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Lifelong Learning Is Becoming the Norm

Leigh Ann Hubbard September 10, 2018

What role does learning play in the lives of older people?

These days, older adults are going back to college, training for new careers and taking classes just for fun. As technology continues changing rapidly, workers of all ages must train to keep up. And after retirement, taking classes can not only contribute to personal growth but help fight isolation—and potentially help keep the brain healthy.

Here are some curated stories about the older brain, learning new skills and more.

Highlights & Insights: Curated excerpts from though-provoking articles

The Amazing Fertility of the Older Mind
BBC Future / David Robson

Although you may face some extra difficulties at 30, 50—or 90—your brain still has an astonishing ability to learn and master many new skills, whatever your age. And the effort to master a new discipline may be more than repaid in maintaining and enhancing your overall cognitive health.…

A simple lack of confidence may present the biggest barrier—particularly for older learners, past retirement, who may have already started to fear a more general cognitive decline.

Some People Learn to Code in Their 60s, 70s or 80s
The New York Times / Vivian Marino

Many older coders want to develop new skills to keep their jobs or to start second careers. Some are looking for volunteer opportunities or hobbies in their retirement. Nearly all who have gone through the rigors of trying to understand correct syntax, algorithms and other technical foundations also gain a sense of confidence and accomplishment, while maintaining and improving their mental acuity…

“One of the big obstacles in a job interview when you’re older is that people think you’re inflexible and you can’t learn new things,” said Ms. Beigle-Bryant, who was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant at Microsoft in 2011.

The code lessons she took a few years ago, also through Codecademy, “gave me an edge,” she said. “I developed a confidence that I didn’t have before.”

A Life of Learning
Chief Learning Officer / Agatha Bordonaro 

Chances are, if you were to reflect on the times in your life that felt most fulfilling, you would recall that you were in the middle of learning.

“If you look at all the studies on happiness, there are three things that make people happy,” [professor of corporate learning and development] Nick van Dam said. “One relates to people continuing to grow in their lives. Another relates to people having social relationships: spending time with friends, family, colleagues. The third is about having meaning and purpose in one’s life. 

“If you think about it, learning plays a role in all of that,” he continued. “I think that’s very exciting.”

Is College Enrollment Among Older Adults Increasing? Depends Who You Ask
The Hechinger Report / Delece Smith-Barrow

The number of older adult learners is rising, some say, and higher education institutions should do more to support them… 

Julie Peller, executive director of the nonprofit group Higher Learning Advocates, says there has in fact been a decrease among older college-goers, but there are some nuances within the numbers.

“The federal data are limited in a couple of different ways,” Peller said. Only students pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree are included for the government’s college enrollment count. “It does not include programs that are certificate-based or more work-forced based,” she said.

These programs don’t fit the standard definition for college, but they’re clearly a form of postsecondary education. 

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Leigh Ann Hubbard

Leigh Ann Hubbard is a freelance journalist specializing in aging, health, the American South and Alaska.

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