Sixty is the new 45, 80 is the new 60, and 100 is … well, really dang old. But even centenarians know that once you stop learning, you start dying, to quote Albert Einstein. We of fewer years can be inspired by many of the developments in the availability of education for our elders and the desire of many of them to continue to grow and improve themselves through knowledge. Here are 10 trends involving senior citizens and education that remind us you’re only as old as you feel.

  1. Older people than ever graduating:

    Considering the adult life expectancy in the early ’20s was about 58 for men and 60 for women, it’s pretty amazing that people born in those times are not only still living today but thriving in all walks of life, including education. Recently it’s become a trend for records for oldest graduate to be broken by still older graduates. 2012 has already seen an 89-year-old at Arkansas Tech, a 91-year-old at the University of Buckingham in Britain, and a 97-year-old in Australia graduate with undergrad or graduate degrees.

  2. Discounted courses:

    In a country rife with debate over the ballooning costs of attending college, the cheap prices for senior citizens should be an inspiration to all of us that at least one age group has easy access to higher education. Colleges and universities all over the country offer either heavily discounted or completely free courses for people as young as 60. Usually these courses are contingent on availability so that seniors don’t take a spot that could be filled by a young student. There are also numerous scholarship opportunities available for only senior citizens.

  3. Learning English late in life:

    Learning a foreign language is a goal that many people set for themselves yet few accomplish. Research has well-established that language learning comes easiest for children, and that once the “critical period” has passed, it becomes very difficult to do, which is why it’s always inspiring when a senior citizen takes on the task. According to the most recent figures, the number of people over the age of 45 taking ESL classes more than doubled from 1995 to 2005 (the most recent year with data available). And the Department of Education has found the overwhelming majority of these students take the classes simply to improve their lives or their self-esteem.

  4. Earning a degree instead of retiring:

    Instead of conceding defeat to a tough job market, many seniors are heading back to school to improve their employability by learning new skills or obtaining another degree. Even many who could comfortably retire are finding more fulfillment in continuing to work and learn. Up to 70% of American colleges are helping speed their quest for degrees by giving them credit for work experience. In 2010, the Council of Adult and Experiential Learning launched a program called Learning Counts to help colleges assess seniors’ skills for credits, and about 90 schools signed up.

  5. Online education geared toward senior citizens:

    Online education is becoming ubiquitous, but seniors have been slow to get in the game. But websites and courses created specifically with users of advanced years in mind are beginning to crop up more and more. In 2010, an online driver course hosted by the AARP saw participation increase of 30% to 60,000 students nationwide. A similar course offered by AAA has been increasing in students by 20% on average each year. Groups like Get Seniors Online and the Small Business Administration have mobilized to acclimate seniors to online education and help them learn via the Internet.

  6. Increase in seniors’ awareness of online security:

    Scofflaws have taken note of senior citizens’ increased presence in the online community by targeting them with phishing scams, stealing their identities and personal information, and other illegal activity. But the response from the government, web security experts, and communities has been a refreshing reminder that Americans can and should have concern for the elderly. The FTC is actively seeking info on ways to help protect senior citizens online. Local communities often stage free instructional events to educate seniors on navigating their way safely through the web.

  7. Development of health education systems for seniors:

    To paraphrase G.I. Joe, education is half the battle. A potentially lifesaving trend is developing wherein technology is harnessed to bring senior citizens the health care education and information they need to stay well. In Utica, N.Y., there’s the Senior Health and Wellness Digital Delivery System to create a linked network for educating seniors who visit local senior centers. Microsoft has teamed with Get Real Consulting to create a health education, exercise, and health monitoring system for the City of Los Angeles.

  8. Learning to play instruments as a form of therapy:

    Scientists have found that learning to play an instrument or simply listening to music has numerous health benefits for seniors, especially those with dementia. Music therapy has become a popular fixture of nursing homes and senior centers, as learning something as simple as a bongo drum is a way for older people to relax, engage their minds, and express themselves, when often their thoughts or opinions are stifled.

  9. Increased sex ed awareness:

    You may not find this inspiring now, but when you hit middle age and are creeping ever closer to AARP eligibility, you’ll be glad to know you can still have sex well in your twilight years, as today’s old folks are proving. Unfortunately, the rate of STDs have skyrocketed for senior citizens, and there has developed a strong need for seniors to be educated on safe sex. PSAs have been made to make people aware of the need for precautions, and Medicare is considering offering behavioral counseling for sexually active grannies and grandpas.

  10. Seniors helping young learners:

    Educators are starting to recognize the potential in seniors for helping educate young students while broadening their horizons. Through programs like that at Jenks Public Schools in Oklahoma, grade school kids are brought to a nursing home where the residents act as mentors and teachers of reading and vocabulary to the young learners. Many youngsters have very little interaction with seniors, as many times their grandparents or elderly relatives live in assisted living, so the education they receive is as much social as it is curriculum-based. And even college students have gotten in on the trend and been paired up with older and wiser senior citizens.

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