Intergenerational Learning at Dublin City University: Introducing Older Learners to Technology

Trudy Corrigan, Carmel Conroy, Marian Flanagan, Joan Flood, Cathy Fowley, Joan McGrane, Gerry McNamara, Conor Sullivan,

Dublin City University

The term “intergenerational learning” is used to refer to activities or programmes which “increase cooperation, interaction and exchange between people of different generations (enabling them to) share their talents and resources and support each other in relationships that benefit both the individual and their community” (Generations United, 2006:1).  Older people, defined usually as aged sixty plus, have been mostly neglected in the literature on lifelong learning. No in-depth research has been undertaken to evaluate the specific needs or to contextualise the benefits of lifelong learning for older people in Ireland today. In addition older and younger people are rarely invited to meet together to share their academic knowledge and lived experience in a teaching and learning environment on a third level campus.
Dublin City University’s (DCU) Enhancement of Learning Strategy aims to position DCU as one of the leading universities internationally in relation to educational innovation. It focuses on enhancing the learning experience for all students: undergraduate and postgraduate, full-time and part-time, school leavers and mature, Irish and international. An educational and innovative opportunity in the form of a pilot study was created to embrace this strategy by bringing together older people and younger learners. The pilot study is called the DCU Intergenerational Learning Project (ILP). This pilot study (2008-2010) was embarked on as part of a doctoral study in the Education Studies Department at DCU, to highlight the importance of the introduction and development of intergenerational programmes at third level, and to summarise key issues so as to underpin future research and policy development in this area for the future. The DCU ILP has attracted over 100 older people and 100 volunteer DCU students, who participate on Saturday mornings between 10.00am and 1.00pm in DCU. The project offers introductory modules in communications, science, creative writing and computers. There has been a huge positive response to the Introduction to Computers module, which aims to enable the older learners to become actively involved in the knowledge society.
In this paper we report on the research findings to date. These include testimonials from the older learners on the IT skills they have acquired, and feedback from the younger student volunteers on facilitating the older learners in acquiring these skills. The findings illustrate the need for this project to be sustained and developed in the future. We discuss the idea of developing a Centre for Intergenerational Learning in Dublin City University whereby older people (aged 60 plus) have the opportunity to meet with and learn with third level students in a teaching and learning environment that is beneficial to both generations. The aim would be to integrate technology into various modules, which would give the older learners a taste of third-level education. This is to enhance the teaching and learning opportunities of both generations so as to provide a teaching and learning forum that addresses the intellectual, emotional, social, economic and educational needs and interests of both groups of learners.

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