What Learning Programs Are Available to Me?

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Opportunities to learn throughout your life are growing daily due to expansion of nonprofit educational membership programs, the boom in online learning, and increasing demand for continuing education for adults of all ages to improve prospects in their careers or gain knowledge and skills to launch new ones.

Here are the major ways you can pursue lifelong learning:
  • Traditional enrollment in a degree-seeking program.
  • Continuing Education programs for those who wish to pursue an encore career or learn new business practices or applications of technology. Many of these courses are offered online or in blended programs— part on campus, part online.
  • Auditing courses
  • MOOCs—Mass Open Online Courses—that also vary by colleges or consortia to which they may belong
  • Lifelong Learning programs, including:
    • Unique college programs such as the Bucknell Institute for Lifelong Learning. or BILL, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
    • Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLIs), which are now enhancing the lives of individuals 50+ in more than 120 colleges and universities around the country, and they are growing in number by the day
College Town Retirement is paying special attention to what’s happening in the areas of auditing, MOOCs, and lifelong learning programs. Opportunities to audit are growing; lifelong learning programs are popping from one campus to the next, and MOOCs are transforming higher education on a global scale. In brief, here’s what you want to know:
 

1. Auditing

 
Auditing is a wonderful way to get back into the classroom and the college-centered life. Some states, such as Wisconsin and Florida, open the door wide for you with tuition-free or low-fee auditing in state-supported institutions for those 60 and over. However, there is no universal policy for auditing courses, so it’s best to read the fine print for requirements and/or restrictions, which may include: 1) enrollment in the school as either a credit-seeking or non-credit-seeking student, 2) payment of tuition, although often at a reduced fee; 3) approval of the instructor; 4) and space available.  In some instances, there are limits on participation in class discussion, particularly in advanced courses.
 

2. MOOCs

 
Massive Open Online Courses—better known as MOOCs—are free online courses provided by universities around the world on proprietary platforms such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity. It’s Distance Learning to the nth degree. Through a MOOC, you can be taking awesome courses of all kinds from institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Brown, Emory, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Harvard, Georgetown, McGill, Cornell, Rice, Caltech, the list goes on. And that’s just on the North American continent.
 
Until recently, courses were free but not for credit. Then Silicon Valley-based Udacity teamed up with San Jose State University to pilot a for-credit course. That initiative paved the way for a collaboration among Udacity, AT&T, and Georgia Tech to offer the first online advanced degree program—a master’s in computer science. The cost of the degree is $7,000 versus $45,000 on campus.
 
Enrolling in a course is as simple as visiting a MOOC website, reviewing the course options (requirements, content, instructor, time commitment, and dates it is offered), signing up—and turning on your computer at the appointed hour. To make the most of a MOOC, you are encouraged to engage in the online discussions and/or participate in local “meetups.”
 

3. Lifelong Learning Institutes and Programs

 
Meeting up and learning in a classroom together is the core experience of a lifelong learning program. It is as close to replicating your college experience as you can get—gathering to learn with people of like minds and, well, similar vintage. Most programs, such as Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, are open only to individuals age 50 and over.
 
While virtually all lifelong learning institutes or organizations adhere to a general membership model, they differ, one to the other, in the number and length of semesters, fee structures, benefits, and the nature of courses, usually based on the interests of members. College Town Retirement’s profiles provide you with detailed information on each OLLI program, including typical courses, benefits, and fees.