Now that the Boomer Generation has become the new seniors, with one in five Americans over the age of 55, there is a quantum change in many aspects of society. Many of these older adults are returning to the hallowed halls of education under a new label - Lifelong Learners. As these people step back into school, the face of education is changing radically.
Who Are These Lifelong Learners?
According to the US Census Bureau in 2005, half a million college students in the US are over the age of 50 - and that does not include the numbers who are enrolled in other types of adult education programs. These students have shown some clear preferences for the way they'd like their education served up. Most prefer the convenience and outreach programming available from community colleges and being in classes with younger students genders an inter-generational learning platform where experiences and knowledge are exchanged. The title of Lifelong Learner or Third Generation Learner means that older students aren't targeted for "seniors' programs". Lifelong Learners seem to enjoy the idea of classes on a main campus or branch campuses - but more and more the numbers are increasing who prefer to learn online because they are comfortable with technology. Computers don't scare the new breed of adult learner.
What Drives Them?
The driving factor in Lifelong Learning is not to get a degree, although some may aspire to that, rather the interest is in gaining a new career. Gone are the days of retirement when a person turns 60 and stops learning, stops working, stops growing intellectually - and dies early. The search for a meaningful career after retiring drives a good many Lifelong Learners to find their personal achievement in discovering something new that can benefit their community as well as give them an income.
It is a well known fact that continuing education helps to keep the brain supple and the mind focused. Learning new information just for themselves is another reason for going back to school. Learning to manage the aging process by staying active both mentally and physically, engaging in community involvement and even re-entering the work force are all ways that going back to school benefits the Lifelong Learner.
The Best Reason of All
Perhaps the best of the reasons to return to school for a person over the age of 55, is that they get to connect with people across the generations. Many older adults can become isolated, especially after they stop working. By going back to school, whether it is online or on campus, they make connections and meet new people. Returning to education also provides an opportunity to mentor younger people and grow through the exchange of new ideas.
Retirement Ain't What it Used to Be
Retirement doesn't look like it used to because older learners are reinventing it by going back to school. As a result, they're living longer, they're more active, and they are healthier. Whether it is financial necessity or wanting to become more and better at being who they are, the adult learner is not a "senior citizen" but a Third Generation Student/Learner who is changing their world.