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Lifelong Learning: Education never ends

Primarily serving adults 50 and older, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Southern Oregon University offers diverse courses and programs designed to foster lifelong learning, encourage social interaction and provide cultural enrichment.

When we say “lifelong learning” here at OLLI, we take it seriously. With students in a wide age range, you might be surprised to know we have some instructors in their 90s. Lifelong learning truly is lifelong for them.

I recently had the privilege of talking with two of our nonagenarian instructors — Roy Sutton and Marc Ratner. It was fascinating to hear of their experiences as OLLI instructors, and how they might motivate adults of any age to become OLLI instructors.

Sutton became an OLLI instructor in 2015 when he realized that he wanted to share his passion and enjoyment of classic movies and music beyond the Mountain Meadows 55+ retirement community. His classic movie courses have now expanded into several multi-year series: one for classic musical films and one for classic comedy films.

In 2002 Ratner decided that OLLI was the perfect place to continue his post-retirement university teaching career. He developed his passion for literature in high school, where his teachers inspired him to teach and read books. An indication of the energy Ratner brings to his teaching is that OLLI students flock to his courses, even on challenging works such as James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Homer’s “The Iliad.”

You might wonder why these two are still instructors in their 90s. Sutton’s response was quick and to the point, “Why not?”

He’s healthy and believes age is often just a state of mind. He enjoys other people’s enjoyment.

For Ratner, it’s all about the social experience, and being an instructor gives order and discipline to his life. In addition, his doctor told him to keep doing it. He feels it keeps him alive.

These instructors have thoughtful philosophies about lifelong learning. Sutton believes it allows us to expand our interests and what appeals to us. Education is not much different for an individual in retirement compared to younger people. Time availability is the main difference. Ratner said that lifelong learning keeps us engaged, gives us a project or idea to work on, and that teaching is giving something to others.

During this pandemic time, OLLI at SOU has shifted to online courses using Zoom. While this is new for OLLI instructors, it has given them, as well as students, an opportunity to learn and adapt to using this technology in the courses. Sutton and Ratner have adapted and discovered some advantages to using Zoom.

Sutton’s courses now have more time for discussion because students watch the movies in advance, not during the course time, and they can back up to watch a scene repeatedly. He’s also discovered a different kind of social connection — more in a Zoom session than in a classroom, where students only see the back of other students’ heads while watching the movie.

Ratner learned that an advantage of Zoom is being able to show a film to go along with reading and discussing the book that is the course’s subject (something he couldn’t easily do in a classroom). While apprehensive at first, now with a good “host” to help him handle the technology issues, he has adapted quickly.

Do you have some knowledge, experience or deep interest or passion for a topic or activity? Would you like to share it with others? Sutton says that if there’s something you’re interested in, likely there are others who are also interested. You can provide an opportunity to share this learning with other like-minded individuals. And you can learn along with your students. Ratner believes that you’ll have a good sense of fulfillment. You can get even more interested in the course while preparing it. It gives you new approaches and new discoveries.

Regardless of your age, lifelong learning never ends. OLLI at SOU is accepting course proposals with a deadline of Dec. 31 for the spring 2021 term that runs March 29 through June 4. Courses are offered via Zoom and typically consist of from two to 10 weekly class sessions that are from 60 to 90 minutes long. Classes can start and stop at any time during the term. OLLI instructors do not need to be OLLI members. Information about the course proposal process can be found on the “Teaching at OLLI” link at www.inside.sou.edu/olli.

Laura Simonds, a former marketing and sales professional in the publishing industry, volunteers on the OLLI Communications and Community Outreach Committee.

courtesy photoStudents in a Osher Lifelong Learning Institute