Learning as a life-long activity

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 19, 2006

Last Thursday I was invited to speak at the inaugural bi-weekly meeting of our newest service organization, the Demopolis Civitan Club.

We met at Napoleon’s Restaurant, a downtown establishment which Ray Saliba and his wife have labored to create.

Needless to say, they have done an outstanding job of it!

Email newsletter signup

If you haven’t tried their cuisine, do so at your earliest convenience.

You will be pleased with the variety of their culinary fare and their very reasonable pricing.

More to the point, however, is that as I was preparing my presentation I had bantered in my mind (which frequently banters on and on and on…) the importance and the effects of adult education.

In my research I discovered that the entire corpus of adult education studies is now referred to as “lifelong education,” and I rather like that reference.

I am of the “pre-baby boomer” population having been born in the midst of WWII.

We were raised to believe that Freud was correct in his analysis of the psychological development of the human condition.

Freud declared that it was only in childhood that the fundamental precepts of our personalities and our learning capacities were perfected and completed.

Once we reached the age of twenty or so our abilities to learn new elements of our universe were severely limited, if possible at all.

In fact, learning, for all intents and purposes, was over at that age according to Freud.

Along came Eric Erikson and blew that out of the water.

Then, there was the tremendous enrollment in our institutions of higher education after WWII aided by the GI Bill which subsidized the educations of our returning veterans.

And we had to re-examine all our notions on what and how adults learn.

Add to this, the phenomenon which began in the late 1970’s and continues today which found women who had raised their children and wanted to complete their educations was entering college and an entirely new generation of learners emerged.

But this generation was not the usual “rite of passage student” moving directly from high school to college.

This generation of learners had an absolute vision of what they wanted and who they wanted to be.

And an entire body of research emerged called “adult education”, and it continues today on every college campus in America.

In fact, there are scholarships solely dedicated to this group of college students.

What, then, is so unique and phenomenal about this approach to education?

To begin with, it has shaken the foundations of previous conventional wisdom when it comes to educating people.

Professors and college pedagogists had to re-think their classroom presentations.

The adult learner, you see, is more focused, more dedicated, more interested in learning for the sake of learning, more opinionated, and far more work-oriented.

Freud would not know what to do with these learners, but then, he had a problem with rationalizing his cigar as a symbol.

I, too, can personally speak to the efficacy of adult learning – I did not earn my Ph.D. until I was almost fifty!

And there are factually thousands of learners in our country and in the world today who are finding that the most exciting things for them to do after they have raised a family or after they have retired is to go back to college to earn another degree, or to continue their business discipline in continuing education courses.

Marcia L. Conner in a 1995 article entitled “How Adults Learn,” observed, “Western society once believed adults didn’t learn. Even today, if you ask a group why adults cannot learn, it may surprise you how many begin answering the question without challenging the premise.

Unfortunately, many adults deny themselves what should be one of the most enriching parts of life because they assume they can’t learn.

We can learn from everything the mind perceives (at any age). Our brains build and strengthen neural pathways no matter where we are, no matter what the subject or the context.

In today’s business environment, finding better ways to learn will propel organizations forward. Strong minds fuel strong organizations.

We must capitalize on our natural styles and then build systems to satisfy needs. Only through an individual learning process can we re-create our environments and ourselves.”

Many people my age remember a show on television in the 1950’s sponsored by Geritol which was called “Life Begins at 80.”

With the opportunities available to our population today, while life may not begin at 80, it certainly does not end at 80.

Learning is an inherently good activity in the human condition and will never be limited by one’s age – and this old dog continues to learn new tricks with this fact in mind.

– Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.