James E. Thornton

James Thornton - Retirement


Associate Professor Emeritus, Educational Studies (Adult Education)

University of British Columbia



  • Ph.D., Adult Education, University of Michigan
  • Ed. Specialist, Adult Education, University of Michigan
  • M.A., Adult Educaiton, Univerity of Michigan
  • B.Sc. and B.A., Western Michigan University


  • Fellow, Association for Gerontology in Higher Education
  • Fellow, Andrew Norman Institute for Advance Studies in Gerontology


  • Adult Education
  • Educational Gerontology


  • I taught graduate courses in the adult education program, Faculty of Education, The University of British Columbia, from 1969 to retirement in 1992-93. I was Coordinator, Committee on Gerontology, Faculty of Graduate Studies, from 1980 to 1991, and organized study groups and conferences for a variety of aging related projects most resulting in publications. An Interdisciplinary Program in Gerontology (PhD) was established. During this period I was instrumental in establishing the Educational Gerontology Division, Canadian Association on Gerontology, which was formally organized and adopted in 1992.
  • In 1984-85, I was a visiting researcher at the University of Southern California USA, the University of Gothenborg, Sweden, and Kyoto University, Japan. During this period, my research interests concerned the impact of educational and social programs on the development and well-being of older adults. I was the organizer of the National Academy of Older Canadians (1989, Vancouver) and a founding board member Okanagan Institute for Learning in Retirement (1993-4), now the Society for Learning in Retirement (Kelowna).
  • From 1994 to 1996, I chaired a working committee on an aging workforce for One Voice (Ottawa), and from 1996-1999, I accepted an appointment to the BC Seniors Advisory Council. (1996-99).
  • Beginning in 2000, while living in Vernon, BC, I served on the Community Advisory Committee, Okanagan University College (2002-03) and was a volunteer, Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan (1993-2005).  I offered guided autobiography workshop in Vernon, Kelowna BC, 2004-05; and in Ajijic, Mexico in 2005-10. After moving to Arbutus Ridge, Cobble Hill BC, Vancouver Island in 2007, I organized guided autobiography workshops sponsored by Friends, Centre on Again, University of Victoria, Saanich Silver Threads and Family Care Givers Association, and other community partners in 2008-11. In 2015-16, the collection of papers published about these activities created this website:  www.autobiography.ca.


  • Retired from The University of British Columbia in 1992-93
  • My recent work is writing an autobiography and organizing my family memoir of the Thornton’s & Bells (my father’s family) and the Wenger’s & Wiley’s (my mother’s family). It was my hope that all these activities in various communities and local organizations in British Columbia would provide the foundation for The Legacy Society of BC in 2012- to 2015, which was not successful.


  • My academic studies and research interests concerned adult learning in mid- to late life, issues of adult learning and development, and emerging topics in educaitonal gerontology.
  • My professional interests have focused on education in post-secondary and higher education on aging populations, education for and in “the third age,” and learning activities for personal growth, health and well-being.
  • Currently my professional activities and interest concern issues of learning and well-being as life-span and life-course development issues.
  • My recent publications explore the learning experiences and outcomes achieved by older adults in guided autobiography methods and on peer training in the community workshops.


Complete list of Selected Publications


  • Thornton, J. E., Collins, J. B., Birren, J. E., & Svensson, C. (2011). Guided Autobiography’s Developmental Exchange: What’s in It for Me? Int’l Journal of Aging & Human Development, 73:3, 227-251
  • Thornton, J. E., & Collins, J. B. (Feb 2010). Adult learning and meaning-making in community base guided autobiography workshops, Commissioned Report, Canadian Council on Learning, Ottawa, ON.
  • Thornton, J. E. (2008). The guided autobiography method: A learning experience. Int’l Journal of Aging & Human Development, 66:2, 155-173.
  • Thornton, J. E., & Collins, J. B. (2007a). The developmental exchange as reflected in learning outcomes of guided autobiography. In Proceedings of the Transformative Learning Conference: Issues of Difference and Diversity, Albuquerque, NM, Oct 2007.
  • Thornton, J. E., & Collins, J. B. (2007b). The developmental exchange as reflected in learning outcomes of guided autobiography. In Proceedings of the International Reminiscence and Life Review Conference, San Francisco, CA, Nov 2007.