Recently in the U.S. News & World Report, Dave Bernard composed a brief list of reasons why retirees should consider continuing their education sooner rather than later. He mentions benefits such as pursuing personal interests, staying busy, sharp and socially engaged. Unfortunately, these lifelong learning opportunities are sometimes elusive to potentially eager older adult students. Reasons may include; lack of awareness about organizations that promote lifelong learning, not living in areas that offer such classes and, finally, spending money on continuing ed classes in this economy may be a luxury some retirees feel they cannot afford.
However, I believe trying to overcome these obstacles in pursuit of knowledge are well worth the effort. Research studies purport that continuing education beyond retirement age can positively impact quality of life in older persons. Also, given the current fast-moving digital age we live in, even learning minimal technology skills could be beneficial to connecting the retiree to an ever transient social community of family and friends.
It may sound as if I have known about lifelong learning initiatives and the mental health “perks” associated with it for some time. In truth, I have only recently become aware of this global trend. When I launched Snabbo in 2009, I tried to dream up ways to get the word out about a new online social network geared to Baby Boomers. I reasoned that colleges and universities might be teaching computer skills to older adults. As I began an Internet search, I was amazed to discover lifelong learning programs that were available literally around the world. Upon closer examination of what courses were being offered, I noticed classes with titles such as “How to Use Facebook” or “Get your face on Facebook”. The thought occurred to me that if colleges were teaching Facebook to older adults then maybe they would include Snabbo in the curriculum as an example of a “niche” social network. Rather than compose an email to send to the program directors of these institutions, I chose to make personal phone calls explaining my idea. I spoke to some amazingly dedicated individuals who have seen firsthand what a wonderful difference expanding knowledge in later life can make. I heard stories of lonely widows/widowers whose once a week class attendance gave them access to much-needed social interaction as well as new friends. People who may have been viewed as “old dogs” were actually learning new tricks. Some programs offered reduced tuition, scholarships, and rides to class. In the end, I became obsessed with finding out about each program and called program directors all over the world. SERIOUSLY. Some followed through and added Snabbo to their curriculum when they taught social network classes. But I was the one who actually learned something.
One problem I see is that lifelong learning opportunities don’t appear to get enough strong PR in some communities. Finding money in the budget for advertising is probably a huge issue for these programs. Therefore, any credible “free press” they can get must be appreciated. I applaud Mr. Bernard’s blog post for directing attention to this topic. He includes some wonderful links to lifelong learning programs and other relevant websites.
Here are some links from my VERY long list. Feel free to contact me if you would like access to any more locations.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Plus50 Community Colleges: Ageless Learning