|Health Clubs for the Brain|
"Learning is ever in the freshness of its youth, even for the old." …Aeschylus
As we have previously discussed, current research studies have indicated that the brain is a vital organ that responds to new stimuli. It needs to be challenged and thrives in enriched environments. Just like we take care of the body, the brain’s health too, depends on the care it is given – and the perfect environment for that care is a Lifelong Learning Institute – a health club for the brain!
Education is the perfect food for the brain. In fact, education plays a big role in the psychological and physical wellness of older adults. Continuing our education in some form, beyond the traditional model, is becoming very common. According to the National Center for Education statistics, the number of adult learners is both large and growing.
Look at the numbers. In 1999, 90 million Americans participated in some form of adult learning. That’s up from the 58 million registered in 1991. And of those 90 million adult learners, 23 million were over the age of 50. Clearly, people are beginning to realize that continuing learning is essential to their longevity. Lifelong learning is becoming a way of life for many people who are entering middle and later years, and a segment of these people are taking part in a special type of program called Lifelong Learning Institutes or LLIs.
A best guess estimate is that there are now approximately250,000 older adults taking part in between 500-750 organized classroom-type Lifelong Learning Institutes across North America. That number is sure to grow as our population ages, especially as people become more aware of the value and opportunities LLIs afford them.
In the next few columns I will be discussing the various aspects of Lifelong Learning Institutes. Along with keeping our brain healthy, participation in these programs challenges our personal standards for excellence. We reach for new levels of growth and health. LLIs stretch our minds and provide us with opportunities to expand our knowledge.
By joining a Lifelong Learning Institute your sense of personal empowerment, your self-esteem, and feelings of contribution will take a big leap. Participants in LLIs also gain insight on how to make their personal lives more efficient, effective and enjoyable. They develop new interests by simply trying something new.
Lifelong Learning Institutes keep us motivated when life gets a little overwhelming. Finally, these programs help fulfill personal aspirations and ensure continued growth and intellectual stimulation.
Back in 1962 a group of retired educators converged to discuss ways to stay intellectually challenged beyond what continuing education courses offered. They gathered at the New School for Social Research (now called the New School University) in New York City and conceived of a program run by and for older adults, offering a college-level curriculum. The New School enthusiastically welcomed the older adults onto their Greenwich Village campus under the name of The Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP). The IRP is still going strong today. In the words of its current director, Michael Markowitz,
“Being part of a university with an historic mission of inclusiveness helped make the IRP so successful. Today, the program is viewed as a vital member of the diverse campus population. IRP students take part in most university events open to degree students.
Between the start of this incredibly successful program in 1962 and the mid 1980s, the “learning in retirement” movement grew slowly with approximately 50 more institutes formed at such institutions such as Harvard, Syracuse University, Duke and UCLA, among others. These early programs often relied on the founders at the IRP to help get them started, and IRP Directors Hy Hirsch and Henry Lipman hosted and visited these developing programs.
In fact, the other pioneers of lifelong learning owe a large debt of gratitude to both the IRP and these two men. The movement is successful today because of their vision and perseverance in laying the groundwork during the 1960s and ‘70s.
A Special Opportunity for Readers of this Column
Check out www.onedayuniversity.com to learn more, and see if there’s a one-day university near you. If so, when you register, thanks to your reading of this column, you will get a 15% discount on the cost of the program. Just type in the word “LIFELONG” as your coupon code when you register at the website, or use it when calling 800-811-8821 to register. It’s that simple!
Next Time: The Elderhostel Institute Network & Lifelong Learning Institutes