The Older Adult in Education

Authored by: Mary Alice Wolf

The Routledge International Handbook of Learning

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415571302
eBook ISBN: 9780203357385
Adobe ISBN: 9781136598562


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Eleanore L., a 68-year-old former teacher, took a graduate course in counseling. She plans to open a therapy center for parents of autistic children. The other day she came into my office and asked, “Do you think I should do a doctorate?” Andrew B., a retired lawyer, aged 79, attends the New York Artists League. “I feel more creative at this point in my life than ever before,” he says. “What shocked me, though, was receiving an offer to sell one of my paintings!” Jack M., aged 82, is taking a course called Writing the Novel You've Always Dreamed of Writing at the University of Connecticut Osher Livelong Learning Institute (USA). The course description announces, “The final class will stress rewriting and working with a professional editor” (OLLI, 2009: 15). Weezi and Cynthia (they decline to give their ages: “Just say ‘over 21,' dear.”) have signed up for Kayak the Low Country. This is a weeklong program sponsored by Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, a program designed for active older adults. The catalog copy for Kayak the Low Country reads: “Wildlife abounds … including alligators, wood stork and dolphins. Expect a physically active week of learning on water and on land about the region's history and natural resources” (Road Scholar, 2010: 13). Six women gather in an enrichment program at a long-term care facility to reminisce about growing up in Danbury, a small Connecticut (USA) city; all have memory problems. The facilitator shows pictures of Danbury and suddenly the women are girls again with perfect recollection. One has not spoken in days, but is now exclaiming, “And that's where I took my piano lessons!” Her husband sobs in the next room, “There she is! God bless you!” All of the above are “older adult learners,” but each individual is constructing his/her experience of learning within a highly personalized context.

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