Learning is for life, not just for school
September marks two new seasons. One belongs to nature, that’s the one that gives us berries and burnished leaves. The other belongs to nurture because it’s time for enrolment. At universities, colleges, further education establishments and evening schools, individuals across the land will sign on the dotted line and enter into a contract and new cycle of study. So, while the nights draw in, many minds will be expanding as new learners choose to develop their knowledge or further their skills.
Compared to less fortunate parts of the world, the UK offers rich and varied learning for all age groups and levels. Anyone wishing to try watercolours, explore classics, get to grips with mechanical engineering, anthropology or whatever, can usually find something. Once geographical location and transport may have limited our options but the online teaching boom had meant more choice and access than ever. The Open University pioneered distance learning in 1969 while the University of the Third Age (U3A) offer a nationwide network of opportunities for mature learners.
Alongside teaching professionally for most of my life, I’m a committed learner and my two most recent adventures have been enthralling. For my 52nd birthday, I was given swimming lessons by my husband. Now at 55 I can now swim fifty lengths in an hour which has improved the quality of my life and health immeasurably. Three years ago, I fulfilled a long held dream by enrolling on a Creative Writing degree at Birkbeck University. Currently preparing for my final year, this course has introduced me to new friends and mentors as well as guiding me towards bright writing horizons. It’s been like living in the same house forever and discovering rooms I didn’t know existed.
Many women whose lives are often governed by caring and/or earning duties usually find time is a scarce commodity. So, it’s not surprising many rediscover its delights once children become independent or during the golden years of retirement. Depending on age, social, personal and economic circumstances, women may have missed or prematurely left formal education to earn money or attend to others. Alternatively, later learning might be about fulfilling a dream, nurturing a passion, improving or challenging our capabilities.
There’s a great deal of research to support the idea older students make better learners. Often more focused, reflective and philosophical, they’re usually unafraid to ask questions – the bedrock of all learning – and confident in group discussions. Whether to learn a hobby, master a craft, develop academically, professionally or practically, a fresh cycle of learning: intellectual, physical, spiritual or creative, is a journey that can be embarked on at any age.