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How GenZs and Alphas Learn: Understanding Differentiated Styles

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

By Dr. Lisa Dunne



Have you ever planned out a lesson with great aplomb only to find it falling on the woeful personification of a sleeping emoji? If you haven't noticed, most GenZs and Alphas don't learn (or think) the same way GenZers and Millennials do. As we talked about in the GenZ podcast episode, the learning styles of the two youngest generations are largely a product of socialization, screens, and an outmoded education system that has failed our youngest students.


American education, as we all know, is broken beyond repair. After 20 years of teaching in the college classroom, I wanted to be a change agent, an industry disruptor, so I took the highly effective format of homeschooling, coupled it with graduate school methodology, and Chula Vista Christian University's mentor-driven, faith-based, debt-free college degree program was born. (Meet our world-class professors at CVCU.us).


But why did I choose this educational methodology?


CVCU's preschool to college model was built by homeschoolers for homeschoolers. I knew that homeschooling worked, both because I educated my own children K to college, and because I saw the fruit of homeschooling in the college classroom. In fact, if you're a homeschooler, colleges will be actively recruiting you because they see your maturity, your intelligence, your determination, your civic engagement, and your ability to connect with people of all ages. You're a standout in your generation. Homeschooling provides what a 1:30 faculty/student ratio can never hope to achieve--truly individualized instruction.

Like their K to 12 counterparts, most American colleges do not partner with the learner-driven model of the younger generations. Instead, students are trained to stifle their creative energy, to disable their curiosity switches, and to digest and regurgitate information disseminated by their professor like worms from a mama bird. They are allowed to ask “how” questions, but not “why” questions.

One of the many challenges with this educational ideology is that it creates spectators, conformists, people pleasers, group thinkers. Why would we submit ourselves to that process? Instead, educators should be training students to stand up, to speak up, to reason, and to engage with the culture. This opportunity for individualized learning is one of the many benefits of the homeschool model.


All of our homeschool academies and CVCU utilize an inquiry-based, multigenerational, mentor-driven model built on active learning. At CVCU, students learn from primary literary texts in a highly engaging, challenging, and dynamic environment. Assessments are built on what you can demonstrate verbally, not on how well you guess on an MC test.

By the way, if you’re considering college, let me encourage you: You don’t have to go woke or broke to get your degree! Do your homework. Luke 6:40 says the student, when fully trained, will become like the teacher. Ken Ham says less than 15% of colleges who call themselves Christian are actually Christian. Rick Green says there are no more than 6 other universities in US holding to truly Christian foundations.

Parents, if give our money to public schools that literally mock our conservative values, we are empowering those voices and their mission. If we want to topple the power structure, we have to sever the financial tie.

One of the beautiful parallels between homeschooling and the CVCU model is individualized learning. Our mentor-driven model means students get to work in small groups of 1-4 students, much like the homeschool model. This provides an opportunity for individualized learning instead of a one-size-fits-none methodology.

As a parent, it’s incredibly helpful to know our children’s learning styles. My oldest child learned like me, processed like me, overanalyzed like me, and I thought for sure that I had this whole parenting thing down. People would come and ask me, “How did you get such a smart kid?” Parenting. #Easy.


But then my youngest came along. When I made our study room quiet (peaceful, as I would define it), she couldn’t focus. When I launched into reading material, she wanted to talk for 45 minutes first. My successful teacher mindset suddenly spiraled into negative self talk that made me question my ability as a home educator.

Can you relate?


The good news: This is normal. We all learn and process differently. Uniquely. It’s not always evident to the naked eye at first, but like the invisible spectrum of light, these differences are here, often just outside the spectrum of our conscious awareness.

The bad news: This means we have to stretch out of our comfort zones. When I started graduate school at Regent University, it was the first time I had been in a classroom that was not fueled by the anti-Christian doctrine of a pagan system. It was a Christian college. All of my education prior to that moment had been secular.

My very first professor, Dr. Graves, began his class with these words: “I am not a papa bird dispensing worms to my baby students. I too am engaged in a journey of transformational learning—and I expect to learn something from each of you.”

Honestly, I was a little freaked out. How would I, a lowly first-year grad student, teach someone with so many accolades trailing behind his name? What could he possibly learn from me? However, his admonition turned a lecture hall into a living workshop, where synergistic exchanges of thought inspired greater creativity and a renewed passion for learning.


This moment was transformative for me as a teacher too, for though I had already been working as an educator for a number of years, I realized that I hadn’t approached the art of teaching with the same open-handed-partnership format. After my experience in Dr. Graves’ class, however, I began to do a great deal less “worm dispensing.” Dr. Graves has remained throughout the years one of my favorite teachers, perhaps because of the connectedness that stems from a shared journey, however brief.

However, for many teachers, this transference of power and position is not an easy one. Some educators find it extraordinarily uncomfortable to move, for example, from lecture-based teaching to inquiry-based learning. They want to keep emotional distance from their students; they don’t want to share too much of their own weaknesses or fears or challenges.

This is an understandable hesitation, but as Malcolm Knowles (1970) pointed out, most students will thrive best in an arena of shared learning, AND our own journey of meaning-making is further enhanced through appropriate levels of connectivity and transparency. This requires a necessary paradigm shift for parent educators.

At CVCU, we say that circles are greater than rows. Discussion is more meaningful than lecture. Getting to know our students individually helps us to tailor the format to their learning style and the specific call of God on their lives. It’s a model where rigor meets relationship.

Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory was first published in Frames Of Mind (1983), and became a classical model that helps us better understand human intelligence, learning style, personality and behavior. Differentiated education gives students diverse methods of learning and demonstrating their knowledge; it’s a format that works at home, at our homeschool academies, and in our college environment.

Our social settings (and our own biochemistry) impact our learning preferences. Alphas and GenZs have grown up with knowledge at their fingertips. They don’t need lecture. They need inspiring environments that give them the margin to innovate. We’ve talked before in this blog about the two ingredients of intrinsic motivation, wonder and efficacy. Traditional education is largely void of these gems.

Twenty years ago, most of my students would say they learned best through lecture. They were verbal-linguistic. However, the screen has changed all that. Today, most of my students say they are “discuss and do” learners who need conversation, examples, and hands-on work that helps them understand the concept. They are largely kinesthetic and unable to sit still for long periods of time. I’ve unpacked some of the downfalls of this style in my book The Science of Social Influence, but there are some upsides too. The discussion model provides a rich framework for imparting not just knowledge but thinking skills. And it's the most recurring educational methodology demonstrated by Jesus, who frequently utilized inquiry-based learning to drive home a point. Who could argue with the role model there?


Differentiated education and assessment ensures that the coaching style is a match for the student’s preferred mode of learning. It might sound complex at first glance, but don’t overthink it, mamma. Remember, as Oliver DeMille wrote in A Thomas Jefferson Education, all that is necessary for true education is a mentor and the classics.

What I’ve discovered in 20 years of being an educator is that each generation has unique learning styles and preferences as a result of their socio-cultural upbringing. Clearly, education is not a one-size-fits-all model.

That’s true in our homeschool environments, and it should be true in our college classrooms as well. Check out Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence test to learn more about the unique ways your student learns. You'll see fewer sleeping emoji personifications once you listen for and lean into those individual learning styles.

You can do this, mom and dad, and we can help! Learn more about our threefold support: on-campus learning for PK to high school, our start-an-academy system, and our four-year degree programs. You don’t have to go woke or broke to get a good education. Visit us at CVCU.us today for support and encouragement for the journey ahead, preschool to college!



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