By Walecia Konrad
Mary Lou Russell has a passion for learning. Since retiring 10 years ago, the 79-year-old former grant maker has taken more than a dozen classes on subjects including classical music and appreciating Andy Warhol. She has attended most of her classes from her Manhattan living room.
“I used to go up to Columbia, down to N.Y.U. and over to New School. I was all over the place with my MetroCard,” Ms. Russell said. “Then I learned about online courses and that has been so freeing for me. I call it the anti-aging vitamin for those of us over 60 who want to stay relevant.”
Taking courses online is well suited for retirees, according to John Blair, 85, a retired engineer in Wayland, Mass. He especially likes the accessibility to top professors at elite universities. He adds that online courses have given him a way to dive into subjects unrelated to engineering, like economics. “By jumping from Yale to Harvard to Stanford to M.I.T., I was able to sample economics courses in a broad way,” Mr. Blair said.
Colleges have been catering to online adult learners for years, often offering video lectures and courses on their websites and posting popular lecture series on YouTube and iTunes. Starting around 2011, the latest iteration of virtual education, massive open online courses or MOOCs, hit the scene. Often free, many of these classes take online learning a step further and provide interactive video features like mini quizzes and student discussion forums.
Online learning has gained momentum from retirees’ increasing comfort with technology. In April 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 59 percent of adults over the age of 65 use the Internet, a six percentage point increase from a year earlier. In addition, 47 percent say they have a high-speed broadband connection at home. Of the older adults who use the Internet, 71 percent say they go online every day or almost every day.
At Coursera, an education platform started in 2011 that teams with universities worldwide to offer thousands of free online courses, 10 percent of students are in the 60-plus age group. Sophie Vlessing, senior vice president at Kaplan Higher and Professional Education, said that 10 percent of the students who took online courses at Kaplan University were over 50.
[ Full article available at The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/education/free-online-courses-keep-retirees-in-the-know.html ]