A Methodology for Intergenerational Learning was created during previous "eScouts - intergenerational learning circle for community service" project implemented in 2010-2012 in five European countries.

Public libraries, educational, cultural or welfare centres, and other public spaces where digital services are embedded, hereby referred as Blended Environments and Spaces (BES), have become an important provider of free, public access to ICT, the internet and learning environments for socially-disadvantages target groups. They are a reference point for new technologies, non-formal learning, people empowerment and social integration. The clientele of BES largely include seniors and elders who are digitally illiterate, and youngsters volunteering as adult trainers on the basis of their own digital competences. At the same time, the current economic downturn is pushing the job-inexperienced youngsters to look for help at these and other centres with social vocation due to the reduced employment opportunities they found.

For this aim, the project built a learning circle in which the youth supports senior people in ICT usage and, in return, seniors mentor youth in their efforts to access the labour market and to face the challenges of adult life, completing in this way a circle of learning, exchange and conviviality. The teaching and mentoring was mediated by ICT means (social web applications) and Blended Environments and Spaces.

The Intergenerational Learning in Blended Environments and Spaces (ILBES) methodology is a new approach that was developed as part of eScouts project and was inspired by two proven learning methodologies which were combined for the first time while designing an intergenerational learning circle that facilitates the socio-digital inclusion of seniors and the entrance of youth to the labour market and adult life, while improving solidarity between generations and local community cohesion. The harmonization of these two methodologies was led by D-O-T with the collaboration of the University of Dortmund, L’apis, Fundación Esplai and Reflective Learning.

The project training design was based on the harmonization (ILBES) of two methodologies which brought essential ingredients for an intergenerational and ICT supported learning: the Community Service Learning (CSL) methodology implemented by Fundación Esplai in Spain, and the Participatory and Appreciative Action and Reflection (PAAR) developed by Reflective Learning in the UK.

Community Service Learning (CSL) is aimed to maximize the development of the individuals’ potential and their active participation in society. At the roots of CSL there is the work of William James and John Dewey. CSL is an educational initiative combining learning with community service in a single well-articulated project, where the participants are trained while working on real needs in their community. CSL is, firstly, an activity that starts from the definition of a problem, its study from various angles, the development of proposed solution(s) and finally, implementation and evaluation of proposal(s). Secondly, an activity by association, i.e. made collectively and not as the result of the action of an isolated person. Individual efforts are summed up to carry out civic, participatory and effective projects. Finally, an activity for a social benefit, therefore intended to increase welfare community and in consequence open to solidarity (Puig et al, 2006).

Participatory and Appreciative Action and Reflection (PAAR) was firstly used by Ghaye (2005, 2008, 2010). It describes the development from more conventional forms of action research (AR) and from participatory action research (PAR) to a more explicitly ‘appreciative’ research style. PAAR synthesizes the best practices of action research (AR) and participatory action research (PAR) by adding a third and new dimension called appreciative intelligence. PAAR brings together action and reflection, with the participation of a range of stakeholders, in order to identify and amplify current achievements and to produce practical solutions in misalignments between values and actions. PAAR co-creates -with those involved- strength-enhancing interventions based upon an understanding of the root causes of success and achievement, rather than of problems and failures.

Intergenerational Learning in Blended Environments and Spaces (ILBES) is a first attempt to build a common methodological framework without forcing the two methodologies together into some kind of unhappy ‘marriage’. Both methodologies aim to empower individuals to improve themselves and the community where they live; however, each one proceeds in a different way. While appreciate, imagine and design are central in PAAR, CSL starts by identifying and evaluating the needs of the environment (community), to further imagine solutions and design a tailored project, which is the first action of an CSL facilitator. In PAAR, instead, solutions are expected to be collaboratively built from the strengths of the participants. This leads to a possible divergence between CSL (“starting from a problem”) and PAAR (“what is going especially well?”).

In order to design a learning methodology for a learning circle between seniors and youth, the CSL approach was taken as the project layer while PAAR a means to find solutions. In this way, while the logics of problem-finding and problem-solving as the only strategies to begin a change can lead to a deficit-based thinking, PAAR’s strengths-based thinking allows a balance by helping to engage in a conversation about what people can do and wish to do, by identifying, using and developing their strengths, gifts and talents.

As methodologies of reference, PAAR and CSL are complementary to each other in many aspects and what is more interesting, have had a potential to enrich each other, which will be beneficial for the whole intergenerational learning circle and the project in general. On one hand, CSL counted with a structuring of courses and learning process quite pre-defined, which facilitates the practical implementation of training path directed to make learning advancing step by step. It pursued the ultimate goal of solving a pre-identified problem in the belonging community by producing some kind of beneficial change for the members of the courses and their community, as well as promoting a commitment of learners with their community that persists over time. This fact has favoured the organization of the different training sessions and its relatively easy transmission to project partners distributed across Europe. On the other hand, PAAR – unlike CSL – part of the strengths of individuals, groups and communities to produce an empowerment, an improvement (always thinking positively), in a participatory manner with regard to the needs of the group/community, the steps to follow, the contents of the sessions, and the issues to improve. While CLS aims to educate emotions, PAAR includes emotions as a resource for the learning process, together with other types of intelligences beyond rational intelligence, namely: appreciative intelligence, social intelligence and emotional intelligence. Approach that tries to activate the use of these faculties, not only during a process or lapse of time determined by the training; it intends to remain active in the long term and be ready for application in future actions.

Moreover, both methodologies share values and goals such as an ethical approach of activities, the inclusion of the community in the processes of improvement of individuals -and the community itself-, the personal and social development and empowerment of participants, the promotion of intercultural and intergenerational dialogue, the valuing of the differences (cultural, social conditions, etc.) to improve conviviality, among others. This is the reason why this dialogical approach was possible and had led us to achieve a successful harmonization between both methods, at the same time preserving their inherent differences.

Imitating PAAR pillars, the following pillars for the betterment of communication between seniors and young people were defined for ILBES:

  • Space and Environment are crucial dimensions already considered by both didactical approaches. “Space” (PAAR) refers to the concrete working/learning place (e.g. the telecentre), while “Environment” (CLS) is a broader place which includes the “space” (e.g. the neighbourhood). All didactical materials should reflect on the physical, virtual or perceptual space where the communication is taking place in, and provide solutions adapted to each space.
  • Appreciation: the question “How far are you feeling strengthened by this participation/useful for society?” is formulated for both target groups.
  • Empowerment makes participants feel more active and ‘in control’ of their own learning.
  • Participation is supported and encouraged by both source didactics, but a specific challenge in intergenerational learning is to achieve that each generational group appreciates the “lessons” (knowledge, values, competences) they can learn from the other generation.
  • Ethics address questions like “are we working ethically?”, “is this training aiming at something ‘good’?”, “who benefits?” (for the seniors, the benefit is less clear and needs to be more developed)

The expected outcome of ILBES is a community service-oriented action, reflection and learning, i.e. a collaborative process of committed actions and reflective learning for personal and community development, where learning is an effect of experiencing reflectively (CSL does by learning and learns by doing, PAAR acts and reflects to turn negative into positive). In it, social innovation is supported by e-facilitation, social media and user-generated content. Group reflection (done publically, rigorously and systematically) rather than solely self-reflection is promoted, since change and improvement with regard to the starting point of each intervention should be effect of collective rather than individual actions and views.