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Older People Should Play a More Active Role in Learning Research

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Although increasing attention is being paid to participatory research methods, they still remain underused in research addressing older people’s learning, according to a new scoping review conducted at the University of Eastern Finland.

The study examined the various roles in which older people participate in learning research. The researchers analysed empirical studies on older people’s learning and examined whether older people participated in them as subjects, informants or partners, or a combination of these roles. In only five of the 2,253 articles analysed, older people did not have any role in the study; these articles focused on the perspectives of professionals or older people’s next of kin.

“We can say that older people’s learning has mainly been studied through their participation,” project researcher Jenni Koski said.

The analysis of older people’s different roles highlighted that in most studies, older people are included as subjects whose learning is measured in a clinical setting. Although the criteria for social participation and interaction is met by various roles, international organisations such as the UN and WHO are calling for increasingly participatory methods in research addressing older people. The need for qualitative, creative and arts-based approaches was also highlighted.

“The role of a co-researcher enables participation at different stages of the research process, starting from research design. Participatory methods also enable co-learning between the researcher and older people,” Postdoctoral Researcher Kaisa Pihlainen points out.

The scoping review highlighted the need to develop novel participatory research methods. In addition, traditional methods, such as surveys and interviews, can also be used in a more participatory manner, for example by making use of digital technology or methods of co-research. These require reflection and development of the traditional researcher role in the direction of co-research.

While participatory methods better support the realisation of older people’s rights and healthy ageing, researchers should take into account that not all older people want or can participate in research. It is also important to consider those who eventually participate, as participants are often more active, younger and generally in a better condition than non-participants.

“In order to involve as wide a group of older people as possible in research, it would be advisable to provide participants with the opportunity to choose their way or role of participating. This possibility should be taken into account already when planning a study,” Koski said.

However, different research methods are needed in order to account for the diverse aspects of learning and ageing.

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