Communities of practice and possible selves in elder cohousing
Vander Plaats, Rebecca Susan
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Older adults’ experience of aging is influenced by many factors; among them are learning, social relationships, personal growth, and housing. The participants of this study belonged to an elder cohousing community that has been shown to enhance members’ experience of aging, but the role of learning in this outcome had not been explored. The purpose of this study was to understand what role, if any, participating in individual and community learning activities played in members’ experience of aging in the context of their elder cohousing community. This case study analyzed interviews of 21 community members, participant observations, case documents, and field notes to understand the experiences of community members as individuals and to develop a picture of what was happening in the community as a whole. Results suggested that participants were learning through engagement in multiple communities of practice and that the communities of practice allowed them to explore their identities through possible selves, ultimately contributing to a more positive experience of aging. It was concluded that (a) when older adults take action as learners to expand the scope of their identities, their experience of aging is enhanced and that (b) communities of practice within elder cohousing offer an ideal setting for this type of learning. A new model of learning in elder cohousing is provided. This study supports previous research on the benefits to older adults of expanding their possible selves and the benefits of communities of practice for individuals transitioning to a new phase of life. It supports elder cohousing as a positive housing option for older adults and suggests that older adults can benefit from belonging to an elder cohousing community even if they live off site. Efforts should be made to integrate new members into the community and to promote interaction between older and younger members.