The Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement (HILR)

New Pathways for Aging is an evolving project at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement. HILR, a branch of the Division of Continuing Education, is one of hundreds of institutions of learning for retired people. Most of these programs are connected to academic institutions across the country. HILR’s model is peer learning and teaching. We have approximately 500 members and typically 65 to 70 member-led study groups each semester.

Conversations on Aging

In 2004, the HILR curriculum committee held open meetings on several subjects about which they wanted more courses, including aging studies. The gathering on aging studies resulted in various seminars and discussion groups, which we called "Conversations on Aging." One group eventually became the editors of New Pathways.

We wanted to conduct research on the older adult and decided to write personal narratives, from which to draw major themes. In 2007, we circulated a monograph with our own five narratives and short theoretical essays. The Dean of Continuing Education encouraged us to expand our work and offered to publish the results.

The Book

We brought more HILR members together in small writing groups and interviewed others. We were interested in the following questions:

What does an examination of our current lives reveal, often unexpectedly, about this stage of life?

How does a learning community like HILR facilitate a positive transition from work to retirement?

How does an older adult find meaning, satisfaction, passion and creativity?

The results turned out to be much richer than we anticipated. The narratives are as diverse as the contributors, who view the changes in their lives from the perspectives of a wide range of careers: in business, human services, academia and more. They explore the defining moments leading to retirement and offered testimony to resilience in the face of loss, illness and relocation.

We identified several major themes which we analyze in essays that introduce each section of the book: identity, the culture of aging, leading & learning, community, and living with mortality.

The Project

From the beginning, we’ve been interested in sharing what we learn with other HILR members and among our age group generally. With the publication of New Pathways for Aging in September 2009, we sent copies to 420 institutes for learning in retirement in the country. Several have invited us to speak to them about our work.

We also began developing this website, which we see as a way of connecting people who share our interests in learning, writing, and community.

Our examination of aging has grown organically, with each effort engaging more people and generating new ideas. We hope you will join us as we continue to find new pathways for aging.

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