Never Too Late to Learn: How Online Learning Can Enrich the Lives of Seniors

Online education

Have you ever thought about going back to school? Have you always wondered “what if” and wish you had earned the degree you really wanted? Or perhaps you just want to learn something new, but you don’t want to make it a career. Have you ever talked yourself out of studying a new subject because you thought you were too old?

There has long been a misconception that higher education is for younger people, and if you didn’t get that education when you were in your 20s or 30s, you waited too long. It turns out that’s not true at all! Seniors and technology make quite the powerful combination for online learning.

The Basics of Online Education

There are a few points about online education that are important to know as you make a decision about whether you want to pursue a class, a short program of study, or a full degree.

Let’s start with the way online education works. Courses are provided through recorded lectures, presentations, and even group discussions. They are often uploaded to a central server where you can choose to watch them at a time that is most convenient for you. This is called asynchronous learning. Other courses request that students “meet” on video chat during a certain time each week. This is called synchronous learning. Most courses in online education these days tend to be asynchronous – and thus allow for a great deal of flexibility in scheduling.

If you are signing up for one or two classes for enrichment purposes only, you might not have to be admitted to a school to do so. You can often take these through an Extended Campus or other service that allows for anyone to take a particular course. However, if you want to earn a degree, you will have to apply to and gain admittance to a school that offers that degree online.

In most cases, textbooks are entirely digital and sometimes free. You can, however, purchase a physical textbook for most courses if you prefer the feel of a book.

When choosing a program that leads to a degree, make careful note of any in-person requirements. Though most online learning can be done entirely online with no campus visits, some programs do ask that you attend an orientation, seminar, or weekend “intensive” to meet your peers. If you are not comfortable with that, look for a school that offers a truly “online only” option.

Seniors and Technology

When it comes to technology, many seniors are very comfortable. Although online education might seem daunting at first, you might be surprised by how seamlessly it can work for you. Studies have shown that elderly adults and technology use go hand-in-hand. For example, a Pew Research study in 2018 found that over 40% of seniors own a smartphone, which is a double-digit jump from those who owned one in 2013. Among those aged 65 to 69, a substantial 59% of them own a smartphone[1].

But these statistics came about before the coronavirus pandemic. A report from Ericsson found that 80% of seniors now use the internet on a daily basis[2]. They used telemedicine, held video chats with loved ones, or otherwise stayed connected with technology when the world shut down for a few years.

How are the elderly incorporating technology for seniors into their everyday lives? Here are just a few ways:

·         Staying close to family. The pandemic ensured that Zoom and other video meetings became the norm rather than the exception. Seniors began using this technology in droves and found new ways to keep up with their families, no matter how far away they were. In fact, in 2019, about half of all seniors had never used video chat. By 2020, 70% had used it, and 1 in 3 used it every week[3].

·         Getting more exercise. The pandemic forced people inside. Gyms closed. Even some outdoor spaces didn’t feel safe. But many took advantage of online health gurus who offered easy at-home workouts to make up for the lack of gym equipment.

·         Learning about new things. E-books and audio books keep us entertained, and online instructional videos can be valuable to those who want to learn a new skill. From crocheting to metal detecting, there’s a “how to” video for every interest.

·         Investing in assistive devices for seniors. With family so far away and so many isolated, peace of mind concerning falls and other health problems became a major priority. Many seniors chose a medical alert pendant with fall detection sensors to help ensure that if they had an emergency while in their home or on the go, they could get help with the simple touch of a button.

·         Improving personal health. It wasn’t just the gym that was suddenly coming to a senior’s living room. It was also the doctor through the use of telemedicine, the groceries delivered to the door through online ordering, and so much more. AARP found the percentage of those aged 50 or older who ordered groceries online rose from 6% to 24%, while those who used telemedicine rose from 28% to 40%[4].

Why Online Learning is an Excellent Idea

Online learning offers a wonderful opportunity to learn a new skill, deepen your knowledge in something you enjoy, or even earn a degree. But online education goes much further than that. Here’s how:

·         Education can improve cognition. Learning a new skill keeps the brain working hard and that can help keep you sharper for longer. Studies have shown that seniors who learn a new and somewhat difficult skill, such as quilting, experienced better cognitive improvement than those who worked on a skill that wasn’t as demanding, such as socializing[5].

·         You can build a new social group. Collaborating with others can make you feel renewed and challenged. The social group of classmates can talk via video chat, conference call, or instant messaging services. More than likely, if you’re in the same class, you have some of the same interests.

·         You can make it work with your schedule. One of the beauties of online learning is that you can usually take courses at any time, day or night, whenever suits your schedule best. If you’re an early riser, start your coursework in the wee hours. If you have a free hour or two here and there during the day, that’s okay too.

·         You never have to leave your home. As long as you have an internet connection and the right technology – including a laptop or desktop computer, a webcam, and the like – you can complete your education without ever leaving your home. This is an excellent option for those who are a significant fall risk or have a condition that keeps them homebound.

What Are the Options?

When it comes to online education, there is a huge variety of options out there, but it boils down to a few key points. Do you want to earn a degree, or simply take a class or two and learn a new skill? If you want to earn a degree, you might be looking at paying for your education, but if you want to simply learn a skill, you can do that for free. Let’s look deeper at those potential paths.

·         Free courses. These courses can help you learn a new skill, enhance your knowledge, and even lead to earning a certificate. These courses are often taught by professors and offered by colleges and universities for anyone who wants to learn. A few examples are HarvardX and Coursera (which is a clearinghouse of free classes offered by a variety of colleges and universities).

·         Paid courses. If you want to pursue a formal degree, from a two-year associate degree to your PhD, paid courses are likely the only way to go. However, all states offer discounts for seniors, and you might get some financial help from the government through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

·         Enrichment courses. If you want to enhance your life with something new, consider enrichment courses that focus on a new skill, such as painting, baking, or even grilling. Senior Planet, which is sponsored by AARP, is an excellent example of enrichment programs for seniors.

·         TEDTalks and YouTube experts. Want to learn something fast, get inspired, feel motivated, or find your new passion? TEDTalks are short videos that serve to teach something or inspire someone. YouTube has a wide variety of options as well, from social media to outdoor cooking and so much more.

·         Local seminars. Many local businesses offer a variety of events, from learning about real estate to making homemade crafts. And this might lead to something even more exciting: according to the Kauffman Foundation, 25% of all new entrepreneurs in 2019 were between the ages of 55 and 64[6]. Get in touch with your public library or your Chamber of Commerce to ask about what’s available in your area.

·         Audiobooks and eBooks. Just like you might choose a YouTube video to learn something new, you can do the same with audiobooks and eBooks. These options can even be available in a more accessible format through the National Library Service.

Seniors and technology have never been so connected. Whether you are taking your online courses at home in a comfortable chair or at the local coffee shop, make sure you’re always protected if an emergency were to strike. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems offers a wide variety of options, from a simple medical alert necklace to a medical alert watch complete with GPS and a pedometer to track your fitness. You can also opt for on-the-go protection with a mobile alarm with fall detection. Build your knowledge and protect your health at the same time with Alert1.