The science is unanimous: ongoing learning is essential to a healthy retirement. Kathy Catton takes a look at some of the ways we can keep our minds on track for lifelong learning.
As we age, it is essential to keep our minds active and engaged. Learning new things can help keep us sharp and give us a sense of purpose. It can also be a fun and social way to keep us engaged with our peers.
However, for some, when we think about learning, it can fill us with dread or dissatisfaction based on beliefs we picked up in childhood. Maybe schooling wasn’t a good experience for us, or we remember those endless university assignments and exams that brought with them stress and pressure. You might feel like you just don’t have the energy to go there again.
But there are more options than just university or learning by rote. And it doesn’t have to be stressful or a heavy-duty commitment. Here’s a review of some places to start online.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
These are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the internet. As well as the typical course formats, such as filmed lectures, many MOOCs provide interactive courses with user forums to encourage discussions and interactions among students and academic staff. The Khan Academy is probably one of the most well-known providers of MOOCs. It offers a broad and comprehensive range of topics to study, from early childhood education to university level. khanacademy.org
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SeniorNet specialises in digital skills learning for seniors (aged 50 years and over). With 50 Learning Centres around the country, the organisation offers small informal group training or online learning opportunities throughout New Zealand. With the focus being on digital skills, there are opportunities for everyone, no matter what stage you are at in your digital journey. “Because we specialise in learning for older people, we have more patience and more understanding of how older people learn. We know, too, that socialisation is most important, and we aim to make digital learning fun and enjoyable,” says Heather Newell, Executive Officer of the SeniorNet Federation. seniornet.org
TED is a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of spreading great ideas via online talks. The subjects covered range from philosophy to business, literature to science and technology. Each talk is short enough (maximum length of 18 minutes) to keep your attention hooked. TED events take place throughout the world, where new talks are recorded and uploaded almost daily – so there’s never a shortage of new material, and you’ll be sure to find something that is of interest to you. You can search via topic or via speaker. Speakers are generally academics who are highly proficient in their subject but can explain the content in a way the layperson can understand. ed.ted.com
University of the Third Age (U3A)
While U3A stands for University of the Third Age, it is not, in the modern sense, a university. There are no qualifications and no exams. It’s just a relaxed time to find fellowship and common interests. U3A is an international movement that started in France in 1973 and England in 1981. Its aims are to stimulate the mind and keep active the mainly retired members of the community. There are nearly 90 U3As throughout New Zealand. The website has a country directory with all the contact details and special interest groups. Most U3A have monthly meetings with invited guest speakers, who may be experts in their field. The focus is very much on informing, educating and entertaining on a wide range of topics. u3a.nz
From 1 November 2022, all Open Polytechnic learners will be enrolled in Te Pūkenga – New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. Te Pūkenga is now the New Zealand body for all Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics and Transition Industry Training Organisations. What this means in reality is that you can join the almost 30,000 learners each year at the Open Polytechnic to study from a range of courses, including degrees, diplomas and certificates. openpolytechnic.ac.nz
There are many benefits to ongoing learning in retirement. It can help keep our minds sharp, give us a sense of purpose and help us stay socially connected. Whatever you do to seek out knowledge, why not make it a lifelong goal to never stop learning? As B.B. King said, “The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you”.
Kathy Catton is a freelance writer and editor, based on the Banks Peninsula. She is an experienced feature writer, magazine editor and copywriter. Quick to grasp the crux of any story and tell it in plain English, Kathy enjoys bringing stories to readers that surprise and delight.
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