From education to employment

New survey from NIACE discovers what older people learn

With the age of the “Silver Surfer” upon us, a report called “What older people learn” has been created to examine older peoples preferred subjects of study, their motivations to learn and their ways of finding out about, and accessing, learning opportunities.

51.3% of all the courses that people over 65 are taking relate to computer skills. The second most popular subject amongst older people is foreign languages with over 10.2% of people aged over 55 engaged compared to just 4.3% of people aged 17 – 44. These are the main findings of the latest research into what older people learn published by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

The report details older learners perceived benefits from learning, the ways they learn and their views on qualifications and fees. The report also identifies the key barriers to learning, the effects of illness and disability and also access to technology.

Alan Tuckett, Director of NIACE and co-author of What Older People Learn, said, “Learning matters in later life. It enables older workers to sustain their productiveness in the workplace and adapt their experience and skills to changing contexts. Older workers count. The age of retirement is increasing. Moving away from paid work is becoming a more prolonged process and less of an abrupt transformation. It is no surprise that computer skills are so popular for older people. The physical distance they have from family and friends is critically important to overcome and getting to grips with ICT helps to reduce isolation, quite apart from satisfying a desire to keep an eye on the latest developments.”

Mr Tuckett continued, “Encouraging adult learning in all its forms is under threat; it is important to listen to those who benefit to help us better understand how the complex and broad ways of learning, particularly in later life, is valued. People who carry on learning throughout their lives lead healthier lives. Learning delays the effects of Alzheimer’s on learners” social interactions. Older people are more civically active, they vote in larger numbers than young people and are usually the mainstay of voluntary organisations.”

Chris Mitchell

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