It turns out you actually CAN teach old dogs new tricks. New research in brain science now shows that the adult brain retains impressive powers of "neuroplasticity" – the ability to change structure and function in response to experience. This, coupled with Boomers thirst for new knowledge and skills, has created a growing popularity for lifelong learning. In fact, the number of college students ages 40 to 64 has jumped by almost 20% to nearly 2 million in the past decade. And those numbers are expected to keep growing as more mid-life adults return to school to reinvent themselves, once again.
In an AARP study, 9 out of 10 adults (ages 50 and over) said they wanted to actively seek out learning opportunities to keep current, grow personally, and enjoy the simple pleasure of mastering something new. Research continues to highlight the importance of lifelong learning as a prescription for a longer, healthier life – keeping minds active and people socially engaged. And while the old-fashioned ways of learning something new – reading a book or taking a class – are still popular, many mid-life adults are also embracing online education and utilizing new technologies. Today, mid-life adults who graduated from college 30+ years ago are returning to take classes in everything from languages to modern film, from mastering their investments to creating a Web page, to traveling the world. As mid-life adults return to their studies, learning institutions are accommodating them with flexible schedules, satellite campuses, online courses and the like.
As stewards of lifelong learning, libraries are well positioned to become cornerstone institutions for mid-life adults, productive aging, and the life of the mind IF they can also appeal to them with new, intriguing and flexible approaches to learning.