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Prof. Dr. Rudolf Tippelt

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Lehrstuhl für Allgemeine Pädagogik und Bildungsforschung, LMU München


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Interview of July 07, 2011 with Florian Bödecker.


Education for many is not necessarily something that is seen in connection with aging. Why in your opinion is the topic education in older age so significant?

“Age” needs to be differentiated. With older employees, education is necessary because through education and furthering education, they stay within the work process. In the post occupational phase, education is so important as the elderly integrate into society through education, they know more and can inform themselves independently and more consciously. They participate more in culture, politics, e.g. participate in elections by voting more informed and reflected, make decisions more consciously. Through education the elderly know more about questions on health, know the possibilities of prevention and that again has positive effects on everyday behaviour. Further, education can help to cope with critical life situations like disease or loss of a partner. Here education becomes a form of guidance that goes close to the borders of therapy.


In your talk you explained that education willingness after the age of 50 strongly declines. On what does the willingness for education depend upon with the elderly?

Employment has a strong influence on the willingness for education. After retirement, double as much employed people participate in further education than formerly unemployed people (25% to 12%). Then a lot depends on familial background and the experience in education during school years. The origin family leave a mark and one can develop a habitus to intensively deal with education and culture. When you experience positive education during school and were able to build self- confidence, you will then have a positive position towards education later, also in late adulthood. Positive education experiences strengthen the willingness for education throughout life. A problem can be the image of age that elderly people have of themselves, because they think of themselves as too old for education. But this image has been altered through a more and better education experience from generation to generation. Also opportunity structures are important: Education offers for 50 year olds are not so frequent but that also changes because older employees are economically needed and further education facilities adjust to the higher demand.  


You have already mentioned it. Which barriers do elderly people have to cross if they want to further their education?

Sometimes it is the not very well informed personnel manager- I am talking about older employees- they define the efforts for education of an older employee as not profitable. But that is nonsense! This barrier of poor knowledge about the productivity of the elderly is slowly ceasing. A change of thinking has begun. But there is still a lack of educational offers for the elderly, still not enough methodical, didactical trained educators that want and can consciously work with older people. Here there is accumulated demand. Also the social work with the elderly is not sufficiently expanded, considering the aging process of the “society of long life” and in my opinion, the social education does not cover it yet.


When it is about stronger integrating the elderly, how does the educational infrastructure has to change, so the elderly have reasons as well as possibilities for further education?

Educational institutions have to be open for older learners and make appropriate offers for them. Also it cannot be too expensive for some social groups, because there are people that can only afford education if it is offered low-priced. The financing and in general the density of the further education structure are the most important factors that also have an effect on the demand. Furthermore, educational institutes have to see the elderly as a subject of education and not an object as such: he should be able to participate in co-determination. Also, positive educational experiences in early socialization, increasing employment, continual change of the image of aging will evoke a stronger demand for education. But also, a step away from the deficiency conjecture to competence conjecture of aging, that focuses on the strength of the elderly, will change the self-image and strengthen the knowledge that education in difficult phases of life will help to better quality of life.


I would like to talk about the differences between the elderly and young people. It is clear that the elderly differ individually just like the young. But is there a tendency on the reasons for learning and learning content? Where are the differences there between young and old? 

There are similar reasons for learning with the elderly but not in the same frequency. When we look at the older employees, there are some that further educate themselves to stay valuable for the organisation. There are others that further their education to learn about new working techniques to stay employed. And there are some that further educate themselves to move up the ladder, because even at above 50 years old, some want to raise in the professional hierarchy. Then there is the group- not as large as with the younger adults- that is interested in further education to stay mobile, to change employment even with 55 or 60 or maybe start a new career.


Another inquiry about the differences of the younger and older learners. Something you already mentioned in your talk is that older people learn differently. With different media. You said that books are very important there.

The internet and new media become pivotal and natural, the younger one is, also as a learning- and information medium that one uses regularly. Books however, are more liked by the elderly and are on strong demand by people that are used to reading. Then you have the informal learning places like museums and galleries that are much liked by the elderly. Travels are also an opportunity for the elderly to learn about other countries, people, foods and music, and travel not only functions as entertainment. With the young, learning is more leaned towards job and career. Learning is also pointed more strongly on the family education process. Older people use education to meet new people but also to satisfy postponed needs or preventively to profit healthwise. Older people might want to be addressed by word to mouth advertising, younger people might react more on internet advertising or other forms of fast advertisements. On price policies both group react sensitively: some can afford a lot, for others an increase of 5 Euro can be too much. The elderly much stronger search for a home in the educational institutions with similar learners, open for encounters with younger people but fixed rooms are more important to older people than for the young people, who are more mobile.


You had also asked what young and old people find important in a educational event. Could you tell us a little about that? Referring to the differences? 

You have seen that it is varied. Older people also have social backgrounds and respective differences of lifestyle and lifeworld. Some search for social contacts- the content is almost secondary- it has to be important personally. But the social dimension, the conversation with others is pivotal. That is something young and old people have in common. I would not mark a difference there. If I think about it, there are more commonalities than differences. Of course the pace is completely different, especially in technological areas. Also in language teaching, the learning pace is important but also the topics that are addressed in the language course are different, because the lifeworld is different. All age groups want a mixture of learning methods, didactic variations as teachers say. Learners do not want just the talk or group discussion, not just meta plan techniques or partner work. Young students as well as older students want to have a variety, a mix of the many different learning methods that we know.


I would like to come to my last question. How do you think will the educational infrastructure change in the next 20 years?

I think we will continue to have a education expansion, meaning that more of the elderly of future generations will have higher education. I believe that we will be more successful in the next 20 years to integrate migrants into our educational system. So less people will fall totally out of the job- and educational systems. I believe that we will realise our education standards stronger. So that means, that a minimum of education has to be reached, especially with the reading and writing ability, the computational ability but also foreign language competences. And not only early childhood education in day care centers and kindergarten will be strengthened, comprehensive schools will massively increase and the adult and further education areas will be greater because the demographic change is so severe. In this context, society will react much stronger on the demand and interests of the elderly. Career education, the dual system, this mix of vocational and educational training will come to stay. At the same time, the academization of professions will increase. So as you can see I am an optimist. I believe also that education will become more international, that we will learn languages, especially English and that it will be common to read and talk in English- also in older generations. We will prepare more intense and better for aging, especially in projects and special project weeks. And I hope that the fruitful intergenerationell learning, the cooperation of older and younger learners in joint educational processes on all areas of the educations system will increase. But on this, a lot of informing is needed, persuading and mutual trust necessary.

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Rudolf Tippelt studied education/ social pedagogy with sociology, psychology and philosophy in Munich, Heidelberg, London and Canterbury from 1970- 1977. In 1980 he obtained his doctorate and habilitated 1989 in Heidelberg and is now Professor of pedagogy and educational research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

His research focus is on educational research, further - and adult education, education processes during life span, the transition from education to employment and professionalising and advanced education of pedagogical employees in an international context.

Among others, Rudolf Tippelt is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the steering group for education research with the Kultusministerkonferenz (KMK) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

He is married and has one son. Rudolf Tippelt likes to travel- especially around South America. He likes to read thrillers and loves to swim in lakes. During winter times you will find him skiing on wintery heights.





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