Strategies to enhance intergenerational learning and reducing knowledge loss. An empirical study of universities

Publication Date09 November 2015
Date09 November 2015
AuthorConstantin Bratianu,Ramona Diana Leon
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Strategies to enhance
intergenerational learning and
reducing knowledge loss
An empirical study of universities
Constantin Bratianu
Department UNESCO for Business Administration,
Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Bucharest, Romania, and
Ramona Diana Leon
Department of Management,
National University of Political Studies and Public Administration,
Bucharest, Romania
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to identify and analyze the main strategies used in
organizations to enhance intergenerational learning (IGL) and reduce knowledge loss. The emphasis is
on universities that have an age layered or nested structure.
Design/methodology/approach – The research is based on an integrated approach of literature
search, content analysis, survey based on interviews and questionnaires and the analytic hierarchy
process method. The research questions are as follows: What is the level of awareness in organizations
about knowledge loss and the role of IGL in reducing its consequences? What kind of organizational
structure is adequate for promoting IGL? What are the most suitable strategies for enhancing IGL and
reducing knowledge loss?
Findings – Universities have a nested generational structure, which makes them adequate for IGL.
The most used strategies for enhancing IGL are mentoring, intergenerational research teams and
intergenerational creativity workshops.
Research limitations/implications Empirical investigations covered only four universities.
Research should be extended to a larger number of universities and also to companies.
Practical implications – Findings are valuable for organizations having an aging workforce and
which want to reduce knowledge loss through the IGL process.
Originality/value The study provides an insight look of how organizations experiencing a
workforce aging phenomenon can enhance IGL to reduce knowledge loss.
Keywords Knowledge sharing, Storytelling, Intergenerational learning, Mentoring,
Knowledge strategy, Knowledge loss
Paper type Research paper
The authors would like to acknowledge the support received from the SILVER Project –
Successful Intergenerational Learning through Validation, Education & Research, Project
Number: 517557-LLP-1-2011-1-NL-GRUNDTVIG-GMP.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 29 January 2015
Revised 26 May 2015
14 August 2015
Accepted 18 August 2015
Vol.45 No. 4, 2015
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VINE-01-2015-0007
1. Introduction
Intergenerational learning (IGL) is a social process that is based on knowledge transfer
between two distinct age generations. It is generated by knowledge asymmetry in the
social structure and it is characterized by entropy increase, according to the
thermodynamics principles. Ropes (2013, p. 714) denes it as being “an interactive
process that takes place between different generations resulting in the acquisition of
new knowledge, skills and values”. Thus, IGL is a benecial process to both the
individual and the organization. The traditional paradigm of IGL is the family paradigm.
As Hoff (2007, p. 126) remarks, it has been for centuries a family process for “systematic
transfer of knowledge, skills, competences, norms and values, between generations –
and is as old as mankind”. In such a process, “Typically the elders or grandparents of the
family share their wisdom and are valued for their role in perpetuating the values,
culture and uniqueness of the family” (Sharpe and Hatton-Yeo, 2008, p.31). Children
learn from their parents and grandparents languages, beliefs, values and attitudes
through direct teaching and observation. Also, there are empirical ndings that
demonstrate that highly educated parents tend to have highly educated children
(Andreou and Koutsampelas, 2015). The family paradigm lost his power in the
European and American cultures, but it is still very strong in the Arab and Asian
cultures. Hamilton (2011) examines the concept of intergenerational entrepreneurial
learning in family business. He remarks that entrepreneurial learning in such an
intergenerational context leads to “acquisition and development of propensity, skills
and abilities to found, to join and to grow a venture” (Hamilton, 2011, p. 9). Family is a
powerful learning context for human values and beliefs. Ljunge (2014; p. 192), while
searching for evidence on the intergenerational trust transmission among children of
immigrants, found that:
Trust may be more persistent among immigrants from higher trusting nations. In the high
trusting Northern European context trust is persistent no matter the ancestry, while many
individuals may adapt to the lower trust levels in Southern Europe by the second generation.
The research also shows that trust transmission is more signicant on the mother’s side
than on the father’s side. In the same perspective, Necker and Voskort (2014) searched
for intergenerational transmission of risk attitudes. Their analysis shows that “different
generations of a family indeed exhibit similar risk behavior in the choice of their
occupation” (Necker and Voskort, 2014, p. 67). IGL in a family context also manifests in
developing social intelligence, which contributes directly to the process of social
interaction. Using two UK and US panel data sets, Brown et al. (2014) found a signicant
evidence of intergenerational links between the social interaction of parents and their
The new paradigm of IGL is an organizational construct based on non-uniform
knowledge distribution in organizations that have an age-layered structure. Its main
hypothesis is that:
[…] the generational synergy evident in familial settings could be captured in social planning
models, thereby, creating opportunities for IGL and the development of meaningful
relationships among non-familial older and younger generations (Sharpe and Hatton-Yeo,
2008, p. 32).
In organizations, IGL is an entropy-driven process, as knowledge transfer through
different mechanisms increases the organizational entropy and contributes to the deeper

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