Participation in Education Among Older Adults

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Participation in educational endeavors among older adults can lead to many rewards, such as gaining new skills, pursuing lifelong dreams, or connecting with new people. Discover the characteristics of lifelong learners, types of educational programs offered to adult learners, and where older adults can learn these new skills such as the local community college, for example. Updated: 10/01/2021

Lifelong Learning

When you hear the term student, who do you picture in your mind? A teenager? A young adult in their 20s? What about someone over 50, or over 70? Lifelong learning refers to the concept of continually expanding knowledge throughout the lifecycle. Adult learners can participate in the process of lifelong learning through a variety of educational methods. As a lifelong learner, a person can be a student at any age.

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  • 0:02 Lifelong Learning
  • 0:34 Who Are Lifelong Learners?
  • 3:26 What Education Offers
  • 4:38 Where Older Adults Learn
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Who Are Lifelong Learners?

The demographic with the biggest impact on whether an older adult participates in education is gender. Older women, of a variety of economic backgrounds, are more likely than men to turn back to formal schooling. Socioeconomic status also affects whether a person tends to access education. Since education costs money, this influences whether a person will take advantage of programs in their area.

Think of your own situation and how you are able to afford to access this course. What if you had less resources, even though you still had a desire to learn? As an older adult, it might be harder to find the funding for education that may not pay itself off in the future like learning at a younger age can.

Already having a higher socioeconomic status makes it more likely that a person will continue to invest in education. Yet, since the gender gap in educational pursuits at older ages is wide, a woman with less financial resources is still more likely than a man with more financial resources to pursue education. Research is not entirely clear as to why this might be.

Since connecting with like-minded others is one desire of those seeking education, perhaps the trend is self-perpetuating. If you knew you would be the only man or woman in a class of people of the opposite gender, this might affect your desire to pursue that opportunity (though not necessarily, of course). There are three cohorts of people that make up the current older age ranges: Depression era (born in 1928-1935), War Babies (born in 1936-1945) and Baby Boomers (born in 1946-1964).

Those who are already the most educated are the most likely to continue their education later in life. Of the three cohorts, the Baby Boomers are the most likely to have the highest education level, and therefore, are most likely to return to educational opportunities. The youngest within that group are the most likely of all to have a high level of education. If this trend continues, many of us will continue to be lifelong learners well into our older years.

The biggest barriers to education in older age are health problems and caregiving for someone else. Yet, women are the most likely to be caregivers and still tend to participate in education into older adulthood. The drive to continue learning is very strong for many people. Just by watching this video, you are an example of this drive to learn and to use education to better your life. Older adults have a similar drive, but often learn for somewhat different reasons.

What Education Offers

What fuels the drive to participate in education at this later stage of life? A primary reason for many is intellectual stimulation. In addition, educational environments provide opportunities to connect with other people and be social. Still others pursue education to improve their skill set and even change careers.

For those who did not have a chance to fulfill a goal earlier in life, education can provide a chance to revisit past hopes and dreams. It is also a chance to reinvent oneself and create a new path forward. The pleasure of learning new things and connecting with others who enjoy this process can bring meaning into one's life and offer health benefits by regularly engaging the brain intellectually and socially.

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