Course integrates older adults into education equation

Older adults aren’t necessarily retiring; some are continuing their education.

by Angela Gray

With the oldest of the baby boomers approaching their 60s, demand is booming for educational programs catering to these individuals.

The University’s department of work and human resource education will offer a course on older-adult learning during spring semester.

The course, Educating Learners in Mid-Life and Beyond, is designed for students and professionals who are interested in providing educational opportunities for older adults in a variety of settings. These settings include academic institutions, community education classes, assisted living facilities and employment and training programs.

Janet Jacobson, director of grants and learning in retirement, said the topics covered in the course include lifelong learning and vital aging, physical and cognitive changes in older adults, theories of learning related to older adult education and teaching strategies that encourage tapping the expertise and wisdom of older adults.

Sometimes the topics covered in the course are very practical, such as investing, real estate and nutrition, said Jacobson, who works in the College of Education and Human Development.

“Older adults like to learn with other adults,” she said. “Older adults often bring a lot of experience into their learning atmosphere and are interested in sharing those experiences.

“There is a lot of back-and-forth learning,” she said.

Jacobson said the University’s program, targeted at educating older adults, is not offered at any other university in Minnesota.

Jan Hively, of the College of Continuing Education, said experienced educators and people from the University and the metropolitan area will facilitate each class session.

“We want people to acknowledge that older people have different ways of learning than your typical twentysomething college student,” she said.

Rosemarie Park, associate chairwoman of the Department of Work and Resource Education, said she approved the course proposal because of the increasing number of people who are in midlife.

“The course is intended to make sure folks stay vital and engaged,” she said.

The concept of aging and retirement is changing as ideas about learning also change, Park said.

There is a lot happening in terms of technology and globalization and people care about these issues, she said.

“People aren’t sitting back in their little retirement communities twirling their toes,” Park said.

With longer life expectancies, some people are waiting longer to retire, or not retiring at all.

“We really saw there was a need for this kind of course,” she said.

Hively said that in a survey of people aged 55 to 70, participants were asked what they would change about their lives. Approximately 70 percent to 75 percent said they would have had more or better education.

“The interest in education for older adults will certainly continue to grow,” she said.

Park said the department recognizes the changing environment and the importance of having qualified professors that have knowledge and understanding in these areas.

“In terms of education, we’re not just thinking about K-12.”