Robots. Self-driving cars. Artificial intelligence. We read and hear about these subjects frequently in the technology press, but we wanted to understand more about how students see them — so we decided to ask them. In August of this year, we polled over 1,000 Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 to ask them about their familiarity with “the future of work” as well as how they’re learning about it in school.

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First, the good news: More than 95% of those we surveyed are familiar with the future of work and have discussed it in class. Those discussions are important, as they give students the vocabulary to understand how the future of work is changing, and what types of study are needed to prepare them for careers in these areas. Our research shows that educators in both secondary and higher education are finding ways to bring in current events and topics into the classroom, in both formal and informal ways.

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Now, the less good news: female students feel less equipped to take on future career prospects due to less understanding of these forward looking technologies. One in three female students wishes she was taught more about innovative technologies in school, versus one in four male students. While it’s not clear where that difference comes from, one possibility we’ve identified is that female students wish they had more instruction in these areas because they’re increasingly interested in STEM fields. On Quizlet specifically however, the data is more heartening: while 20 percent of study sets on Quizlet are related to STEM subjects, female students on Quizlet are more likely to be studying STEM subjects on our platform than male students.

Beyond differences in gender, our research also showed students most strongly believe that robots (47 percent), self-driving cars (46 percent) and artificial intelligence (44 percent) will play a role in the future of work.

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Additional findings from our study:

While almost half of Gen Z students believe robots will play a starring role in the workplace of the future, 60 percent have learned about robots in the classroom. When we further break down the data, 70% of male students say they’ve learned about robots in school, but only 55% percent of female have. This 15% difference may come from difference choices made in terms of extracurricular activities (an interest in robotics club, for example) or it may be due to more systemic issues around how male and female students are taught. And it’s important to note because the 40 percent who haven’t may be less competitive than their more educated counterparts in the workplaces of the future.

Self-driving cars continue to be an area of fascination for students, but they’re hungry for more. Nearly half of students (46 percent) report that they are not learning about self-driving cars in the classroom. Not surprisingly, of those that haven’t learned about self-driving cars, most (74 percent) wish they had.

Most concerning, our research shows that most students lack an understanding of what artificial intelligence is. From powering bots, to improving internet security, to improving healthcare outcomes, artificial intelligence will touch many of the industries of the future — but our research shows that students have a lack of knowledge about what AI in the future of work really means. Of students who have learned about AI in the classroom, 65 percent of them believe data from this technology will be responsible for modernizing industry, but at the same time, four in ten students have not learned about AI or machine learning in school. And, despite its pervasiveness across industries, more than 30% of our survey respondents said they weren’t interested in learning more about AI — students were more interested in learning about other technologies including virtual reality, 3D/holograms, drones, self-driving cars and the “Internet of Things”.

Industry is changing quickly, and students are being asked to embrace new technologies all the time. The encouraging news is that despite the discrepancies between what our respondents want to learn about and what they’re currently being instructed in, more than three quarters of students (76 percent) believe their dream job already exists, but that their job will most likely function differently when they enter the workforce than what it looks like today.

The world is changing so quickly, and the tools and technology prevalent in the workplace today may be obsolete by the time Gen Z arrives in the office — or they may look quite similar. While it’s difficult to predict the pace of innovation in the workforce, it’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm students have for learning about these new technologies, and the speed at which teachers have found ways to incorporate information about them into the classroom. The more interest students have, and the more opportunities teachers take to introduce new themes and ideas around the future of work, the better off students will be when they get there.

Methodology
Quizlet worked with OnePoll, a marketing research company specializing in online quantitative research and polling, to survey 1,000 people in the United States categorized as “Generation Z,” aged 13 to 24 years old (born between 1993 and 2004).