Serious learning: Older adults in university continuing education

Date created: 
Older adult learners
Continuing education

Non-credit programs for older adults have had a peripheral but growing role in Canadian universities since the 1970s (Ratsoy, 2016; Findsen & Formosa, 2011). As the population ages, interest in such programs is increasing, but they remain relatively neglected in research (Findsen, 2018; Kops, 2017; Snyder & Taylor, 2012). Adding to the literature that takes older adult learning more seriously, this case study describes in depth the experience of learners in a continuing studies program for older adults in a Canadian university, anonymized as the “Seniors Program.” Through critical reflexivity and narrative inquiry, using insight from my perspective as a member of the Seniors Program’s administrative team, I tell a story of the program which includes: the problem of exclusion of so many from older adult learning at university; the persistence of older paradigms of learning; the contrast between passively accepting facts and actively exploring mystery as a learner; the question of whether older adult learners in general are significantly different from younger; and ageism and issues of gender. To illustrate these themes, I describe a specific initiative in the Seniors Program, the introduction of courses and events exploring end-of-life issues. I address the unacknowledged complexities of older adult learning, and the potential and challenges of programs for older adult learners in university settings.

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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Suzanne Smythe
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ed.D.