Some adults still shudder at the remembrance of those years spent in formal education, while others had more enjoyable school years. Whatever our experience of formal education that shaped our formative years, one thing remains constant. We never stop learning. We learn new skills when we change job roles, we learn how to raise children and deal with all sorts of situations in the ‘classroom of life’. However, when it comes to the thought of formal learning, this can be associated with the memories of enforced class-based learning and the effort that this can entail. Some may also view themselves as too long in the tooth. Others may view learning only as a means to an end, because they need skills or knowledge for a specific purpose and therefore do not see the reason for learning for the sake of it.
Leaving aside our preconceptions and any misgivings we may have about engaging in formal learning, there are very good reasons why it is never too late to learn.
There are mental health advantages in learning as older adults. A greater level of mental engagement can improve and/or halt deterioration of memory in older people. This can delay what is known as “cognitive aging.” According to the Alzheimer’s society, being mentally active in learning can halt the onset of this disease.
Psychologically learning is good for us and can give a new lease of life as well as redress any negative experiences of schooling from our younger days. The Guardian reported back in 2011 about the effects of learning for older adults which mentions several older adults who took on life-long learning even up to the age of ninety one!
Strategies for Lifelong Learning
The OECD )Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) have identified three forms of learning: informal learning, non-formal learning, and formal learning and when used in combination can be productive and positive.
Opportunities for adult learning are available every day and there is a great deal of experiential learning we gain through life. Travel is one of these experiences whether we physically travel or engage in the arm-chair variety, it opens us up to new ideas and experiences. If we are not able to physically travel to far away places, we can at least get the recipes from the likes of ‘The Hairy Bikers’ or other TV cooks and pop down to the local shops to obtain the ingredients and teach ourselves how to make a Beef Rendang.
Like our muscles which need exercise so that we do not lose physical strength, learning exercises our brain too. The saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” can apply, and that is not what we want! Keeping our brain active with combinations of physical and cognitive activity can include self-directed learning. We do not always have to be sat in a classroom and have a ‘teacher’ drill us. As adults, we are usually motivated to learn either for pleasure because we have an interest, or because there is an identified need and purpose for us to learn. I would suggest that starting with something that is of interest to us, that means we have our own internal motivation and can engage in self-directed study. There are also many interest groups on social media to which we can connect with like-minded people who share the same interests. That way our learning is a social experience and pleasant social learning enhances our own achievement.
There is of course formal learning where courses are delivered in physical or online classrooms. Some may prefer this kind of structure because it provides guidance with set assignments and expert tutor support to enable us to attain a formal qualification. Perhaps consider a short formal course run by the local adult education centre or college. The benefits of this are that it helps get into the ‘groove’ of learning and refresh our study skills. This in turn boosts our confidence to tackle other courses of study.
Finally, just to reiterate, our ability to learn does not stop at a certain age. We need to dump the thoughts that say ‘you’re too old, too busy, too tired’. Learning new things, and even rediscovering the old things we had forgotten that we learned and enjoyed also benefits our relationships with family and friends because we have some other interest to talk about and share besides the mundane matters of living that take up our energies.
Be encouraged: we are never too old and nor is it ever too late for us to learn and have fun while doing it.