What adults can expect when going back to school
Learning is a lifelong experience, and more and more people are going back to the classroom to pursue formal education later in life.
As a kid, going to school may have seemed a lot easier than it is later in life, and what about the old adage about old dogs and new tricks? Can an adult succeed at learning?
Marie Savundranayagam, a professor of health studies at Western University says yes.
"Absolutely. You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly teach older adults. They're completely capable of learning.”
Savundranayagam lectures about issues affecting older people and she says when it comes to learning and older adults, attitude is everything.
"Does the person believe that he or she can actually learn…and if they have that confidence or self-efficacy, then they're going to be successful."
Across campus Michael Fisman is getting ready for his class, not in his professional capacity as a semi-retired psychiatrist, but as an undergraduate studying German.
Most of his classmates are in their 20s, while he is 73.
"It’s very different, because I'm really not part of the in group which I was…But I'm not looking for that because my social group is elsewhere."
But as more adults embrace formal education, Savundranayagam believes education should embrace their unique style of learning.
"Older adults are not motivated by extrinsic factors or external factors. For them getting a good grade is not a big deal. It's more, ‘Does it matter to me, is learning important for my own internal values.’"
Of course it's not always smooth sailing. As people get older many find their memory isn't what it used to be, and that's often coupled with sleep disruption.
Stuart Fogel at the Brain and Mind Institute studies sleep, memory and learning.
"In younger subjects they get this benefit from sleep, seems to be related what’s called to sleep spindles, which are important markers for memory consolidation, but in older subjects that relationship doesn’t seem to be there."
But Savundranayagam says there are some learning skills that may improve as people age such as creativity.
"It’s about, ‘I’m older, I can do what I want to do. I’m finally free,’ so to speak…We know that writing gets better as we get older - verbal skills are much better for older adults than younger adults.”
And for Fisman, going back to school is well worth the effort, he says "I take it one day and one year at a time, so I have no fixed goal, I enjoy the moment."
So what’s the bottom line? Savundranayagam says "Go for it."