In mid-October, the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) network gathered at its ninth Education and Learning of Older Adults, or ELOA, conference. This year’s theme was “Older Adults’ Well-being—The Contributions of Education and Learning,” and the conference was held in beautiful Faro on Portugal’s Algarve Coast.

Happy Swedish conference participants (from left): Ann-Kristin Boström, Malgosia Malec Rawinski (Stockholm University), Sara Bref, Joel Hedegaard, Helene Ahl, Cecilia Bjursell and Magnus Schoultz (Örebro University).

Happy Swedish conference participants (from left): Ann-Kristin Boström, Malgosia Malec Rawinski (Stockholm University), Sara Bref, Joel Hedegaard, Helene Ahl, Cecilia Bjursell and Magnus Schoultz (Örebro University).

Nearly 50 participants attended the conference, 37 papers were presented, and most EU countries were represented in some way. Researchers from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and India also attended. A strength of the ELOA network is the heterogeneous background of its researchers, with representatives from the fields of educational science, economics, gerontology, psychology and sociology.

An issue that many returned to in their presentations was the importance of defining the terms used so that everyone is talking about the same thing. Who are the elderly? How is well-being defined? What does the term education encompass, and what do we mean when we instead use learning?

How do you feel?

Well-being is a particularly complex concept that often includes both subjective and objective parameters. Researchers from different disciplines tackle the issue in different ways, measure different things, and pose questions differently, all of which makes it more difficult to take advantage of one another’s work and to get a broader picture of the state of the research around, for example, well-being among the elderly.

"There are many people who are doing very good things but who are unaware of each other’s work. We should try to organize ourselves a bit better,” said Marvin Formosa, professor at the University of Malta.

It is often easier to define when well-being is lacking. And well-being can also depend on one’s context. An elderly, poor, disabled man in Portugal, who was one of the examples in the studies presented, will certainly answer the question of what well-being means completely differently than would than a healthy Swedish pensioner who chooses to live in Portugal during the winter months.

Do we deserve to feel the way we do?

Another issue raised during the conference was whether research results risk being used incorrectly. If the research finds that an active life, education, social interaction and physical exercise increase the chances of feeling good in old age, then those in power could use the results to place full responsibility for the individual’s well-being on the individual himself or herself.

Similarly, there is a danger of placing too much responsibility on the individual for his or her own learning, as it would then follow that any teacher could be used, and the blame for poor results put on the students.

The transition from working life to retirement can be seen as one of life’s biggest changes, positive for some but anxiety-filled for others. Several current and future research projects are looking at this particular transition. At the same time, one’s entire life is full of changes: when one begins school, moves from school to the workplace, becomes a parent and so on. Perhaps life is these transitions and the periods when status quo prevails can be viewed as parentheses?

Sweden well represented

Four researchers from Encell participated in the conference, and Stockholm University, Linnaeus University and Örebro University each also had a representative present.

“The conference gave me important insights into my research, partly through further defining my research area, but also for the pure development of my theories. The conference also provided a push forward in terms of motivation and even more confidence in my research area, all because of the very high level of the presentations and discussions. Finally, it can be said that I feel as if I have found a good context and, in a way, found home!” said Patrik Standar, Ph.D. student at Linnaeus University.

You can view the recordings of the presentations given by Encell’s researchers and by Patrik Standar here. The next ELOA conference will be held May 10, 2019, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.