ERIC Identifier: ED478947
Publication Date: 2003-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Intergenerational Learning and Social Capital. ERIC Digest.
The elder cannot be an elder if there is no community to make him an elder.
The young child cannot feel secure if there is no elder, whose silent presence
gives him or her hope in life. The adult cannot be who he or she is unless there
is a strong sense of the other people around. (M. P. Some, Ritual Power,
Healing, and Community. Portland, OR: Swan/Raven & Co., 1993, p. 2)
Knowledge has been transmitted from one generation to another throughout
history, often informally or incidentally. In the last 40 years, more systematic
and formal intergenerational programs have arisen, with growing recognition of
their integral relationship to lifelong learning and broader social purposes
(Hanks and Icenogle 2001). Ideally, the generations derive mutual benefits from
participation and the learning is reciprocal. Features of effective
intergenerational learning have commonalities with the characteristics of social
capital. This Digest examines the relationship between intergenerational
learning and social capital and describes research findings and promising
programs illustrating how intergenerational programs contribute to learning and
the development of social capital.
HOW INTERGENERATIONAL LEARNING BUILDS SOCIAL CAPITAL
concept of social capital refers to the resources of networks, norms or shared
values, and trust to which individuals have access as community members; it is
both an individual and a community asset (Balatti and Falk 2002). Individuals
who can draw on these tangible and intangible resources and relationships will
have enhanced life opportunities, and communities in which trust, reciprocity
and social networks are strong will benefit from collective action and
cooperation (ibid.). Two dimensions of social capital development (chronological
and external) bear a resemblance to features of intergenerational programs:
[The chronological dimension] is fundamental in the processes that transmit
social and cultural norms. The research makes clear how past learning needs to
be reconciled with the present, in the context of...a future gaze or "vision."
Externality refers to the relationships that people have with the outside
world... Externality is not only about developing and using networks...It is
about having the identity resource that allows one to see oneself as a member of
the larger community of communities that comprise society. (ibid., pp. 286-287)
One reason to consider intergenerational learning in this context is
awareness of unequal access to positive social capital and the risk that social
exclusion and disadvantage will result in negative social capital (Bostrom
2002). The family is typically the individual's initial source of social
capital, but the social changes of the last half century are having an impact on
this source: increased life expectancy, greater mobility, increased reliance on
nonfamilial caregivers at both ends of the life span, a more age-segregated
society (e.g., retirement communities and youth culture), and decline in civic
participation (Bostrom 2002; Loewen 1996). Economic and social changes have
resulted in "changes in the social contract and evolving expectations about the
relative position of generations in society" (Hanks and Icenogle 1999, p. 52).
The issue of generational equity arises: to some, older people are a burden
rather than a resource, and in light of the increased time it takes to become
economically productive today, children may be viewed this way as well. These
factors work against characteristics of positive social capital such as mutual
acceptance of obligations, exchange of ideas and information, and action for the
common good (Schuller et al. 2002).
Although not usually tied explicitly to a social capital framework, a
frequent rationale for intergenerational programming is its effectiveness in
reducing stereotypes of young and old and improving mutual understanding and
trust. Such attitudinal changes are a focus of much of the research, and many of
the findings show more positive perceptions of aging and the elderly among
children and young adults, more willingness to work with the elderly among
health occupations students, and changed perceptions of youth on the part of
older adults (e.g., Granville 2001; Kaplan 2001; Loewen 1996). However, in other
studies, the findings about attitude changes are mixed or demonstrate that the
changes may not last long (Kaplan 2001; Loewen 1996).
Attitudinal changes are a worthy goal, yet some suggest that making them the
primary justification and outcome of programs trivializes intergenerational
interaction and ignores the larger social purpose (Hanks and Icenogle 2001). For
Loewen (1996), a more compelling rationale is the learning inherent in effective
intergenerational activities. Learning, as a social activity, results from
drawing on and building social capital through interactions with others
(Schuller et al. 2002). Research by Balatti and Falk (2002) and Schuller et al.
(2002) demonstrates how learning creates conditions that help develop the
building blocks of social capital: it (1) extends, enriches, and reconstructs
social networks and builds trust and relationships; (2) influences the
development of shared norms and the values of tolerance, understanding, and
respect; and (3) affects individual behaviors and attitudes that influence
OUTCOMES OF INTERGENERATIONAL LEARNING
programs are usually one of the following types (Kaplan 2001): children and
youth serving older people, elders serving children and youth, and adults and
youth collaborating in service and/or learning. Research cited by Loewen (1996),
Granville (2001), and Kaplan (2001) suggests that successful intergenerational
learning fulfills age-appropriate developmental needs of youth and adults, is
relational and reciprocal (drawing on the strengths or assets of each
generation), and creates a community in which learning results through
collective engagement in authentic activities. A few studies explicitly link
social capital and the outcomes of intergenerational programs (e.g., Bostrom
2002; Granville 2002; Kaplan 2001). In other research demonstrating learning
outcomes, links to social capital may be inferred, and some promising new
programs reinforce these findings. Some of these studies and programs are
Granville (2001) examined the outcomes of a British project that brought
together two groups with "negative" social capital who are usually excluded from
powerful social networks: youth offenders undergoing rehabilitation and older
adults with physical disabilities or dementia. An instance of youth serving
elders, the program provided community service placements for offenders in elder
care centers. Each generation offered its own strengths: the youth brought
energy, enthusiasm, companionship, and physical strength; the elders shared
concern for the younger generation, nonjudgmental and accepting attitudes, and
appreciation for the youths' contributions. Trust worked on multiple levels:
prison and care center officials trusting offenders, youth trusting that their
service would not be exploited, the elders trusting their caregivers to provide
a safe environment, and young and old learning to trust each other. The project
emphasized the shared values of mutual respect, tolerance, and inclusiveness.
Interview and observational data showed that the youth learned employability
skills and the value of service, developed self-esteem, and built their stock of
social capital for future life and work. The elders benefitted from social and
mental stimulation, the opportunity to support the youth by ensuring that they
were not placed in compromising situations, and the reduction of stereotypes
about aging and dementia.
The Alabama Intergenerational Network for Service-Learning (Hanks and
Icenogle 2001) demonstrates the links between human capital and social capital.
College students in gerontology and business helped adults over 50 in career
transition develop work-related skills such as self-esteem, resume development,
and computer skills. Data from pre/postprogram surveys showed that trust and
communication were built through the shared norms of the workplace, allaying
misconceptions older and younger workers had about each other. However, the
activities were not intentionally designed for this purpose, but resulted from
the synergy surrounding authentic engagement in learning: "This project found
its major success in addressing concrete training needs. Certainly, attitudes
and feelings did change, but as a byproduct of interaction that centered on the
two generations working together in skill-building activities" (p. 66).
An example of elders serving youth, the Swedish Granddad program involved men
over age 55 as educators, companions, co-learners, mentors, and tutors for
elementary students (Bostrom 2002). Surveys of the men and students showed that
new social networks were created among teachers, elders, and children; the
elders provided models of social norms and values that met developmental needs,
especially for boys. The "granddads" benefitted from participation in lifelong
learning, the opportunity to contribute to the community, and the expansion of
their social network. A key factor was that the interaction was regularly
scheduled and long term (6 months-2 years), resulting in "an intergenerational
transmission of both learning and social capital" (p. 523).
Other examples of adults helping youth are the Foster Grandparent Programs
and Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs. Blake (2000) found that older adult
tutors in these programs had a measurable impact on students' reading
performance, attitudes about reading, self-confidence, and motivation to read.
More than that, the frequency of tutoring sessions enabled participants to
develop trusting relationships. Literacy is a social practice and its
development is intensely social: "Something unique stems from the nature of the
intergenerational relationship. The dynamic of that relationship--reciprocal and
accepting--gives rise to opportunities for learning, growth, and understanding
for both participants" (ibid., p. 1).
Intergenerational programs typically focus on two generations separated from
one another and opinion is divided as to whether the generation in between
should be included (Granville 2002; Whitehouse et al. 2002). The following
examples of programs in which adults and youth work together in service and/or
learning involve all generations. In the Public Policy Institute (Murdock and
Paterson 2002), youth and adults learn the core concepts of civic engagement and
the value of deliberative dialogue. Different learning and interaction styles
between the generations resulted initially in some mistrust and dissatisfaction.
Alterations to the teaching methods and group procedures enabled a learning
community to develop in which adults recognized the young people as a source of
information and alternative perspectives; the youth learned to express their
opinions on issues.
Community Builders is a promising program at Wartburg College that displays
many characteristics of social capital development ("About Community Builders"
2002). Community members of all ages participate in real and virtual
"neighborhoods"--intergenerational learning communities mediated by college
students. The link to social capital is explicit in the project rationale:
The purpose of this project is to use the assets of community members with
different cognitive, social, civic, and intergenerational backgrounds and skills
to build and strengthen the community they share. These "community builders" are
individuals who learn from one another in the quest to attain this common goal
while developing and enhancing their own respective skill sets, which add value
to their individual lives and the larger communities of which they are a part..
This creation of "social capital" is consequential to the health and well-being
of a democratic society. (ibid., executive summary, p. 1)
Another new program example is The Intergenerational School in Cleveland,
Ohio (http://www.intergenschool.org/; Whitehouse et al. 2002). Intentionally
multidirectional and multigenerational, the school is based on the premises that
learning is a lifelong process and that knowledge is socially constructed in the
context of community. It represents the highest level of a typology of
intergenerational programs: a shared learning environment designed to meet
learning goals of individuals in different age groups. Individual and community
learning goals focus on behavioral and cognitive abilities, learners'
relationships to their families and community, and their broader contribution to
Granville's (2002) review of intergenerational practice in the United Kingdom
supports the ability of intergenerational activity to develop community capacity
and build social capital through creation of new community networks and support
systems. Research (Granville 2002; Kaplan 2001; Loewen 1996) demonstrates that
effective intergenerational programs (1) are intentional, reciprocal, sustained,
and asset or strength based; (2) provide training for young and old to prepare
them for participation; (3) involve the targeted age groups in the planning; and
(4) use the strengths of one generation to meet the needs of the other. Research
on programs that have an explicit social capital focus, such as Community
Builders and The Intergenerational School, is needed to provide more evidence of
this broader outcome of intergenerational learning. Such research not only may
lead to better intergenerational programs but may also be an opportunity to
examine social policy and rethink how we construct our basic institutions
"About Community Builders." 2002.
Balatti, J., and Falk, I. "Socioeconomic Contributions of Adult Learning to
Community: A Social Capital Perspective." ADULT EDUCATION QUARTERLY 52, no. 4
(August 2002): 281-298.
Blake, A. R. SENIOR VOLUNTEERS IN LITERACY PROGRAMS: A STUDY OF DESIGN AND
PRACTICE. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service, 2000.
Bostrom, A.-K. "Informal Learning in a Formal Context: Problematizing the
Concept of Social Capital in a Contemporary Swedish Context." INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL OF LIFELONG EDUCATION 21, no. 6 (November-December 2002): 510-524.
Granville, G. "An 'Unlikely Alliance': Young Offenders Supporting Elderly
People in Care Settings." EDUCATION AND AGEING 16, no. 1 (2001): 9-25.
Granville, G. A REVIEW OF INTERGENERATIONAL PRACTICE IN THE UK.
Stoke-on-Trent, England: Centre for Intergenerational Practice, Beth Johnson
Foundation, 2002. http://www.centreforip.org.uk/research.htm%20
Hanks, R. S., and Icenogle, M. "Preparing for an Age-Diverse Workforce:
Intergenerational Service-Learning in Social Gerontology and Business
Curricula." EDUCATIONAL GERONTOLOGY 27, no. 1 (January-February 2001): 49-70.
Kaplan, M. S. SCHOOL-BASED INTERGENERATIONAL PROGRAMS. Hamburg, Germany:
UNESCO Institute for Education, 2001.
Loewen, J. "Intergenerational Learning: What If Schools Were Places Where
Adults and Children Learned Together?" 1996. (ED 404 014)
Murdock, S., and Paterson, C. "Youth and Adults Learning Together: Setting Up
for Success." JOURNAL OF EXTENSION 40, no. 3 (June 2002).
Schuller, T. et al. LEARNING, CONTINUITY AND CHANGE IN ADULT LIFE. London:
Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, University of London,
Whitehouse, P. J.; Bendezu, E.; FallCreek, S.; and Whitehouse, C.
"Intergenerational Community Schools: A New Practice for a New Time."
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