Education Never Ends: Examples of Senior Learners

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“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

Our society needs to look at education in a new way.

We usually think of education and associated funding generally for the young, but now that the population is aging and more people are delaying retirement, we need to find new ways for individuals to receive ongoing education. Educational programs need to be more hands-on so individuals can be better prepared for the ever-changing workplace.

In addition to finding better ways to learn, there are many other reasons to continue to pursue educational opportunities as adults. Education is a good way to keep a sharp mind by challenging ourselves and providing new stimulation. Also, education is a social vehicle where we can meet others or reach out to new contacts in long-distance learning classes.

In addition to the above-mentioned reasons for adult education, higher education leaders need to gain an understanding of the future needs for senior learners.

This is a diverse group consisting of different races, educational statuses, work experiences, cultural backgrounds and income levels. Educators need to find ways to attract them into taking courses that fulfill personal interest and to fill gaps in the workforce, including those in health care, science and technology.

Personal stories of senior education

Everyone in life has their own joys and difficulties. Some seniors deal with their difficulties by finding enjoyment and intellectual stimulation through their love of learning.

Ruth Diamond is a 95-year-old woman who has gusto for learning. A mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and recent widow, she loves to learn and help others. She decided at a young age, after watching her blind grandmother give up on life, that she would always “live life to its fullest, no matter what difficulties she encountered.”

While in her 70s, she and her husband, Willie, joined a senior program with the Israeli army. She enjoys learning while listening to books on CDs and is intrigued by artificial intelligence.

Larry Manoff, a boyish 67-year-old retired lawyer and proud father of an emergency room physician, is a busy man. Even though he was never religious, he decided to be confirmed as an adult and now studies Torah on a regular basis. He is intrigued by the “depth of debate, and relevance to today’s world that applies in the Torah portions.” Manoff also meditates and studies mindfulness and astronomy.

Deb Glass is a mother, grandmother, wife and an active woman at 78; she has always loved learning. She said her grandchildren asked her years ago, “Why do you love asking questions?”

She said she learned about critiquing the mood of John Steinbeck’s novels from her grandchildren. Glass loves learning about horticulture. She finds it amazing that “you look at each plant and each one is different from each other.” In addition, she is a talented painter and sculptor.

Finally, there’s David Gerstman, a father, grandfather and retired radiologist, who is a consummate scholar. He simply loves learning and earned his M.D., J.D. and MBA. He is a researcher and problem-solver who wants to delve into deep problems that are plaguing mankind.

He looks forward to his second presentation about the importance of genetic testing to members of the Abramson Center’s Auxiliary; he’ll discuss the BRCA 1 and 2 genes, which follows a previous presentation on genetic disorders. He is an avid reader who belongs to two book clubs, takes outside courses at a local university and exercises regularly.

When speaking to the four individuals, you can really feel the love of learning that is reflected. Learning is an essential component for all people and especially for seniors.

There are many reasons that the education and labor community will continue to find ways to attract seniors in the years to come. Courses for some seniors will be a necessary prerequisite for their next career while, for others, education will be a way to occupy time, stimulate their minds, socialize with others and improve their overall quality of life.

No matter the reason for the pursuit of education, the senior consumer will be a growing purchaser of curriculum and related products. It is essential to do a little homework to find the right course(s) to meet your needs.

Learning resources

iTunes U: Free courses on iTunes from universities. All you need is an iPad or computer.

USA.gov: Provides links to adult education options.

Seniorresource.com: State-by-state listings of free or low-cost educational opportunities for seniors.

Osherfoundation.org: Osher Life Long Learning Institute sponsored at 117 universities and colleges around the U.S. Offers noncredit courses for those ages 50 and older.

University of Pennsylvania: For $500, seniors can sit in on selected undergraduate courses. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a psychologist at Abramson Center.

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