Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Isn't it time we stopped playing the generation game?

I have just downloaded Stephen Downes's PowerPoint presentation and mp3 file from his talk at CAUCE, and started listening to the mp3, while flicking through the slides, but something has so taken hold of me that I have had to stop and get this off my chest.

The theme of the CAUCE conference was: Through the eyes of our students: looking forward. The point at which I had to hit pause and come and write this post was when Stephen was talking about the different perceptions of learners and teachers, indicating that they belonged to two different generations. I just can't get comfortable with that. It itches. It is out of keeping with what we keep saying about lifelong learning, about all of us being learners... all the time, about ubiquitous learning. I can accept that in compulsory education, students are (usually) younger than the teachers - although in many countries (including my own) this is cetainly not always the case. However, in post compulsory education, there are many young teachers and even more mature students (I am hoping to become one of the latter, myself - again - in September this year).

Okay, okay, I know that the vast majority of the learners in further/higher education facilities will be younger than the staff, and I accept that CAUCE is about university education. But it is also about continuing university education, and to start from this generational assumption, as if this represents the only norm is to sharpen another line that should be past its sell-by date (see my post on industry and school - the other line that I reckon should be blurring).

I spent 17 years teaching. For most of those years my learners were older than I was, sometimes double my age and more. Only in the last three years did the balance began to shift, and even then I was seldom the oldest person in the room. So where did I go to teach these "senior citizens"? For the most part, I went to where they worked. But for two years, I worked in an outreach centre at a FE college, teaching IT skills to anyone who wanted to learn for a nominal cost - that was where I encountered the oldest of my learners, a few of them in their 80s, while one of the tutors was just 19. I could bore you silly with heartwarming stories from those two years.

By constantly plumping for the generalisation that learners are young, connected digital natives and teachers are older digital immigrants, we are contradicting our own message. Just as by separating institutional education from work-based learning, we are polarising the very community we are seeking to unite. And if we, as learning professionals and professional learners reinforce these nominal boundaries, we're in danger of falling victim to friendly fire.

End of soapbox moment.

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