Lifelong Learning with CARP

“You don’t stop learning when you grow old; you grow old when you stop learning”

In keeping with our mission to promote healthy, active aging, we have been in discussions with the Continuing Education departments at a number of post secondary institutions about an initiative that will facilitate Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education opportunities for our Chapter members. The goal is to set up a model for a partnership program with Continuing Education Departments at Community Colleges and Universities throughout the country.

CARP members and older learners in general are embracing the idea of lifelong learning, challenging obsolete notions of retirement as a period of decline, fragility, and ill-health. At the same time, Canadian colleges and universities are interested in reaching out to the growing older adult market. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, over 60,000 Canadians age 55+ enroll in credit and non-credit programs annually, and registrations are expected to rise 10% per annum as our population ages. As Julian Benedict of Simon Fraser University has reported, besides the more obvious benefits of learning, including expanding your knowledge, communication, self-confidence, and critical thinking skills, studies show that learning in later life 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. 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.

Lifelong learners typically have different learning goals than their younger counterparts, embracing a wide variety of subjects in pursuit of personal enrichment and development. But, for some, there are obstacles. Members tell us that they are interested in learning opportunities (going “back to school”), but some are hesitant, based on various factors and perceptions. Research has found that situational barriers, such as a lack of time, money, and accessible transportation can be a hindrance, while dispositional barriers, such as prior educational history, hesitation to join a classroom “full of kids”, or a lack of awareness of scope of programs available, can reduce participation.

To counteract that, Administrators and Faculty are finding ways to overcome those perceptions and barriers. For example, we have recently met with the Dean and Executive Director of Continuing Education at Centennial College in Scarborough Ontario. They have enthusiastically embraced the idea of working with CARP to not only identify courses that our members might find of interest, but also to address potential barriers, including registration costs, learning preferences and suitable times and locations for classes. Centennial’s willingness to be innovative and flexible in accommodating the learning needs and interests of our members is one of the keys to our collaboration.

We see the potential for similar “custom made programs” for CARP members with other institutions. We have had a very positive reaction from the Director of Continuing Education at St. Michael’s University at the University of Toronto, and interest from Simon Fraser University’s Seniors Program, as well as Confederation College in Thunder Bay, where we already have a Chapter connection. Preliminary discussions with other schools have resulted in similar interest to work with CARP and our Chapters.