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World Café - Intergenerational Learning

Aims of the method/strategy

  • to provide higher education students and older members of the community with an opportunity to engage and meet through both formal and informal learning to discuss the benefits of using advanced teaching strategy methods such as World Café methodology and Intergenerational Learning.
  • to promote a solution-oriented approach to discussing and trying to solve world issues such as climate protection/climate change prevention, homelessness, or issues pertinent to internationalisation, such as, for example, cultural diversity or globalisation.


An adult education or third-level undergraduate or postgraduate programme where students are invited to discuss key world issues with the aim of helping to provide solutions to these issues.

Type and name of the course, curriculum, number of students in which the teaching practice was exercised:

Advanced Teaching Strategy Module. This is a course which engages 40 students in total with the inclusion of Erasmus students and invited older people from the community or Age Friendly University Initiative.

The overall aim is to create an awareness of the diversity of teaching strategies which are available to students to use in the classroom and which promote participatory didactic engagement.

Description of the method/strategy

The main characteristics and factors used are drawn on the World Café or Knowledge Café method which is a structured or conversational approach in which groups of people discuss a topic at a number of tables in the room. The participants are invited to change tables after 20 minutes and are introduced to the previous discussion at the new table by ‘the table host.’  This ‘host’ is usually a volunteer university student who chooses to remain at one table while the groups of participants move from one table to the next and they facilitate the new group to understand the topic which has just been discussed by the group that has left the table.

Each table generates a different theme or strand related to the key topic for discussion. For example, if climate change prevention is the issue being discussed then the various tables will discuss one theme related to this topic, such as What are the causes of climate change? How can education promote awareness of these issues? What solutions can be recommended to prevent climate change in your home, in your community, in your country, in your world?

The innovative dimension introduced by DCU to the World Café methodology involves intergenerational learning. Older people from the wider community are invited to share their life experience/expertise and knowledge on the chosen topic. This is based on the concept that all too frequently the lived experience, expertise and knowledge of older people is not fully recognised as being a potentially valuable teaching and learning resource. Both cohorts try to work towards a solution-oriented approach to the problem. A café type atmosphere is created to facilitate conversation between all participants.

In addition to speaking and listening, the group are usually invited to have one person responsible for writing as the discussion progresses so that all the ideas are captured on paper. An underlying aim is to encourage the collective conversation to facilitate people to think critically and to reflect on ideas and possible solutions which they might not have considered before. Finally, the results of all the groups are reflected upon in a final session which features further discussion and where all the ideas are captured in writing for a possible future similar teaching and learning strategy.

Securing engagement by older members of the community

DCU engages with older members of the community in a wide variety of ways, for example through the Age Friendly University initiative (, MedEx Wellness programmes ( and a wide range of other activities aimed at widening access.

In relation to the example provided in this Grid, the focus is particularly on engaging retired people from the wider community who may be engaged in learning activities through adult education classes (e.g. a local history class for retired people) or active retired groups. In relation to the World Café methodology, they do not need to have a specific background in the chosen topic but they do generally have a love of learning and a love of continuing to be involved in a variety of activities in the community. There are no formal entry criteria, and the only limitations are number of places available. In a higher education setting, the fact that some of these people will come from a range of professional backgrounds provides an opportunity for ‘traditional’ age students to engage with experienced people, for example trainee teachers can learn together alongside retired experienced teachers.

The older participants do not need a specific background. This is chiefly because as a university we value the lived experiences of all older people and we believe that older people have a valuable contribution to make to the shared knowledge and experiences of our students. The Institute of Education in Dublin City University is currently involved in a research project which requires the specific experience of retired teachers, for example acting as tutors/mentors for younger trainee teachers.

Time required  

Ideally, the entire session should take approx. 2 hours, but this can be reduced to 1 hour if there is a smaller number of students in attendance.  For a group of approx. 40 to 50 students with older people from the wider community,  the session will take two hours. The students and older people are introduced to each other (usually a first name badge is provided for each of the participants).
Together, they form into groups of 8 with a minimum of one older participant per group. Each group is assigned to a table, for example if the total group is 40, then five tables are required in the room. The volunteer student sits at the table for the entire duration.

Each table has one theme to discuss related to the overall key concept. For example, if homelessness is the key topic for discussion then one table might discuss 'Why homelessness happens?' while another might address 'Factors which can prevent homelessness?' As the groups move from table to table, they have an opportunity to discuss each of the key concepts related to the main topic for discussion that day. One person will take notes and these are left at the table as the group moves from one table to the next.

How the last discussion phase is carried out

The last discussion phase takes place as a plenary session or dialogic forum for the last hour of the session. Each volunteer student provides a brief summary of the topics discussed at the table during the first one hour. These key points are captured on a flip chart by the lead facilitator. Usually the volunteer student is requested to capture 3 to 5 key points in their 5 minutes presentation. When the volunteer students have completed their recall of the key points discussed at each table, the final session is left open for a question and answer session for all participants to comment and make reflections on the topic for discussion.

In some instances (although not always used) all participants are provided with a 'post it' where they are requested to write one comment or reflection and to place this on the wall before they leave the session. These 'post its' together with the notes gathered at each table are taken up at the end of the session and compiled by the facilitator. These can then be used by the students to write an assignment based on the ideas/reflections which were used at the World Cafe session. (Again, this use of the notes/reflections varies according to each group, for instance whether this is used within an educational or corporate context.)

Materials required

Pens, paper, flip charts, use of round tables and chairs

Origin and theoretical framework

As discussed in Example 1, the World Café concept began in the Californian home of Juanita Brown and David Issacs in 1995. This was following a storm when they had to accommodate 24 delegates from Sweden into their living room. These were leaders from the Skandia Corporation. Their home began to look like a coffee shop and the guests began to converse with each other at small tables and then moved from table to table to see what each of the groups had to share with each other. This approach has since then become an increasingly important way to strategise and solve problems in the corporate world and has increasingly been used in education (Schieffer, Isaacs and Gyllenpalm, 2004).

Intergenerational learning is believed to enhance student learning through the reciprocal benefits of learning between generations (Corrigan, 2012). This is to share expertise and lived experiences between generations.

When both strategies are used together, they promote critical thinking, reflection, and dialogue between third level students and older people from the wider community and create an awareness of the expertise and knowledge of both older and younger people as a valuable resource to solving important world issues now and for the future.

This promotes lifelong learning as a valuable intersection between the voice of older and younger people when an active learning environment has been created to promote dialogue, learning and engagement together.

Risks and advantages

There are limited weaknesses, but the main issue is to ensure that the world café method is well structured, as without this it can become confusing and fragmented in its overall implementation and concepts sharing of knowledge.

Even where the overall learning environment is informal, the questions and content of the table discussions must be very well organised and prepared. There are many strengths to this approach, and this is chiefly in creating a learning environment where older and younger people can meet and learn from each other. A key strength is that this method promotes teaching and learning together.

Possible variations

The two strategies that is World Café and Intergenerational Learning have been used separately in separate learning situations. For example, Intergenerational Learning has been used in Dublin City University to promote the transfer of digital literacy skills and knowledge to older people through the knowledge transfer of third level students who are frequently very digitally literate. In the context of internationalisation, the World Café method has been used to promote conversation and dialogue between Erasmus students who were visiting the university for one semester and the Dublin City University students to promote ideas in relation to the use of effective advanced teaching strategies relevant in each of their countries and providing ideas and reflection as to how these strategies could be used in other countries in other teaching and learning contexts.

These combined methodologies can also be used for example in a doctoral programme where in the Dublin City University example the retired people would have experience in specific areas.For instance retired teachers would engage with teachers in dialogue and engagement together on specific knowledge content and life experiences related to the students’ doctoral thesis study.

Other examples where you think it could be used

Both Intergenerational Learning and the World Café method can be used in differing contexts. 

For example, there is currently an intergenerational learning research project in Dublin City University titled STARTT (Student Teachers and Retired Teachers Together) which is aimed at promoting the continuing professional development of trainee teachers north and south of Ireland through the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South of Ireland (SCOTENS). This is to provide an informal learning space where retired teachers can share their experience with younger teachers in areas such as classroom management, teacher and student relationships and overall well-being of both older and younger people. The World Café method can be used in a variety of formal and informal teaching and learning contexts in both adult education and in third level learning. This is chiefly to provide a discussion forum which provides a strategic approach to problem solving and to create a forum which promotes critical thinking and reflection.


Both strategies can be used with ease, but they do require very effective and efficient planning and implementation.


Bostrom, A. & Schmidt-Hertha, B. (2017) Intergenerational relationships and lifelong learning. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships (15).

Corrigan, T. (2012). Intergenerational Learning: An evaluation of an emerging pedagogy in higher education. In Towards transformative education: A multidisciplinary perspective on research and practice in Bulgaria and Ireland. Bulgaria: Ex-Press Ltd, Gabrovo.

Hosting Tool Kit: The World Café.

Sanchez, M., Whitehouse, P. & Johnston, L. (2017)  Intergenerational learning in schools and beyond in Journal of intergenerational relationships, 16(1-2), 2018: Intergenerational Learning.

Schieffer, A., Isaacs, D.& Gyllenpalm, B. (2004). The World Cafe: Part one. World business academy, 18(8).

Contact persons

Trudy Corrigan, Dublin City University