It’s a well-known fact that lifelong learning helps keep seniors’ minds engaged. In fact, learning may just be a fountain of youth. Henry Ford thought so: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80,” he said. “Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
Lifelong learning encompasses both formal and informal learning. It includes all topics, from academic subjects and career-related education to life skills and learning for personal enjoyment. Regardless of the subject matter, lifelong learning fosters growth and curiosity. It keeps older adults’ minds active, and it might even give them new skills that lead to employment or volunteer opportunities, not to mention friendships. In short, learning improves quality of life.
While many in-person classes are available for senior citizens at senior centers and community colleges, even more continuing education opportunities exist through online learning. In honor of National Online Learning Day, established in 2016 and celebrated annually on Sept. 15, we’ve compiled some resources to help senior learners find high-quality online classes that suit their interests, budgets and schedules.
Online learning tools
The great thing about online learning? You can do it anywhere. Your older adult will just need a computer and an Internet connection. (If you don’t have a computer or Internet access at home, you can often use one at your local library or senior center.)
Your loved one should have a notebook and writing utensils for notes, and they might want headphones so they can listen to the content without disturbing others (these are essential when using a public computer). Depending on the course, they may need to purchase textbooks or other reading materials, and perhaps even software.
The number of online learning opportunities has dramatically increased over the last five years or so, and the pandemic only served to increase those opportunities. It can be a bit overwhelming to consider “the Internet” as the broad source of online opportunities, so let’s review some online education platforms and what they offer:
This free resource run by a nonprofit provides educational content for people of all ages. Traditionally considered an academic resource for students, the site has expanded to include history, art, economics and other topics.
With more than 200,000 online video courses, this resource does charge a per-course fee, but many people like it because it typically allows access to material after the course is completed so you can review topics later.
This resource offers more than 5,000 courses from various universities and companies, and it offers certificates and the ability to explore specialized subjects. The only downside is that each course is available only for a specific time period, so you can’t learn at your own pace.
This resource offers countless courses on just about everything from career topics to skillful parenting. There are plenty of free online classes here, but some do require a fee.
Harvard University provides more than 400 courses (with around 120 free courses) on topics like personal health, medicine, data sciences and more. Many are self-paced, but some have a time limit.
Learn about a variety of topics from various educational institutions, including biology, business, computer science and more. Like Coursera, each course is available only for a specific time period, so learners must keep up with the course’s timeline in order to get all the content.
This University of Michigan program provides lectures, study groups, travel groups and more for people 50 and older. There is a nominal fee for lectures on a variety of topics—anywhere from $10 to $200, depending on the topic and number of lectures provided.
Part of LinkedIn, this resource features hands-on business, technology and design classes, among others, taught by industry experts. Most courses require a fee for enrollment, but there is some free content. Once a course is successfully completed, learners can add certificates to their LinkedIn profiles.
Free live and self-paced classes for seniors
Many organizations offer a variety of courses that are free to older adults. Some are scheduled live classes, and some are for learning at your own pace whenever you have time. Here are some to consider:
AARP offers free live online classes for people 60 and older. Topics run the gamut from exercise classes to technology education and personal finance.
YouTube offers a wide range of free educational videos on everything from cooking to fixing your vehicle. Check out the SmarterEveryDay, Vsauce and CrashCourse channels to get started. Keep in mind, however, that anyone can post on YouTube, so search out reputable channels and check sources if you’re unsure about content.
Take a beginner course with tutorials in Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel, and receive a certificate of completion for your coursework. This course is sponsored by Goodwill Community Foundation Global.
Learn how to effectively manage household budgets with this four-week course by The Open University.
Local public libraries and government
Many cities, townships and schools offer free online and in-person classes for seniors. Search local listings to find classes near you.
Fall is a great time to start a new learning opportunity! Help your loved one explore these resources and find something that interests them. After all, you’re never too old to learn, and learning can help keep you young in heart and mind.