The pursuit of knowledge is beautiful; besides staying busy or social, education triggers curiosity and forces us to use our most powerful muscle: our mind. And there’s no lack of research to advise how important it is to stay sharp and never stop learning; lifelong learning is connected to improved cognitive function, healthy emotional wellbeing, and positive self-perception.
FREMONT, CA: When you learn something new at any age, your brain produces new cells and builds new connections. Of course, the entire process is a little more complex and technical, with hundreds of contacts forming, working, and dying simultaneously. Still, studies have shown that older adults who keep learning are less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, challenging yourself with a new subject matter can be highly rewarding. When you are busy with a subject and entire satisfaction in your work, your brain produces some of the same chemicals as falling in love—though, to be fair, it’s maybe not quite that intense. Either way, education in later life is a way to form a real emotional connection to new experiences and information, and those feelings can positively impact how you perceive other activities in your day.
You’re never too old to learn something new. One common misconception about learning in later life is that older adults don’t make great students. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they joke. But this isn’t true. Of course, seniors have always known that, but now we have science to back it up.
While younger minds are quick and computational, able to produce new ideas like rapid-fire, scientists have discovered that older people are more reflective and philosophical. All this to say, younger people aren’t better students or thinkers; they process things differently.
There’s more than one way to learn.
If you have concerns about fitting into a classroom setting, it may be helpful to know there are generally three forms of learning, and you’ve probably been doing two of them for years. Education can be formal, non-formal, and informal.
• A formal setting is usually the most rigorous, resulting in a credential or a degree. This would be a traditional and very direct way to approach lifelong learning.
• Non-formal education is offered in a dedicated learning environment in group settings but doesn’t necessarily result in a formal certification or award. Instead, it hinges on self-motivation.
• We’re all familiar with informal learning but don’t even realize it’s happening—learning from our experiences. This is an unconscious information gathering, something most people do throughout life.
It’s important to remember that, generally speaking, older adult education programs typically refer to formal and non-formal learning. However, plenty can be said about challenging yourself with new experiences at any age.
So, with all this in mind, here’s how to get started:
1. If it’s been a while since you attended a seminar or took a course, jumping right in to a new subject can be intimidating. Crush any unease by finding ways to improve at something you already know or love. Take a hobby and turn it into a study. If painting is your passion, explore some art history classes. Love gardening? Audit an agriculture program. The list drags on, but in common, there’s often a way to learn more about your daily activities.
2. Once you have a view of subjects you want to explore, think about what setting will be best for you. There’s a big difference between the amount of work you’d put into weekly book club discussions versus pursuing a master’s in English. Keep in mind that the goal of lifelong learning is not inevitably about anything that can be measured. Continuing education is part of holding a nimble mind, not jumpstarting a career.
3. Lastly, look at ways to improve your lifelong learning experience. Make it social by inviting friends and loved ones to enroll with you—or make it a good game of who can score higher grades. Don’t be worried about venturing out of your community, either. With excellent programs available throughout the Boston area, like BU Evergreen and the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, your classes can be as fun as they are academic.
Considering the value of discussions and seminars, events at One Wingate Way are led by some of the top specialists and thought-leaders in the area and cost nothing to attend. In addition, our enrichment events and interactive workshops are designed to include popular activities and offbeat subjects, which are certain to encourage meaningful conversation. RSVP to one of our future events here.