Community Colleges, Continuing Education, Education Quality, Feature, For-Profit, Institutions, International, Landscape, Markets, Minorities, equity, and access, Not-for-Profit, Private education, Required, Startups, Students, University & College - Written by on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 10:35 - 1 Comment

The Grandparent Effect: Mixing Elderly Students With Disenfranchised Students In Japan

by Nyoin via Flickr under Creative Commons

By Eleni Glader

LOUTRAKI, Greece – A researcher from Japan says new learning models have great potential to “blend” students from different generations into the same learning space, possibly rehabilitating troubled youth while giving companionship to elderly students.

Schools should consider “using new techniques and formats to connect old and young,” said Dr. Naoko Suzuki, during her presentation at the International Conference on Open and Distance Learning (ICODL)in Greece on Friday. It would allow lonely elderly people help disenfranchised younger people “get rid of their anxiety and enjoy the learning experience.”

While teaching a course at Open University of Japan, Dr. Suzuki had 12 hours of face-to-face instruction with her students, which ranged from ages 18 to 83.  She had students draw their lives from past to present on white paper with colored pens and to comment on each other’s work. The drawings are confidential and are not available for this post.  The drawing in this post is an example of an illustration a student may have submitted.

She said the inter-generational classroom appeared to create a motivational learning environment for younger, more vulnerable students.  Her experience raises the idea of expanding blended learning models – online learning plus some face-to-face classroom interaction – that involves more vulnerable young people, who would benefit from the interaction with older students.

Dr. Suzuki suggests that Open University Japan (OUJ) is a place that could continue to expand its offerings to young Japanese students aiming to restart their lives in an inter-generational atmosphere. Barriers to admission are low. There are no entrance exams including no need for high school equivalency. Dr. Suzuki said many of the young adults enrolled at OUJ, are vulnerable students.  They are not poor, but faced adversity such as bullying or some other form of marginalization, which often caused them drop out of school or to delay university study.

Dr. Suzuki’s in-class exercise suggests two key findings:

1) All younger students (under 34) had negative experiences in school in the past and tended to have been socially withdrawn but have more positive feelings about the present as depicted in their drawings.  They were initially apprehensive about discussing their past but the response by their older classmates allayed their anxiety.

2) Older students encouraged their younger classmates by showing empathy for their rough past or academic difficulties while cheering them on for their strides as students at OUJ. They demonstrated a willingness to reach their younger classmates by giving them a grandparent-like perspective.  Dr. Suzuki observed that the interaction reinforced a safe and positive learning environment. She notes that this first paper is more observational than scientific. But we think she is on to something very thoughtful and profound that other startups and learning institutions should consider.

Dr. Suzuki learned that quality face-time even sparked social interaction outside of class between generations, such as younger students meeting up for coffee with their older classmates.

Considerations for online schools:
What percentage of students enrolled in online schools are vulnerable?

What are appropriate ways to address their needs?

How should face-to-face learning be used to benefit students at online schools if at all?

About OUJ:
OUJ was established in 1983. The main medium for learning was through television and radio (formerly University of the Air). OUJ reported having 77,012 undergraduate students and 5,262 post-graduate students in 2011. There are 50 study centers so that students who don’t have access from home can go to the closest study center to take online courses.  Study center spaces are also used for face-to-face learning, lectures and for certification exams.

Student body break-down (biggest age-groups):

  • 20′s (13%)
  • 30′s (22%)
  • 40′s (25%)
  • 50′s (17%)
  • 60′s (21%)

 



1 Comment

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C. Mavrogeorgis
Nov 12, 2011 19:03

This is a very important article. It shows how the human connection between people of different ages has
not only a healing effect for all concerned, but also stimulates learning. Bringing these groups together affords sound socialization skills that results in people feeling comfortable with each other and better about themselves This increases learning and self-worth.

Thank you for such a good and valuable article.

C.Mavrgeorgis

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