Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
Older adults who are over 50 and even those into their 90's are often interested in furthering their education. Recently it has become fairly common knowledge that the best way to keep your brain functioning well is to use it. With the first baby boomers turning 65 this year, it is likely that many of them will want to keep their cognitive skills in top form by continuing to participate in learning activities. One very good way to do that would be to take distance learning courses.
Of course all the distance learning college and university programs are available to older adults and I am sure that many of them will pursue those programs or at least some individual courses. Online courses give people the opportunity to choose from hundreds of courses that they can study from the comfort of their own homes. That makes it easier for those who are still working, are dealing with their own or a family member’s illness, or are caretakers for children, grandchildren or parents, to study.
There are a number of reasons that older adults like to study. Those who are still employed often take courses because they want to advance in their careers. Others want to make a career change at this point in their lives. Many have a love of learning which motivates them to return to the classroom whether online or on campus. Some people want to return to school to study something that they did not have the opportunity to study in the past. In some cases that may be the opportunity to earn a high school diploma. In other cases someone who studied sciences might like to study literature or psychology and vice-versa.
The biggest disadvantage of distance learning courses for older adults is that many of them like to take courses for the social aspect of being in a place with others who obviously have some of the same interests. Another disadvantage can be that some older adults do not have the computer skills required to take online distance learning courses. These problems can be overcome. It is possible to help older adults develop computer skills. It is not always necessary to teach them the very beginning lessons, because they may know how to use a computer. Often they just do not know how to do some activities such as downloading files from the internet. However, it is possible to help older adults learn those skills. It is also possible to help these adults to see that there is a good chance to develop social connections in online classes. Another possibility is to organize a class which is taken online but with several students in the same community getting together to study the same subject.
With today’s aging population, the reality is that more and more older adults will be interested in furthering their education whether it is online or at a bricks and mortar school. Certainly online distance learning courses will be able to fulfill many of their needs. Colleges and universities need to prepare in order to be able to give these “new age” students the support that they need to study successfully.