What is Intergenerational Service Learning?
Service learning is defined as ‘a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organised service activity that meets identified community need and which actively engages students in reflection in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995). Service learning involves in-class material and volunteer service within the community, which allows students to learn the course information and apply it to real-life situations. Its purpose is for students to collaborate with members of the community to address an identified need (McCarthy & Tucker, 1999). People of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community (Generations United, 2002). Examples of intergenerational service learning includes young people visiting seniors in nursing homes or teaching them computer skills.
Benefits for older adults:
- Enhance socialisation: Intergenerational service learning helps older adults remain productive and engaged in the community. Increased interaction with younger people can also help prevent isolation in their later years (Carlson, Seeman & Fried, 2000).
- Stimulate learning: Older adults can continue to learn new skills. Younger people can teach them about new innovations and technologies. These new skills can also help them use technology to keep in touch with their loved ones.
- Improve health: Regular participation in structured social and productive activities and membership in large social networks have been shown to independently benefit health and functional outcomes as people age (Glass, 2003).
Benefits for younger people:
- Increasing students’ understanding of the aging process: Intergenerational service learning can help dispel myths about aging (Blieszner & Artale, 2001; Karasik & Berke, 2001) and older persons and provide greater knowledge about elder care (Westacott & Hegeman,1996).
- Increased retention of academic content: Service learning allows students to put what they have learned in the classroom into real-life practice (Prentice & Robinson, 2010). It may also help students who are kinesthetic learners to better understand the course content.
- Job possibilities: Service learning can expose students to a wider variety of job possibilities than they had known existed for graduates in their academic major (Prentice & Robinson, 2010). It can also help reinforce career choices (Blieszner & Artale, 2001; Karasik & Berke, 2001).
- Problem based learning: Real-world experiences allow students to develop from problem based learning. This is also beneficial in the classroom because students can come together to share and learn from each others experiences and reflect on those experiences (Prentice & Robinson, 2010).
- Strengthen community: Service learning brings together diverse groups and networks and help dispel inaccurate and negative stereotypes.
- Encourage cultural exchange: Service learning promote the sharing of cultural traditions and values from older members of the community to younger members. They help preserve traditions, enhance community spirit and strengthen partnerships among community organisations and individuals.
- Maximise financial resources: Community groups that represent different generations have a better chance of receiving funding for projects. This is because funders can see a broader use of their investments, meet more needs and address more issues.
- Inspire collaboration: Service learning can unite community members to take action on many different issues that address human needs across the lifespan.
Intergenerational service learning programs are not only great learning experiences and assessment tools for students, they also bring generations together to meet real needs in our community that benefit everyone. For many young people, participating in service learning has helped them displace their negative stereotypes with a greater awareness of social issues related to aging and the diversity of aging experiences. Older people benefit from collaborating with young people as it keeps them active and engaged in the community which can lead to better mental and physical health. Service learning also enhances their social lives and keeps their minds active. When generations come together whole communities can benefit. Societal concerns such as literacy, environmental issues, health, crime prevention and other issues can be addressed.
Blieszner, R. & Artale, L. (2001). Benefits of intergenerational service-learning to human services majors. Educational Gerontology, 27, 71–87.
Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1995). A service-learning curriculum for faculty. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2, 112-122.
Carlson M., Seeman T., & Fried L.P. (2000). Importance of Generativity for Healthy Aging in Older Women. Aging Vol.12, No. 2, p. 132-40
Generations United (2002). Young and Old Serving Together: Meeting Community Needs Through Intergenerational Partnerships. Washington DC.
Glass, T.A. (2003). Successful Aging. Brocklehurst’s Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 6th ed. London: Harcourt Health Sciences.
Karasik, R. & Berke, D. (2001). Classroom and community: Experiential education in family studies and gerontology. The Journal of Teaching in Marriage and Family: Innovations in Family Science Education, 1(4), 13–38.
McCarthy, A. M., & Tucker, M. L. (1999). Student attitudes toward service-learning: Implications for implementation. Journal of Management Education, 23, 554-573.
Westacott, B. & Hegeman, C. (Eds.). (1996). Service learning in elder care: A resource manual. Albany, NY: The Foundation for Long Term Care.