Who we are


James E. Thornton: Associate Professor Emeritus

Department of Educational Studies

University of British Columbia.

     My professional career focused on offering programs, seminars and workshops dealing with adult learning and educational gerontology studies in late life.  Since my retirement, I have focused on guided autobiographical studies and programs, particularly community based workshops for adults, middle age and older, who are seeking courses to assist them in preparing their personal autobiographies and family memoirs.

Since 2003, I have collected the learning reports that are offered by this web site for further research on the scope of guided autobiographical activities resulting in several published papers.   The initiation of this COMMUNITY BASED QUALITATIVE RESEARCH STUDY was undertaken 2015 and is the basic resource document for activating this www. guidedautobiography.ca website.



John B. Collins: Adjunct Professor

Department of Educational Studies  

University of British Columbia.

     John specialized in the evaluation of educational programs and initiatives, especially for mid-career adults in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law, education, and other social and health services. He particularly focused on the development and validation of surveys, scales, and custom-designed indices for large-scale information gathering and analysis. He was co-author with Daniel Pratt of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory:  www.TeachingPerspectives.com

From 2006 to 2015, John Collins was co-author with James E. Thornton of the Qualitative Studies that are cited here, and numerous published research reports and papers  (see Resources).   John died in 2015 as we were preparing this research study book.

Our Goals

Throughout the current literature on adult learning there are various notable themes: (a) social growth and development, (b) purposeful adaptive lifestyle change, (c) reconciliation and therapeutic healing, (d) restructuring interpretations of past experiences, (e) acquiring new skills, (f) making meaning, (g) personal growth, and (h) involvement in learning communities of peers.

All these themes and topics emerge in our guided autobiography groups and are found in this research study data. Also, they are expressed by scholars who have focused their professional careers on the study of lifelong learning and adult development. The question remains whether adults themselves interpret their own learning experiences in terms similar to those expressed by professional scholars and writers.

This research study perhaps provides some insights into this territory by bridging and connecting self-learning with collaborative learning group experiences.  All of which are critical to the meaning-making process essential to adult development.

Special Thanks 

Cheryl Svensson  

Director, Birren The Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies


In the late 1990s, Cheryl reconnected with Jim Birren and enrolled in his Guided Autobiography course at UCLA. She has been a firm believer in the power of the GAB process and the potential to change lives ever since. Cheryl worked closely with Jim and activated the present Guided Autobiography work groups to develop and expand the program internationally. She has now train more that 300 GAB instructors worldwide in a live, interactive online GAB training course.

Wendy Bancroft


Wendy provided significant input in developing this web page and its research materials and resources. Wendy leads workshops in Guided Autobiography, a way of helping people remember and write about key experiences in their lives through memory triggers, writing support, brain exercised, self-awareness learning and small group sharing. “It’ about writing and a whole lot more. It’s stimulating, creative, and thoughtful. Lots of laugher; occasional tears.  I love this work.”