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Learning in Retirement Institutes: The impact on the lives of older adults

Charlene L Martin, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The increasing demand for educational opportunities by retirement-age adults presents the need for a better understanding of the significance of these programs on the lives of older adults. The literature provides a broad demographic profile of the older learner, but lacks a deeper understanding of the motivations for participating in educational programs and the resulting experiences. The purpose of this study is to determine what is meaningful to older adults about the Learning in Retirement Institute (LRI) experience, a particular model of older adult education. Through the use of in-depth, phenomenological interviewing, four members of Learning in Retirement Institutes share their life experiences and how they came to join the institutes. They reflect about what the LRI experience means to them at this point in their lives. The results concur with prior research in that the four participants fit the demographic profile and exhibit the two primary motivators of desire for intellectual stimulation and social contact. The significance of this study is the identification of additional benefits to participation in a Learning in Retirement Institute that include personal growth, increased self-esteem, opportunity for contribution, and empowerment. This combination of benefits makes the LRI experience unique from other activities in which older people can participate, including other educational programs such as tuition-free college courses and Elderhostel. This study provides a rare opportunity to gain first-hand perceptions of older adults regarding their lives and experiences in an LRI. It also demonstrates that, while not representing every old person, these four older people, through their desire to grow and contribute, defy the stereotype of all old people as in decline, dependent, and unproductive and that participation in Learning in Retirement Institutes plays a role in the successful aging of these four older people.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Higher education|Gerontology

Recommended Citation

Martin, Charlene L, "Learning in Retirement Institutes: The impact on the lives of older adults" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3039375.