions, has spent the past year mapping out what she describes as a more holistic approach to the admissions process in preparation for this new generation of learners. The emphasis will not only be on academic achievements but also on non-academic traits, while balancing a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

“We believe that future learners represent more than just their academic metrics; they have had life experiences that shape who they are and who they can become as physicians,” Dr. Joy said. “During the admissions process, we will want to hear about students’ experiences and how these experiences have contributed to their drive, and passion for medicine.”

Students applying for admission to medicine for the 2019-2020 academic year will have an opportunity to include a written statement about their own personal experiences and link those experiences to the School’s values of social accountability and diversity, and focus on the importance of collaboration. Statements will be evaluated with an eye to the students’ critical inquiry, and personal growth and development as a result of their experiences.

Dr. Joy is also planning a full-scale change to how the School positions itself to students and is hoping to better reflect the community students will discover at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Highlighting diversity, financial support, support systems, community engagement opportunities and the coming curriculum changes are important elements of that change.

The School will continue its highly personalized interview process, engaging prospective learners with the conversation focusing on the students’ lived experiences and the application of lessons from those experiences to everyday life.

“We will be looking for students who are emotionally mature, have integrity, are resilient and have a broad focus on global issues,” Dr. Joy said.

As medical students, this generation of learners can also expect a different in-class experience than their peers just a few years their senior. That’s thanks to an expected curriculum change and the introduction of competency-based medical education (CBME).

“There were a number of factors that convinced us we needed to make changes to the curriculum,” said Dr. Gary Tithecott, associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education. “Most important among those were the learning styles and expectations of this next generation of learner.”

Dr. Tithecott explained that CBME and competency learning are much more student-centric and accountable. Focused on a student’s performance toward a competency, this new approach allows faculty to determine how well a student is progressing and more readily identify whether extra support is needed to achieve benchmarks.

Flipped classrooms, independent learning, small group discussions, team-based learning and simulation will factor prominently in the new curriculum. And while traditional lectures will always have a place at the School, students will be empowered to take more responsibility for their learning.

To better mirror real-life clinical scenarios, Dr. Tithecott is also hoping to bring disciplines together so that students not only learn about the discipline itself, but also better understand the impact of one condition on another.

“We believe that future learners represent more than just their academic metrics; they have had life experiences that shape who they are and who they can become as physicians.” —Dr. Gary Tithecott

“For example, we will bring the cardiac, respiratory and renal lectures together, because students will likely encounter patients presenting with multiple issues and they will need to learn early in their studies how to approach the complexity of patient care as it actually occurs,” he explained.

A study focused on Generation Z, completed by Northeastern University in 2014, revealed that nearly 72 per cent said that colleges should allow students to design their own course of study or major. With this in mind, Schulich Medicine’s new curriculum will also provide learners increased joint degree options.

“We are looking at an MD/MPH in which students would be given a 12-month period to complete their master of public health degree, and then return to their undergraduate medical studies. We are also looking at offering senate-approved certificate programs, which could be completed in conjunction with their MD Program – such as Health Care Quality, Narrative Medicine and Global Health,” said Dr. Tithecott.

Exams will continue to play an important role in assessing students, however, the curriculum based on CBME will bring with it a series of more regular and in-the-moment assessments, allowing students to immediately apply corrections.

“Students today and in the near future are familiar and, more importantly, comfortable with this type of feedback,” said Dr. Joy. “They know how to manage this form and frequency of feedback – really it’s a natural extension of their cognitive abilities.”

Generation Z represents a critical part of the future of medicine, and as the School is preparing for their arrival, these students are already helping to shape the next generation of learning.