Development of Inclusive Learning Culture


1. Teaching Older Learners: Development of Inclusive Learning Culture


The traditional approaches to learning used for young people and based on predetermined syllabi and instructive teaching methods, are often not appropriate to adult learners.

Older people approach educational environment based on their whole life experience, background, personal values and stereotypes. This requires educators to bring a holistic approach to their learning. Thus, teaching adult learners needs to improve their autonomy and to offer flexibility, freedom, inclusive educational environment, and tailor-made approach.  

National Learning and Work Institute (England and Wales), UK defined the following myths about older people and learning[1]:


2. Myths


Myth 1: Older people are not interested in learning

Statistically older people are not as much likely to consider enrolling a course or undertaking self- or blended learning  comparing to youngsters. However, this does not mean that they are not eager to learn new things.

Elders will be interested to do so in other ways and according to their personal preferences. Usually this depends on what is at hand and is attainable on the educational market. Some would like to join a group, while others might prefer self-initiated learning through books, TV documentaries, magazine articles, radio broadcasts or the Internet.


Myth 2: Older people are not interested in learning anything new

There is a common stereotype that older people are inclined to live in the past. However, there are different evidence which show that many elders want to undertake and leant new things, so to keep their mental state sharp, to face new challenges, to establish new friendships or to do something different with additional free time, which they have after retirement.


Myth 3: Older people are not able to learn anything new

There is a popular preconception that with aging, people’s brains become slower. But numerous scientific researches have proved that irrespectively of our age, the more we use our brains, the more we can keep our mental abilities. Thus, keeping the brain busy with learning new things or engaging with activities like doing crosswords, playing cards or other word games, etc. can have the same positive effect such as doing a fitness and exercising a muscle for keeping our body fit.


Main concepts and terminology

Learning is not just about gaining a certain skills or competence, which allows us to improve our professional or career development or work attitudes. It also helps us improve our live and wellbeing. In this way, learning for older people allows them to gain mental and emotional stimulus and feel socially and physically engaged.


3. Critical Geragogy[2]

Geragogy relates to the concept of teaching and learning older people. Usually it is used interchangeably with the term “educational gerontology” and focuses on educational needs of older adults.

In theory, Geragogy is explained as:

    • teaching and learning activities for the elderly, which foster their self-actualization, help them maintain social relations with others, and strengthen their wellbeing and skills-development;

    • teaching strategies and particular learning activities which aim to help elders stay active.

The concept promotes the idea that learning in later life stimulate social change and challenges our common prejudices, beliefs and habits linked with active ageing.

The purpose of geragogy and later-life learning is to offer possibilities for elders to sustain bigger personal self-control and autonomy over their daily activities and lives, so to achieve bigger satisfaction and independence.

Due to the specifics of older people as learners, the following approaches are in the heart of geragogy:

    • person-centred approach (the development or retention of mental and physical abilities, life satisfaction, independent involvement in meaningful activity);

    • fellow-centred approach (social responsibility, engagement and attentiveness);

    • matter-centred approach (confronting new challenges in personally meaningful areas).

Theoretical framework for critical geragogy (as described by Creech, A., & Hallam, S. (in press 2014). Critical geragogy: A framework for facilitating older learners in community music. London review of education. London Review of Education):


Sources: &

This learning context changes the role of educators of older people, as they need to collaborate with learners and to foster their sense of social inclusion and community belonging. Thus, the teaching and learning methods include active use of dialogue, discussions, and reflection, as well as empowerment to express their opinions and viewpoints. This stimulates adult learners’ ownership of learning experiences.   


Holistic education

Holistic education is defined by one of its pioneers - Ron Miller, as “a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person find identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning”[3].

Thus, holistic education fosters the natural human curiosity and is linked with the development of an individual’s intellectual, emotional, artistic, creative and spiritual skills and abilities. 

The purpose of holistic educators is to encourage learners’ self-reflectioning abilities, rather than make them simply memorize facts and figures. In doing so, educators can use real-life experiences, current events, different visual and narrative art forms and other natural sources of knowledge instead of pure textbook information.


Inclusive education

The main purpose of inclusive education is to create and maintain a learning environment in which all participants are fully engaged, open to new ideas and perspectives, and feel respected as by the educator, as well as by their peers.

According to UNESCO, inclusive education is seen as “a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion from education and from within education.”[4]

“Within an inclusive education approach, learning environments are fostered where individual needs are met and every student has an opportunity to succeed.” - Clementina Acedo, Director, UNESCO-International Bureau of Education

This way, inclusive education respects physical, cognitive, academic, social, and emotional diversity of learners, enables their participation and considers the variety of their needs and preferences.  

Inclusive teaching and learning also focus on cultural diversity and differences related to identity and experiences of learners during the educational process. Thus, they foster curiosity of learners and continuously challenge their biases and stereotypes, which can hinder understanding and undermine engagement and the sense of inclusion.




A) Importance of inclusiveness for adult learners

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), UK defines the benefits of learning for older people as follows[5]:

    • It betters life satisfaction and self-confidence

    • Those who are engaged with learning experiences share that they feel more satisfied with themselves

    • Improves independence, self-control and alternatives

    • Decreases the feeling of dependency on others

    • Raises the degree of strength and ability to deal with challenges in everyday life

    • Decreases the feeling of depression and effects of dementia

    • Increases willingness to participate in day-to-day activities.

Results from a study of preferred learning styles of 172 older adults from Northeast Georgia, published in “LEARNING STYLE PREFERENCES AMONG OLDER ADULTS” by Janet E. Truluck, Bradley C. Courtenay D. A. suggest[6] that older adults are rather evenly spread across the Kolb's (1985) Learning Style Inventory - Accommodator, Assimilator, and Diverger, with fewer preferring the Converger style, which allows learning to happen along with thinking and doing activities. In addition, the results show that:

    • A bigger share of the 55 to 65 age group preferred the Accommodator learning style (i.e. learning through feeling and doing things)

    • A bigger share of the 66 to 74 age group preferred the Diverger style (i.e. learning through feeling and watching things)

    • The 75 and olders preferred the Assimilator style (i.e. learning through thinking about and watching things)

Educational practices for adult learners perform different social functions. According to Arts Council England, UK ( 76% of older people share that arts and culture make them feel happy and therefore are important for them.

In "Lost without it" - Arts and culture for older people video elders share how participating in learning activities have changed their lives


Adult learners could be involved in different culture-based and social activities, among them:

  • Music activities and group readings of novels and poetry - Learning to play an instrument or participating in a choir help many older learners stay engaged with their communities and friends. Music and group readings might improve their mental health and might help them maintain communication with others. Often these learners will involve themselves providing musical accompaniment to charity events or visiting peers, who for some reason stay isolated in their homes or in care institutions for elder people.

  • Art and craft activities - These include fine art, watercolour or pastel painting, taking pictures, card making, needlecraft, pottery, stained glass work, gardening, etc. and might help adult learners exercise different manual skills, thus keeping their fine motor skills and hand-to-eye co-ordination.

  • Digital photography activities – They help adult learners do creative activities while using ICT tools and equipment and allow them to record different family or community events. Seniors learn how to upload pictures to their own smart phones or computers, to include them in community groups in social media or to share them with peers or family via email or other online collaborative tools. In addition, older people might discuss the pictures with their peers and improve their communication, presentation and critical thinking skills. This might help them overcome the feeling of loneliness and social isolation.

  • Dance – physical activities combining music and dance can help older people feel socially active and connected with their peers. In addition, this would improve their physical activity, motor skills, wellbeing and confidence.

In addition, adult learners’ achievements could be showcased by displays, concerts, exhibitions or other forms of performances of their work, which can be seen by family members, friends, neighbours, community members or wider public in general. This makes elders socially engaged and alive. 


B) Creation of inclusive learning environment

How educators can create an inclusive learning environment – some tips:

  • Include a diverse learning content, materials and ideas, based on particular examples, language exercises, socio-cultural settings, and images that reflect human diversity; encourage learners to critically reflect on historical, literary, and art-appreciation principles, which have developed over time;

  • Put in place basic rules for interaction between learners based on mutual respect, such as a framework how ideas will be shared, questions will be posed and that everybody needs to respond with respect to the opinions and questions of others;

  • Get to know their learners as much as possible, including their individual perspectives, skills, backgrounds and experiences, as well as ideas that they bring into the course;

  • Praise other learners’ questions, viewpoints and comments. When needed, use verbal and non-verbal hints to foster participation and to challenge learners to dig deeper and to think critically;

  • Strengthen learners’ growth mindset, by provoking them to “think out loud”, to pose questions, and to actively look for ideas and perspectives that differ from their own;

  • Establish an environment which encourages learners to make mistakes, use incorrect answers to probe how the learner arrived to it and help them and the entire group learn at least one approach to reach to the right answer; encourage deeper learning and stay open to the possibility that what initially might be a wrong answer may actually bring shared understanding and lead to different ways to answer the question.

In order to ensure inclusive learning environment for older people, educators can:

  • Step on older people’s life experiences – every adult has well-developed learning strategies and motivation, which s/he has used during whole their life. Educators can benefit from these and create a safe learning environment, where older people can experiment and share their personal stories.

  • Appreciate different learning styles – seniors have well-established learning patterns and educators need to adapt to them. Usually they prefer analytical way of presenting theoretical knowledge and foreign language grammar and need time to adapt to spontaneous oral practices and personal sharings. According to a research[7] (Postovsky, 1974; Winitz, 1981; J. Gary and N. Gary, 1981) effective adult language training programmes are those that use materials which provide an interesting and easily understandable message, slow down speaking practice and focus on the development of listening skills, allow making speech errors, and encourage learners to use culture and non-verbal language in the classroom. This way, an inclusive learning environment is created, which supports older people.

  • Recognise the challenges which older learners face – among the common challenges are serious personal problems, chronic diseases, other health and sometimes mental issues, hearing loss, visual impairments, etc. This requires learning environment to be adapted to older people through for example –mixture of listening exercises and visual presentations of the new material, good lighting of the classroom, elimination of the external noise, etc. Other issues are related to the feeling of loneliness and social isolation, which might reflect in withdrawal and unwillingness to participate in group activities, or the opposite – tendency to dominate the conversation, as the activities are seen as a connection to other people and the outer world;

  • Building older people’s confidence and helping them succeed – usually seniors have well-established ways to do things and were successful in their careers and professional lives. This often makes them sensitive to corrections of errors, especially when the educator is younger. Mistakes might irritate them and even make them draw back from common activities. In order to overcome this, educators should stay positive, encourage older people and focus on the progress they made, even if it is not so big.


4. Practical activities


1. Group text reading

Learning objectives:

  • To help adult learners practice their (foreign language) reading and communication skills

  • To allow adult learners to practice their memory skills

  • To encourage seniors to interact with their peers by exchanging opinions and viewpoints

  • To provoke adult learners to explore new aspects of well-known novels or poems

Duration: between 45 and 60 minutes


Educational methods to be used:

  • Individual work with the selected text or paragraph

  • Group discussions

  • Personal sharing

  • Exchange of ideas and perspectives



  1. The educator selects a text or passage from a well-known novel or poem. If necessary, longer texts can be broken down to shorter sections and used for several repeating activities;

  2. The educator breaks down the text into sentences / sections, according to the number of learners. The sequence of sentences / sections is preliminary noted;

  3. The educator gives the texts / passage to the learners. Each older learner receives ONE sentence / paragraph from the whole text;

  4. Each learner has 10 minutes to look at the text and prepare for reading it aloud;

  5. Each adult learner reads their sentence / paragraph, according to the noted sequence. During the reading exercise, learners may not take notes, but should try to memorise as much as possible from the parts which their peers read;

  6. Once the whole text is read, the educator breaks adult learners into 3 to 4 groups. Each group will have 10 to 15 minutes to reconstruct the whole text, without looking at their pieces or asking representatives of other small groups. Learners might be encouraged to use their own words when reconstructing the text.

If necessary and depending on adult learners, the educator might prepare picture cards with cartoons or images related to the text, so to give hints to learners and they manage to successfully reconstruct the whole text.

  1. All learners are back to the whole group to discuss the whole text. Possible questions for the guided discussion might include:

    1. What is happening in the text?

    2. What might be important for me from the text?

    3. Is there any relation between the text and my own life?

    4. What is the most important take-away point from the whole text?

    5. Would you change anything in the plot / text? If yes, what will it be? How will it affect the end of the novel / poem?


Analyzing Photographs


Learning objectives:

  • To help adult learners practice their (foreign language) communication skills

  • To provoke adult learners to practice their memory skills

  • To encourage seniors to interact with their peers by exchanging opinions and perspectives

  • To allow adult learners practice their digital skills

Duration: between 45 and 60 minutes


Educational methods to be used:

  • Individual work for taking a thematic photograph

  • Asking questions

  • Group discussion

  • Personal sharing

  • Exchange of ideas and perspectives

  • Processing digital images



  1. The educator poses a topic on which each adult learner should take ONE digital photograph (preparation activity);

  2. Each learner shows their photograph in front of the whole group without explaining it;

  3. The group is divided in pairs and each learner takes their photograph with him/her;

  4. In pairs, each learner has 2 minutes to present their photograph in front of their peer and to explain to them how the image is related to the topic. The peer’s task is to memorise as much as possible from the explanation. S/he is NOT allowed to ask any questions, to take notes or to ask for repetition of the explanation. Once both peers present their photographs, each one has the right to ask TWO clarifying or affirmative questions on the photograph of their colleague;

  5. Once the photographs are presented in pairs, all learners are back to the whole group. Each adult learner should present the photograph of their peer and explain how it is linked with the topic. During the presentation, the picture owner is not allowed to make any corrections or clarifications;

  6. Once all photographs are presented, picture owners might add to or correct the shared thoughts by their peers, so as to fully express their ideas;

  7. The educator holds a group discussion how adult learners approached the task. Possible questions might include:

    1. How did you decide what to shoot on the picture?

    2. Did you ask anybody for advice?

    3. Did anybody help you to take the picture?

    4. What do you think about the theme and how it is related to your life?

    5. What was the most challenging thing when taking the picture?

    6. What was the most challenging thing when presenting your photograph to your peer?

    7. What was the most difficult thing when presenting your peer’s picture in front of everybody?

    8. What was the most challenging thing when listening to other person’s presentation of your picture?

  8. The educator collects all photographs and organises an exhibition. If suitable, adult learners might vote whose photograph is the most powerful, better presents the topic, whose presentation of peer’s picture was closer to the original idea, etc.   



1. Through learning older people (mark which is NOT CORRECT)

2. More of learners aged 75 and older prefer learning by feeling and doing. This statement is True or False

3. Fill in the gap

Music activities help older learners remain …………………… their peers and communities.

preferred from /hostile to / engaged with / disengaged
from health care.

4. Group discussions of photographs taken by adult learners may improve their (mark the CORRECT answer):

5. Inclusive learning environment tolerates learners to make mistakes. The statement is True or False

6. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation might affect older learners’ willingness to participate in group activities.

7. Group reading exercises encourage adult learners to (mark which is NOT CORRECT)


6. References

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching -

The inclusive learning and teaching handbook -!/file/The-inclusive-learning-and-teaching-handbook.pdf

How to maximise the language learning of senior learners -

Building inclusivity: engagement, community and belonging in the classroom. Rowena Arshad OBE, University of Edinburgh -

Examples of Active Learning Activities -

Doing digital inclusion with the most excluded: Older People -

The GIRDA project (Gameplay for Inspiring Digital Adoption) addresses the problem of reluctance amongst many older people to engage with digital products -


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