A Short-Cut to Lifelong Learning

When executives attend conferences and symposiums to improve their leadership skills, they often hear “Nurture your curiosity. Stay hungry for knowledge. Be a lifelong learner. “

What does lifelong learning actually mean? It means don’t get stale. Don’t stop adding to your knowledge base. Find and develop new interests.

When we’re children, we’re mandated to attend school until we’re 16, 17, or 18 – depending on our particular state’s law. American society fully embraces going on to college or to vocational training. Some companies pay for their employees’ continuing education. After that – you’re on your own.

Some people turn to the online options – podcasts, webinars, and MOOCS, which are massive online open courses. They don’t mind being plugged in for a few more hours a day. But if you actually like being in class, discussing topics with other people, what are your options?

One organization that’s making it easy to stay stimulated once you’re age 50 or above is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute – OLLI, for short. It was started in 2000 to fill what the Bernard Osher Foundation saw as a gap in existing continuing education. The idea was to offer programs without examinations or grades, not focused on a degree, and focused on the “joy of learning and keeping in touch with a larger world.”

Jack England, an engineer by education who lives in Chicago, said, “My classes in college were so focused on science and math that I really didn’t have time for literature or philosophy. I didn’t miss it then – but along the way, I became aware of how much I DIDN’T know about those things.” Now he chooses classes purely out of curiosity. Trina Tolbert, a former English teacher, is on the other end of the knowledge spectrum, so she’s enrolled in a class studying the work of scientist Stephen Hawking.

How do these other OLLI classes sound? A tribute to French actress Julliette Binoche; Writing Life Stories; a study of the Native American Chief Tecumseh; Classic Crime Cinema; The Cold War: A World History; Reading Proust; Espionage: Books and Movies; Benjamin Franklin’s Eight-Year Mission to France;; Finding Beauty in Dance; Astro Physics for People in a Hurry.

These are just a sample of the offerings at only one OLLI location – this one in Chicago, connected to Northwestern University. There are more than 120 OLLI branches connected to universities in all 50 states.

It turns out some of those rare classes that actually interested you in college – as opposed to the ones that were required or part of your march toward a specific degree – are in abundance through OLLI. The classes are peer-led – members of OLLI propose a class, if valid, it’s put on the class schedule, and then that member facilitates the learning.

You have other options for continuing your learning besides OLLI and other in-person classes. You can use resources like Wyzant for private, 1–on–1 tutoring lessons with expert instructors on the topic of your choice, ranging from computer programming to chemistry. You can find experts in their respective fields providing tutoring as well, like the "The Economics Tutor", who offers very affordable JC Economics Tuition

Whether you take classes for fun or credits, expect to do some reading, studying and writing while outside of class time. If you're worried about writing papers, you can download free essays online to help give you inspiration.

Another option is Master Class, an immersive online experience that offers access to genius by allowing anyone to take online classes with the world's best. For example, you can take a Business Leadership "class" from former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Or, NBA All-Star Steph Curry can help you with your jump shot! The curriculum for each MasterClass is designed by the instructor. Each class includes extensive pre-recorded video content, a class workbook, interactive assignments, and community activities.  

Beyond the joy of learning, there is strong evidence that continuing to learn is almost a health imperative. In a recent article in Harvard Business Review titled “Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life,” writer John Coleman points out that neurologists believe “while cognitive activity can’t change the biology of Alzheimer’s, learning activities can help delay symptoms preserving people’s quality of life.”


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