Friday, February 12, 2010

Ageless ideas: Fostering intergenerational learning benefits all involved

Contributed by Michael Dubanewicz, M.Ed., CFM, Johnson & Wales University North Miami campus, Fla.

Education is a rich culmination of ideas and theories learned year after year. To stay current, educators seek continuing-education courses, seminars and professional development programs to remain "fresh" and up-to-date. This continued training not only allows integration of new practices, but challenges the capacity for new learning. Sometimes educators overlook a bountiful source of learning available at their fingertips on a daily basis: the students. This type of learning is called intergenerational learning, meaning it occurs across two generations, along with the sharing of information, thoughts, feelings and expressions that can enrich both teacher and student.

During daily lecture, engage in a subject matter where a free-flowing conversation can occur. Vivian Liberman, MS, professor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Miami builds classroom conversation "by integrating a role playing activity where it gets the group moving for a better understanding of the subject matter by actually living it," she says. Once engagement begins, the student will integrate his or her own thoughts and ideas to the lecture, and the educator can take this and elaborate further with their own experiences and learning. Chris Wagner, GCMC (Global Master Chef), director of culinary operations at Johnson and Wales University North Miami, agrees, stating, "There basically are no boundaries. I encourage hands-on experiments, demos and telling of personal stories."

Even I have experienced this during a lecture on vitamins and minerals. I began listing various sources of vitamin C when a student called out, "Is that really the best source?" I stopped for a moment and responded with another question: "Well, where do you believe a good source of this specific vitamin comes from?" The student then described a fruit he ate as a child in the Caribbean, and many students also had heard of this fruit, which contains more than 65 times more vitamin C of an orange. Thus, I became the student and learned of a new fruit and new vitamin source.

Intergenerational learning is exciting because of its reciprocal nature. Liberman creates a mentoring system in which older generations "parent" the younger students. "This age bracket is bridged by interactive teaching and group work," she says.

Wagner adds, "It is also accomplished by breaking down the class into smaller groups where there is an ideal mix of ages."

As we can see, sometimes the instructor becomes the student, and the student becomes the instructor. This ageless approach to learning will continue to be a formative way to "bridge the gap" between two generations.

Share your intergenerational learning experiences in the comments section.