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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Retirement and Lifelong Learning [1}

         Most people tend to see retirement as an event or an episode.  We prepare for it, or don’t, and then we experience it in either positive or negative ways.  There is a growing body of literature that supports the idea of retirement, as a continuation of a lifelong learning process.  The following material builds on ideas from Hodkinson et al’s study, which explores ways to enhance our retirement and pre-retirement experiences.
         The researchers followed 120 people between 25 and 80 years old for four years, and accumulated 750 hours of interview material.
They used this data to gain understanding of how the retirement processes work.  The foundation of their thinking is that the “third age” as a concept and process has only been used for the last few generations. Prior to that, in agricultural societies elder farmers, like my grandfather & grandmother, “stepped down” and let younger people in the family take charge.
         The major premise of Hodkinson et al’s research is that retirement is not a single event. It is an adjustment process, which must be examined.   For some it may involve a somewhat long period of uncertainty.  For others, it is “a way out of an undesirable situation” rather than something that is attractive in it’s own right. 
In my own history, I fought being forced into mandatory retirement a few years ago.  Since then I have remained at work as a part-time instructor. This coming August I am now preparing to voluntarily retire with a much more positive attitude.
         Hodkinson and his co-researchers report that sometimes retirement can become very burdensome.   For example one person was forced into retirement when he was 50. Then his second marriage broke up. He sold his house and got a mobile home. Then he unsuccessfully started a new business.  It floundered and he also got Parkinson’s disease.  He is unable to drive his car and has become a “bit of a hermit”

Retirement as a Process
         Retirement can be seen as an extended transitional process including pre-retirement anticipation, planning and preparation.  In the researcher’s words “…retirement itself is a process of becoming and learning that is an integral part of the process—not something separate from it.” 
         The things we learn are part of everyday life. We are in the process of becoming all of our lives. With our skills, knowledge and understanding we are constantly constructing and reconstructing our lives and interpretations of our surroundings.
         Besides our work, it is helpful to see our family, homes, community and leisure activities as part of our learning culture and we must remember, “The retirement process entails a complex mix of continuity and change.”
         How can we improve our retirement learning?  There are courses that can be taken often sponsored by senior’s organizations attached to universities. For instance where I teach we have a very active seniors group appropriately called Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK).  It produces workshops and seminars concerning all aspects of the Third Age. They sponsor recreation also encourage volunteering as another helpful activity.
         The article concludes with the following paragraph.  “If we are to help people to face the challenges and to benefit from the opportunities that retirement can bring, we need to do three things; (a) find ways to increase the chances of productive retirement learning; (b) find ways to support those learning in constructing their own sense of fit; and (c) find ways to help them to increase their understanding of the processes and stages by making these transparent.”
[1]  Hodkinson, P. et al (2008).  Retirement as a learning process, Educational Gerontology, 34, 1521-0472 online

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