Education is a lifelong pursuit that radiates well outside the classroom, and takes on a plethora of vehicles. Whether it's in a formal academic setting or coming from years working the land, our minds are always learning and adapting to the challenges before us.
In our modern world, information is increasingly becoming more readily available every day. With the advent of the internet, and the ceaseless progression of technology that continues to produce more advanced personal computers and smartphones each year, our relationship to information is evolving. While there is certainly no shortage of escapist distractions on the world wide web, this is also an ever-growing number of opportunities for online education that people of all ages can benefit from.
When we learn something new, our brains grow new cells and builds new connections between neurotransmitters. This has proven physiological benefits for problem-solving and memory skills, as well core functions like advanced pattern recognition. Learning helps improve cognitive ability and memory function, which modern studies are repeatedly showing helps ward off debilitating mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Perpetuating one's active and healthy mental state through their senior years is becoming easier to accomplish. Over the past decade, formal online learning has become more commonplace among adults. While senior citizens' use of the internet is perhaps less all-encompassing as younger adults, the rapid growth of technology, along with the inevitable effect of younger users aging, suggests that the majority of seniors will be using the internet for ever-widening purposes within just a few years. According to data gathered by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the main uses of the internet by people over 60 are: Email, news, health information, product information, family research, and travel reservations. The increased availability of accredited online learning opportunities continues to grow rapidly, and could quickly become the primary use as more people become aware of its effectiveness.
Through are a number of tools to help assist older adults in revamping their academic pursuits. A number of universities across the country will waive or significantly reduce tuition for seniors for credit and non-credit courses. According to the American Council on Education, 60 percent of accredited degree-granting educational institutions in the U.S. offer tuition waivers for older adults. A number of states also offer scholarships to seniors. There are also organizations like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which is a non-profit that meets the needs of individuals 50 years of age and older who want to pursue their love of learning. The government offers tax deductions up to $10,000 in a lifetime for higher education purposes, providing even more incentive.
Kansas residents 60 and older can audit courses at state institutions on a space-available basis without paying tuition or fees. Many colleges and universities allow seniors to audit a course, which means that they can attend lectures but probably won’t need to do homework or take exams. Auditing a course allows one to take advantage of the social and learning benefits without the stress associated with exams, essays and homework. The downside is that you usually don’t receive a college credit for auditing a course, so if you’re looking to earn a degree then this option won’t be of much use.
In order to audit a course you usually have to contact the school directly and also receive permission from the professor. The registration process varies from school to school. The University of Kansas and Wichita State University, for example, both require senior auditors to apply for admission. Schools don’t usually advertise that they do this, but it’s worth it to give them a call and ask about a course that interests you.