Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide

Learning as a Later Life Passion
Continuing Your Education After Retirement

For many of us, the automatic nirvana of retirement is illusory. A short time passes and the anticipated delights—sleeping late, traveling, romping with grandchildren—often prove insufficient. Those retirees who have been single, or who have become divorced or widowed, soon feel quite isolated. The worker misses colleagues and mental activity, sometimes without identifying these yearnings consciously.

In part to fill this void, an academic enterprise for seniors has burgeoned over recent years, offering opportunities for educational commitment and connection and for collectively and supportively unearthing within the participants old and new learning challenges. Such programs or associations, found by the hundreds bi-coastally as well as in the national heartland, (typically feature the peer-learning and peer-managing of an educational program). They are often based at or near a university or college and are characteristically available at low or moderate cost (although there are a few Ivy League school exceptions). In institutes (as they are sometimes known generically), retirees select, deliver, and administer their own college-level learnings, accompanied by glowing reports. Literally, life has been enriched, if not extended, in the process.

Members I interviewed at one institute are unanimous about the benefits: "I found a passion—the joy of learning"; "A community of help"; "Keeps me in the mainstream"; "...Stimulating. I meet people of like interests"; "Keeps me involved in learning new things"; "Provides an occasion to get dressed up in the morning"; "Fills up my time. My mind is always working on ideas from the program"; "Keeps me alive!"

A retired manager from the business sector spoke bluntly: "Later life learning can open people's eyes to things they've put down for years; for me, the subjects were classical music and Shakespeare."

A retired elementary school teacher quite calmly attributes, "Keeps me alive", to her peer-learning activity. She notes the growing monotony of her and her husband's lives just after retirement: "We had two cups of coffee, read the whole paper, then what?"

Excitement is now in her voice. "(These programs) give you a reason to get up in the morning. You meet new people, you have new learning — so much more fun, so many new ways of looking at things, a chance to try something never before attempted, a reawakening of things from your past." Making lifelong learning happen seems as critical for her as the actual education.

To counter the sameness of one's retirement life horizon, the learning environment provides novelty: new friends, new interests, discovery of freedom and mastery. After years of being buffeted by life and institutional constraints, by children's developmental demands, and workplace structure, members experience a special delight grappling with an endeavor they and their peers control. Lifelong learners engage subject matter uncontrolled by strict academic demands while at the same time, being guided (through affiliation with the university or college) by traditional as well as contemporary events and interests.

While participants spoke much less of physical than mental benefits, there's a growing body of scientific literature that proclaims the healthfulness of intellectual activity.

Consider stretching your own academic muscles again and connecting with an academic program for seniors.

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