Lifelong learning, strictly defined, is the process of gaining knowledge and skills throughout your life.
Of course, that definition is a bit dry for something that involves everything from mastering a new instrument to journeying to foreign lands to tapping into a creative outlet previously undiscovered in yourself.
“Lifelong learning means that you stay curious about everything and everybody,” Westminster Place resident Claire B. said. “It means you like to learn new things.”
Lifelong learning is an expansive, immersive journey of self-discovery and personal development. At Westminster Place, an Evanston, IL senior living community, there are endless opportunities for lifelong learners to explore and seek out new ideas. Here’s a sampling of what residents can enjoy—and why continuing your journey of lifelong learning is so important.
Lifelong Learning at Westminster Place and in Evanston, IL
Opportunities for lifelong learning at the Evanston living community for older adults present themselves through both formal and informal avenues.
Claire, who says she “absolutely” considers herself a lifelong learner, says that some of the scheduled programs she most enjoys are the lectures. Experts from a wide variety of fields, from cardiology to baroque music, come in and share their expertise with inquisitive residents. Sometimes the expert is from outside of the community, while other times it’s a resident or even a child of a resident.
“There is a huge variety,” she said. “You name it, they come here and we enjoy those programs.”
Residents can also take advantage of the The Alumnae at Northwestern University. Westminster Place is located minutes from downtown Evanston, which places it conveniently close to Northwestern.
“For those of us who like to be looked after, our bus goes over to Northwestern University,” Claire explained. “I take classes in their lifelong learning program and those are excellent.”
There are also scheduled trips to museums, concerts, and plays held in the area. For those interested in current events, there’s a group that meets and discusses pressing topics.
Claire, who spent her career as a solo librarian for a non-profit organization and also taught at various universities, is the facilitator of the group, called “What’s Happening.”
“I don’t teach it but I do some research and act as a facilitator,” she explained. “We discuss things such as immigration, access to healthcare, the decline of democracy, foreign policy, and so on. We try to stick to just that topic for the hour that we meet.”
Documentaries are frequently screened at the community with time for lively discussion afterward. Local, state, and even national politicians often visit to speak with residents and field their questions.
“We have a lot of voters here,” Claire pointed out. “It gives us the opportunity to talk to them and I’ve appreciated having access to that.”
For those looking for creative outlets, there are classes available to explore the arts. For example, a staff member is currently teaching one in glass art.
Inspiration comes from within the community, as well.
“We have a lot of wonderful artists among the residents who display their work,” Claire said. “There is a man who teaches art for those who want to learn a new skill.”
Westminster Place is full of talented people who are eager to share their expertise and engage in stimulating conversation. A rich current of lifelong learning runs through the community, with informal learning opportunities presenting themselves each day.
For example, listen in on a random dinner conversation and you’ll likely hear a respectful debate about current events, well-traveled people sharing stories of their adventures, and experts at the top of their fields sharing their knowledge with the table.
“There are a lot of people here who have had very interesting careers and experiences who can tell you about them,” Claire said.
As a former librarian, it may not come as a surprise that Claire particularly enjoys the on-site library. The library is entirely run by residents and cataloged and maintained by a committee.
“It’s quite a pleasant library,” she said.
The Benefits of Lifelong Learning
Lifelong learning has many benefits, including:
- Improved brain health, which can limit cognitive and memory decline as we age.
- Increased social connections.
- Increased feelings of self-fulfillment.
- Decreased risk of depression.
- Easy access to lifelong learning due to increased online channels.
The Importance of Lifelong Learning When Choosing a Retirement Community
Lifelong learning may not be the first thing on your list when choosing between senior living community options. Your first considerations may be location, cost, and services provided—which, of course, are very important.
However, the lifestyle and culture of the community are equally important to take into account when deciding on a new home.
“I probably wasn’t thinking about [lifelong learning as a factor] but it certainly is,” Claire said of her decision to move to Westminster Place. “One of the things that you learn is that when you’re looking for a place like this, you have certain things that are priorities. Once you arrive, other things become much more important than you realized they would be. Lifelong learning is one such thing.”
Other important things to take into account, she added, were the community culture and attitude of the staff.
“The nature of the community, you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. It’s an unknown quantity. You’re looking at a list of services but you’re not really looking at the population that lives here,” she said. “Primarily the thing that you don’t really think of before you get here but value highly after is the attitude and care of the staff.”
One way to help make the unknown quantity a known quantity is to visit the community you’re considering—and visit it more than once. Pay attention to how staff members interact with both each other and the residents. Watch how the residents interact with each other to pick up on the community vibe.
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