These have been turbulent times and ones of both change and resilience for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with other global factors – from accelerated climate change to war – are still wreaking havoc on this planet. Human society will prevail to be sure, but not without fundamentally rethinking how we live, work, and connect with one another. As climate change has already shown us all too clearly, generations of humans are fundamentally interconnected. Each generation’s acts in all spheres of life, including education, have a profound impact on generations that follow, as well as those preceding one’s own. We cannot underestimate the importance and impact of intergenerational thinking, now more than ever.
We must find more ways to leverage our “intergenerationality” or more appropriately perhaps, “co-generational” capacity. For example, at McGill University, over the last few years a small initiative, called Intergenerational McGill, has emerged, envisioning true intergenerational learning by connecting senior members in McGill’s “ecosystem” – for example, the McGill Community of Lifelong Learning (MCLL) – housed at the School of Continuing Studies, with undergraduate and graduate students across various faculties and disciplines.
As today’s challenges demand more collaborative and interdisciplinary work, the world needs stronger bonds across generations. Moreover, as we as we live and work longer, the boundaries between generations are becoming perhaps a bit fuzzier. There is more overlap in the needs and interests that transcend generational divides.
Some now refer to this phenomenon as “CoGenerations” – generations of individuals living side-by-side in a much more intertwined manner. We ARE interdependent in so many ways: e.g., older generations depend on continued income generated by subsequent generations for pensions and social insurance stability. At the same time, younger generations need to know and understand both the successes and hurdles that have been overcome by previous generations. History matters! Many families and communities rely on their elders for social and health wisdom and practical support, whether spiritual guidance or more quotidian contributions such as childcare. There are many community-based and university-based efforts underway to support and advance such exchanges across generations.
“CoGeneration” is a term that technically refers to the production of multiple forms of energy (e.g., heat and electricity) from a single fuel source. (Scientific American, June 26, 2008). While not a new concept in and of itself, it is finding new applications in lifelong learning. As more and more of us are impacted by inflation and ultimately recessionary trends in the economy, there will likely be further urgent needs to come together across generational boundaries to learn new ways to ensure sustainable livelihoods, no matter what your age.
CoGenerational learning opens a whole new world of knowledge production and sharing. Rather than thinking about lifelong learning as a purely linear progression, CoGenerational learning has learners at different stages of life intersecting with each other directly, mutually feeding each other’s knowledge and experience. Thus, we can see the act of learning as that single fuel source, producing new knowledge and understanding in multiple directions along the lifelong learning continuum.
There are boundless opportunities to join forces across generations and shape the world that we live in today, and that which awaits humanity tomorrow.