Programming for senior citizens is a new field of informal science education. Although there is little empirical analysis of such programs, it appears that forming partnerships with local organizations and area networks of aging services is a good first step. In developing the program, incorporating knowledge about the adult learner into its design will result in programs more targeted to the needs of this audience. There also appears to be some benefit to using technology to enhance the learning experience.
The informal science education community is increasingly interested in serving older adults more effectively. From the research that has been done to date, it is evident that special accommodations will have to be made. The Meadowlands program used videoconferencing so that the seniors would not have to travel to the center. Depending on the nature of the program, other accommodations and adaptations may be needed.
Thus far, we have focused on broad changes with age that have the potential to affect science learning. An underlying assumption in these descriptions is that children will “grow into” the characteristics displayed by adolescents, who likewise will eventually display the characteristics observed in adults. However, some of the differences that can be seen across age groups do not disappear as individuals age. Instead, they serve as distinctive characteristics of a particular generation. These are known as cohort effects, meaning that they are attitudes, traits, or behaviors that typify a group of people born during a specific period, and they tend to stay with that cohort consistently across the life course.
Cohort effects are related to the common life experiences of individuals born in certain time periods. The term has its roots in population biology and has relevance in epidemiological studies in which subsets of a population are studied in relation to their exposure to certain sets of risks that can affect medical conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. Cohort effects are studied in sociology and economics in relation to organizational culture and value orientations in society. One classic study, for example, charted the attitudes and behavior of a group of young people in California who came of age during the Great Depression,