Life Long Benefits of Lifelong Learning
Some of the most profound discoveries in the study of the human brain and aging have been made in the past decade. It‘s widely accepted that children’s formative development is best nurtured in a enriched environment, full of verbal, visual and physical stimuli. The more varied the experience and stimuli, the greater the child’s potential for intellectual and emotional development. But how many people recognize that the need for an enriched environment does not diminish in later life?
Recent research in brain health and adult development has revealed two groundbreaking discoveries. The first concerns neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to generate new neural pathways in reaction to physical activities and new experiences. Research has shown that the adult brain has the potential to maintain this ability throughout the lifespan, if it is regularly presented with novel and challenging experiences. The second discovery is that social connections are vitally important to late-life cognitive, psychological, and physical health.
One of the challenges to creating a successful retirement is finding ways to enrich our personal environment through novel experiences and meaningful social interaction. While there are many solitary pursuits that can provide intellectual stimulation, many adults find that participation in lifelong learning programs offers both mental stimulation and social interaction.
Lifelong learning programs provide access to an on-going array of new ideas and experiences, in the classroom, and beyond. Participation in these programs allow adults to develop the personal interests that are often set aside while raising families, and focusing on full or part time work.
Participants can share their knowledge and experience by leading informal courses, or by taking leadership roles within their learning community. Lifelong learning programs acknowledge that participants have valuable experiences that can and should be shared with others. The programs also provide avenues for social interaction with an expansive community of peers. Many find that new friendships are forged as they share their opinions in class discussions, or work side by side on projects.
Local opportunities for lifelong learning abound in both public and private settings, providing a variety of stimulating learning experiences for increasingly diverse groups of older adult learners. While these programs and organizations may differ in focus, all promote a more positive approach to the transitions and experiences of life after fifty. Why not give one a try?
Article provided by:
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
University of Oregon