Five Tactics for Multi-Generational Learning

By Ashford University Staff


Much is written about multiple generations in the workplace, but little information is available about multi-generational families as partners in lifelong learning. Modest focus is drawn to impacts of parents, grandparents, children, and significant others modeling reciprocal learning. How much does quality of life depend on accommodating each other’s learning needs and styles?

Bloom (2014) asserts that role models are people we emulate, “not only through direct interactions…but through the examples they set with their attitude and behavior within the family and the outside world.” This idea is intriguing when considering the multi- generational workforce and home.

The Generations

Some Traditionals (born 1930 - 1945) still work because they enjoy it, need the money, or both (King, 2010). These folks ‘traditionally’ are socially and fiscally conservative. Few Traditionals, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, had parents who could afford to attend college. In 1940 fewer than 10% of females aged 20-24 were in school, unemployed, or juggling work and higher education; fewer than 20% of males the same age were in similar situations (US Dept. of Commerce Bureau of Census, 1943). Traditionals who still learn remind us that being among the 38% of college students over 25 is not only a challenge, it is a privilege and expected to be more wide spread by 2019 (Bell, 2012).

After World War II, the GI Bill and other education funding became more available in an increasingly diverse society. Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1960) are still plentiful in the workplace, but are beginning to retire in droves. They were born during prosperity, still work hard, often long hours, are team oriented, optimistic and remain focused on personal and professional growth (Zemke, et al, 2000). A love of learning can come through to grandchildren or other youngsters conversing with such lifelong learners.

Gen Xers (born 1961 - 1980) were raised by Boomers. Growing up they learned about independence, efficiency, and the value of work-life balance. They created less rigid, open workplaces than their parents often endured (King, 2010). But what impacts Gen Xers have on future generations such as Gen Y, (the Millenials born 1981 to the early 1990s) or Gen Z (born post 1990 and already represented in the workforce), remains to be seen.

Today, moving forward, no end is in sight to the demand for lifelong learning (US Dept. of Education, 2014). This prediction can either be viewed with trepidation or with delight as innumerable opportunities for modeling a love for learning for those we love will be available. It may be one of the best gifts we ever give them.

How to Inspire Learning Among Generations

Learning is constant, a reciprocal process. PBS Parents (2014) posits “we are our children’s learning models. Our attitudes about education can inspire theirs and show them how to take charge of their educational journey.” It’s no secret: students who revere learning do well in school, often thanks to remarkable role models at home. While this belief is not always true, it certainly makes the journey more palatable for children and adults. Here are some tactics for learning as multi-generational partners:

1. Joint Study Time

PBS Parents (2014) suggests establishing “a joint study time.” Imagine sitting in the kitchen doing homework together – the adult modeling homework ethics and strategies, time and other resource management, while learning beside one’s child.

2. Model the Process

Modeling the learning process includes sharing one’s frustrations, commitments, persistence, and rewards. The most unlikely conversations can emerge from a child and parent as empathetic partners on a learning journey together.

3. Be Accessible

Even though your child or grandchild may be learning something with which you are unfamiliar, be accessible. Teach him how to learn, do research, think critically, and be resourceful. No one has all the answers, but learning to ask the right questions is crucial for learning.

4. Create the Space

Turning off the TV and other noise encourages learning partners to gain control of their agenda. This time can inspire the other to share according to their strengths.

5. Be Open

Finally, being open to learning from one another means each generation gains greater respect for the other. Rhattigan (2014) speaks of his grandfather whose value of education is reflected in four grandchildren, all of whom went on to earn advanced degrees.

It has been said that education is something that cannot be taken away from a person. That’s true, and multi-generational learning can create family memories that endure for generations to come.

Written by: Lora Reed, PhD, BA in Human Resources Management Program Chair, Assistant Professor, Forbes School of Business, Ashford University


Adult Learning Resource Center (2004) Parents as educational partners. Retrieved 12/10/2014 from

Bell, S. (3/8/2012) Nontraditional students are the new majority. Library Journal. Retrieved 12/12/2014 from

Berube, A. (5/31/2012) Where the grads are: Degree attainment in metro areas. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 12/11/2014 from

Bloom, S. (1/17/2014) The importance of parents as role models. Retrieved 12/10/14 from

English, T. T. (2014) Importance of parents as role models. Retrieved 12/10/14 from

PBS Parents (2014) Education: The role of parents. Retrieved 12/10/14 from

Red Tick Education (2014) Parents: Role models for learning. Retrieved 12/10/2014 from

Rhattigan, M. (2014) Positive role models. Scholastic Parents. Retrieved 12/10/2014 from

US Dept. of Commerce Bureau of the Census (1943) Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population, Vol IV Characteristics by Age, Marital Status, Relationship, Education, and Citizenship.

US Dept. of Education National Center for Education Statistics (2014) Fast facts: Postsecondary enrollment rates. Retrieved 12/11/2014 from

US Dept. of Education National Center for Education Statistics (2014) Total undergraduate fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions by attendance status, sex of student, and control and level of institution, 1970 through 2012. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved 12/11/2014 from


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