by George Henson
The recent C4AR conference about ageing research was, to me, most stimulating. It began with the widely ranging research of Age UK and finished with the work of Lancaster University Continuing Learning Group (CLG), with many differing approaches in between. There is good scope for cooperation, in particular combating the current bias of our whole society, which sees ageing mostly as a journey downhill, needing treatment. Instead, we can balance developing the potential benefits of ageing, minimising possible burdens. CLG works with others to find that balance in practice.
The CLG has been experimenting and offering help in continuing to learn as whole persons. This seems to benefit individuals and to offer potential benefits to local communities and our society. To do this we have developed collaborative ways of challenging and supporting, whilst also building autonomy. The 'research circle' approach is one key element. We have found the work of Bryce Taylor helpful on Whole Person Learning (1). He notes that the aim of is to promote autonomy in the person and between persons and that autonomy and collaboration are interrelated terms: you cannot have one without the other. When helping learning as whole persons we need to recognise changes that arise as age increases. We are born to learn that way naturally, each in our own unique way. Then we are encouraged to focus on learning at school and passing exams, learning to hold a paid job, learning to bring up a family and so on. Around middle age we tend to widen that focus and get back more easily into learning as a whole person. We may get confused and hung up around any of these stages and welcome help of like-minded people. Elkhonon Goldberg’ s The Wisdom Paradox provides well-referenced summary of these points (2). The book describes recent findings in neuroscience, then the testing of conclusions by clinical trials, with results employed in services for older people. A complementary and wider summary is provided in Gene Cohen’s The Mature Mind (3) with stages of learning and development postulated. An appendix provides a resource for helping individuals and community processes, towards fulfilment. A coherent pattern across such sources may be discerned. If we recognise that pattern we may better help ourselves and others. What seems most important are the changes to body and mind around middle age. Our brains can grow many more interconnections so that we take up wider views more naturally and can face the future in a better balanced way. We can learn again emotionally and socially for instance, and build new capabilities. Wisdom may grow, and a sense of fulfilment. By learning together in practice we can appreciate the unique needs of ourselves and also those of each other. Together we can come to serve more wisely in larger settings. Thus both the growth of benefits and the alleviation of age-as-burden can be achieved. The potential impact may be large.
In the Continuing Learning Group we are aware that we may be moving contrary to the present bias about ageing as shown in practice by our society. So we seek partners in brave initiatives who are aware of whole person learning,. We have warmly welcomed the support in Lancaster University and from our local U3A. In accordance with our stated "Research Ambitions", we hope to look more widely for support. See link to the CLG website: http://senior-learners-forum.wikispaces.com
1. Bryce Taylor (2007) Whole Person Learning
2. Elkhonon Goldgerg (2005) The Wisdom Paradox: How your mind can grow stronger as your brain grows older.