U offers course on teaching older adults

Mehgan Lee

The University is offering a new course this spring devoted to the unique theories and methods of teaching older adult learners, or students older than 50.

The three-credit course, Educating Learners in Mid-Life and Beyond, will be held Saturday mornings and is administered through the College of Education and Human Development. The course has no prerequisites and is open to degree- and nondegree-seeking students, said Janet Jacobson, an adjunct faculty member in the college and one of the course’s creators.

Jacobson said that the course is necessary because of the country’s changing demographics. The baby boomer generation, a large segment of the population, is set to retire in a few years, she said. The generation is well-educated, which is a good indicator its people will want further education in the future, she said.

“Their retirement sets the stage for a huge demand for educational offerings,” Jacobson said.

The course is also important because research shows continued learning into older adulthood plays an important role in mental fitness, Jacobson said. Older adult learners are less susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease and tend to remain sharper than their counterparts, she said.

“It’s the old adage, ‘Use it or lose it,’ ” Jacobson said. “Just as people need to continue to use their bodies to age well physically, they need to continue to use their brains if they are going to age well cognitively.”

The course will focus on the physical, cognitive and social changes older adults undergo, Jacobson said.

“What happens in the lives of adults might have an impact on what they might be interested in learning,” she said.

The course will also concentrate on the environmental needs of older adult learners, Jacobson said. Topics will include parking issues, the best time of day to hold a class and how to make classroom materials suitable for students who might have eyesight or hearing problems, she said.

Some of the course’s assignments include interviewing older adults and observing them in an educational program, Jacobson said. She also hopes to include an assignment for students to design and present their own educational programs for older adults, she said.

Vernon Cardwell, a University professor for more than 37 years, estimated he has had approximately 100 students older than 50 in his classroom. He said he tends to have more students older than 50 during his late afternoon and evening classes and really appreciates what they offer in the learning environment.

“I’ve always enjoyed having older adults in the classroom because they bring life experiences,” he said. “They’re more willing to challenge what’s presented and ask for clarification, so the classroom dynamics are changed.

“And usually, they’re not worried about grades,” he added.

The University did not have statistics readily available on the number of registered students older than 50 on campus. However, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, there were 5,481 students older than 35 enrolled this fall out of a total 50,954 registered students.