Program design

This section contains a list of design elements for designing and delivering arts and aging programs. These design elements are adapted from Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit, a publication of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts written by Johanna Misey Boyer. Their work demonstrates that older adults receive the greatest benefits from arts and aging programs that include these design elements.

Download the Interviewing for Program Design Elements PDF

List of design elements

Establish Trust:
Learning a new skill or participating in a new activity can be daunting; it is important to be sensitive to participant’s fear of failure or the unknown. Programs should adapt a familiar structure that participants are comfortable with. Create a safe environment that celebrates the artistic process, and honours the past experiences and knowledge of participants.

Set Challenges:
Challenge participants but push them only as far as they want to go!

Ensure Success: Designed to meet participants’ goals with a learner-focussed educational approach, work with the group to establish a roadmap for success. More than art instruction, community arts programs facilitate the learning process. Success is more than mastery of a technical skill—it is an exploration of one’s creativity. Facilitators and teaching artists should recognize that the process of teaching art to older adults requires a different educational philosophy than teaching children. In looking for someone to lead a group, experience working with older adults is essential!

Accommodate Diversity: Recognizing that participants have a wide range of abilities, celebrate and utilize the creative potential of each individual in the artistic process. 

Encouraging Participation: Programs are participant focused. By establishing trust, setting achievable challenges, ensuring success, and accommodating diversity, participation is encouraged. Check in regularly with participants to see whether they feel comfortable or overwhelmed, bored or challenged. Recognizing that each participant is unique--be flexible according to needs. 

Setting Session Length and Frequency: 
Research shows that the duration of an activity is more important than the nature of the activity in achieving positive outcomes. A one day class will only have temporary benefits while classes that meet further apart than once a week risk losing the progress made in the previous class. A class that meets weekly at the same location over a period of time will be the most successful. Time of day, length of session, is dependent on one’s target participant group.

Facilitating a Learning Community:
All these components of program design—establishing trust, setting challenges, ensuring success, accommodating diversity, encouraging participation, and setting duration and frequency—help facilitate a learning community. A learning community is a group of people, with common goals, that help one another learn. By facilitating a learning community older adults should be socially engaged and receive support and affirmation from group members. A learning community can be a site for personal growth.

Evaluation: A formal evaluation should be included in all programs’ designs. A formal evaluation is the measure used to determine the success of the program. While there are many different evaluative tools, it is essential to document one’s evaluative process so that others may benefit from learning about what worked well and what did not.
  Please visit the Program Profiles section of the toolkit for local examples of effective practices!
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