Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Philadelphia

Expanding Your Horizons
Personal Development and Lifelong Learning

Do you want to reawaken skills you've let go by the wayside or explore something new and exciting? Are you looking for an intense, extended learning opportunity or something that "just gets your feet wet?" Do you want to be with people like you – same age, same lifestyle or interact with people of varying ages, cultures and races? Then you need to think about getting involved in lifelong learning. Many baby boomers are returning to the classroom at universities and colleges throughout the United States and finding that college can be different!

The Pursuit of Learning

The research regarding baby boomers has demonstrated that they are interested as a group in lifelong learning. AARP in their 2004 study reported that there are 54.2 million individuals between the ages of 55 and 79, and they plan to stay engaged. Their main interests are work, community service and learning activities.

Sadler, in his book, The Third Age, states that baby boomers want to experience self-discovery and involve themselves in creative leisure, bolstered by newly acquired learning that stretches their intellectual resolve. In the book Encore Careers by Marc Friedman, it talks about how many baby boomers are returning to the classroom to gain the skills for their encore careers. Many are working in education, healthcare, non-profit agencies and in the public sector for private good.

So why do adults pursue learning? For many it becomes intellectual stimulation – an opportunity to stretch their knowledge at a period of their life when they get the chance to take the time to study and learn in-depth about things that they haven't had the chance to learn before. For others, learning is the way they socialize. They get to meet new individuals like themselves through the courses, and increase their opportunity to gain new friends. Skills enhancement is the reason given by others. They want to learn how to use a digital camera, or use their computer. Many return to the classroom to gain the skills they need to communicate with their grandchildren. And still others return for their "encore career." They want to leave their full-time position that they've known for years, but continue to work in a different way, often with non-profit agencies, and thus they need new skills. Many describe the opportunity to learn as one that is more than just learning – it is learning, connecting and working.

Types of Learning Environments

Multiple avenues of learning are available to baby boomers today. Many choose to attend courses directly on a college campus. This could be part of an alumni learning event, such as those that Cornell University make available for their alumni during the summer on their campus. It could also be attending regular day time classes with traditional students but at a discount rate. Widener University offers this opportunity for baby boomers in the evening on the Exton campus, and on the main campus in Chester, PA during the day. Senior Citizens can attend up to two courses each semester and are charged $25.00 per course. They don't receive credit for the course, but they have the opportunity to read and study alongside traditional aged students.

Many baby boomers take advantage of Elderhostel, long known for their travel trips that study in-depth subjects at specific locations. Elderhostel is a national, non-profit organization that offers short-term educational adventures for people over 55. What began in a handful of New Hampshire colleges in the summer of 1975 has mushroomed to a diverse organization with year-round programs in every state, Canadian province, and 70+ foreign countries (http://www.elderhostel.org).

Another movement is that of the Institutes of Learning in Retirement (ILR). These first started in 1962 in New York City and now number over 400 such learning institutes across the nation. Depending on the university or college, the name could be Academy for Lifelong Learning, Center for Learning in Retirement, College for Seniors, SAGE or Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

One example of an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is at Widener University and it was opened in 2004 in Exton, Pa. It is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation who currently funds 117 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes on university and college campuses in all 50 states. The benefits of this type of institute are numerous, but they include: a congenial learning community and social interactions; a wide variety of courses taught by peers; no tests or homework; a network of friends and peers who share information, education, good conversation and often travel together.

The mission of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes is to provide opportunities for intellectual development, cultural stimulation, personal growth, civic engagement, and social interaction for mature adults in an academic cooperative run by its members who volunteer their time and talents. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute's program is centered on classes developed and led by its members

Each Osher Institute is designed differently to meet the needs of the baby boomers in that marketplace, but with 117 around the nation there is bound to be one close by offering courses, lectures and trips planned and attended by individuals over the age of 50.

Final Thoughts

Each individual needs to determine what type of learning they are looking for – with traditional students, learning through a travel experience, or learning with their peers for the love of learning. Take the opportunity to research those opportunities in your neighborhood today – the fall schedule begins shortly!

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