Boomers are redefining what it means to age as we flow through life. That means mentally as well as physically. Many of us have embraced the concept of lifelong learning, which is a great concept not only because it keeps us engaged with society, but also helps keep our minds sharp and provides real health benefits.
Whether it’s a non-credit online class, a for-credit course at your local community college, volunteering in your community, educational travel or even a book club, lifelong learning is something we can all do.
I’ve been a proponent of this my entire life. (Earlier in my career, I founded an online learning company). I’ve also been inspired by my mother who went back to school well after all of us kids had left home. She brought life experiences, perspective and the pure joy of learning to the class room. And she ended up with a 4:0 GPA.
An ongoing study (since 1997) shows that learning new things can also help keep your mind sharp and promote a feeling of increased well-being as we age. The Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that increased cognitive activity slowed the decline in cognitive function in older people, and actually decreased the likelihood of dreaded Alzheimer’s.
For those of us who have full-time jobs, this might seem like one more item on a big list. But really it can be something as simple as reading a new book or playing Just Words online – to a major lifestyle change. Here’s an example of the latter: Moving to Lasell Village in Newton, Mass., near Boston – a retirement community opened by and (on the campus of) Lasell College, which is dedicated to intellectually enriched living. And I mean dedicated: Formal, individualized continuing ed courses are required!
And then there’s Calico. That’s Google’s semi-secret project on increasing quality of life and health as people age. As Google co-founder Larry Page put it on his Google Plus page, “OK … so you’re probably thinking wow! That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives.”
Can’t wait to see what comes out of Calico. In the meantime, here are some of my ideas for embracing lifelong learning, both in high-tech and beyond:
For those of us who want to learn new ideas and stimulate our curiosity TED Talks is a wonderful place to do it. The online compendium of speeches drawn from the renowned TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conferences offers hundreds of wonderful topics from science to business to global issues and has world-class speakers.
Peer 2 Peer University is an “open sourced” online university. It’s great for community interaction, whether you want to learn or contribute. Yes, you can create and offer your own class.
I’m sure you have a favorite author—I do. How about following them on Twitter? Even something as simple as this can be fun and interesting. Check out this tweet from Anne Rice last week:
Get out of your comfort zone. Try learning something completely new. This might require some patience initially but you’ll get rewards in challenging yourself. A Website called Instructables at allows you to both share and learn many do-it-yourself projects, but really that’s just one example.
Learn a new language. If you’re like me, you used to hear that learning a new language was only for the young. But the fact is that learning a new language opens up neural pathways in the brain at any age. Here’s a way to learn Spanish in a free fun soap opera, courtesy of the Annenberg Foundation.
In short, our ways to lifelong learning are only limited by our imagination. And the benefits are endless. If you’re reading this, you’re already engaged. The future is ours to explore!