You're never too old to learn

As our members continue to express interest in opportunities for lifelong learning, the attached article is worth reading. It is written by Julian Benedict, Coordinator of the Simon Fraser University Seniors Program, and Atlanta Sloane-Seale, Area Director, Continuing Education, University of Manitoba.
-Ross Mayot, CARP VP, Community Development

Older Canadians are embracing lifelong learning opportunities across the country as the first wave of baby boomers turns 65 in 2011.

Challenging obsolete notions of retirement as a period of decline, fragility, and ill-health, boomers, or “Zoomers,” as Moses Znaimer calls them, are proving the adage “use it or lose it,” is true.

According to the Canadian Council on Learning, over 60,000 Canadians age 55+ enrol in credit and non-credit programs annually, and registrations are expected to rise steeply as our population ages.

Besides the more obvious benefits of learning, including expanding your knowledge, communication, self-confidence, and critical thinking skills, studies show that lifelong learning offers a wide range of health benefits.

For example, North American researchers have found older learners enrolled in programs enjoy improved memory function, boosted immune systems, and reduced levels of anxiety and isolation, compared to those not enrolled. A George Washington University Medical Center study even found that lifelong learners were less likely to visit a doctor, take medication, experience depression, or suffer from low levels of morale.

As policymakers look for ways to manage the rising costs of healthcare, more public investment aimed at promoting the benefits of meaningful educational pursuits might be a very wise investment. At the same time, Canadian college and university administrators interested in expanding their enrollments beyond the 18-24 cohort could benefit from focusing more promotional campaigns on the growing older adult market.

Mature students typically have different learning goals than their younger counterparts, too. According to one report by Ken Steele, Senior Vice-President of Education Marketing for the Academia Group, youth are increasingly moving away from liberal arts programming in favour of business and science degrees – leading to specific occupations. Rising tuition fees have also reduced the willingness of students to experiment. By contrast, older learners tend to embrace a wide variety of subjects within liberal arts – pursuing personal enrichment and development for its own sake.

But elder learners still face obstacles. Research has found that situational barriers, such as a lack of time, money, and accessible transport can hinder older students, while dispositional barriers, such as a lack of self-confidence, can reduce participation.

Successful instructors in adult programs start by acknowledging the life experience and expertise of their students. Dr. Hanna Kassis, Professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia, who has taught in elder programs regularly, emphasizes this point, saying: “I’ve often discovered that older students in my classes are specialists in subjects I lecture on, such as architecture and engineering. They always keep me on my toes!”

Adult programs have also flourished in part by remaining highly adaptive. In the 1950s, experimental initiatives were limited to recreational games and activities at local community centres. But by the early 1970s, a broader range of academic courses, seminars, workshops and forums began emerging. Thirty years later, programs Canada-wide offer something for everyone.