Curiosity. Connection. Camaraderie. These are the words that participants in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute use to describe the program that provides classes to older adults on everything from …
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Curiosity. Connection. Camaraderie.
These are the words that participants in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute use to describe the program that provides classes to older adults on everything from art appreciation to science to politics to chess.
Known as OLLI (pronounced Ollie), participants can’t say enough about how much the classes have broadened their horizons, provided them with new friends with similar interests and led to get-togethers outside of classes.
OLLI is an adult-learning program operated by the University of Denver. People 50 and older pay a per-quarter fee for three quarters each year and can take as many classes as they want. OLLI is available at 120 institutions across the United States thanks to grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation.
Usually classes are held at six sites around metro Denver, with the closest at Jefferson Unitarian Church near 32nd and Youngfield, but thanks to COVID-19, all classes are virtual. Participants say while they love the camaraderie afforded by in-person classes to learn both new concepts and from each other, having Zoom classes during the pandemic has been a windfall to keep them engaged while they shelter at home.
“(OLLI has) opened up a whole new world for me,” said Lynn Moyle, 72, of Evergreen. “It has allowed me to continue my learning and to keep my brain intact. I take classes just for the stimulation. Before COVID, it was such a nice way to meet other people who really appreciate learning. I learn as much from the class participants as the facilitator.”
Jim Keller, 82, who lives in Mount Vernon, added that Zoom classes have been helpful during the pandemic, and another plus is he hasn’t had to drive down the hill for classes. He said he’s humbled by the knowledge of the instructors and the students, many of whom have life experiences and knowledge to add to discussions.
“It’s addicting,” said Karen Lindsay of Genesee, who takes and teaches classes, and is co-chair of the Member Relations Council. “There’s a lot of everything. If you can’t find something you’re interested in in our catalog, there’s something wrong. Especially for those who are alone, this is a great way to connect.”
OLLI is offering 150 classes for the winter quarter, and 1,500 people area-wide are enrolled for the online classes. Pre-COVID-19, there were close to 3,000 enrollees, according to Lindsay.
She says while offering online classes has opened up OLLI to more people, the older generation’s fear or lack of access to technology impedes some. A class and one-on-one help are available to get members navigating the online platform.
Wonderful way to learn
Lindsay noted that OLLI provides a great solution to people 50 and older who are still curious and want to continue to learn. It’s better than sitting at home reading a book because there are others to learn from and to discuss ideas with. Participants get to hear a variety of perspectives, adding to the learning.
Moyle retired in 2013, and afraid she would be bored, she joined OLLI and took nine classes the first quarter. Now she and her husband, Dan, take three to five classes a session. She said Zoom OLLI classes during the pandemic were life-changing, making it nice to keep learning during COVID-19.
Lindsay called Moyle the epitome of OLLI’s motto: “Curiosity Never Retires.” Moyle has taken classes in art history, mindfulness, movies and more.
Bob Magnani, 81, of Genesee has taken more than 100 classes in his 10 years in OLLI including memoir writing, and several of those students now meet separately to continue working on their writing. The same is true about chess. An OLLI class led to a chess club that meets regularly.
Magnani teaches classes about film and acting, but he doesn’t take or teach science classes since his career was in engineering.
“What a delight it’s been,” he said of his OLLI experiences. “You don’t get a degree, there are no exams, you can keep quiet or speak up during discussions and you can miss a couple classes. It’s a nice casual atmosphere.”
He says taking, preparing for and teaching classes now takes up more than half his time — with every minute worthwhile.
It’s pretty easy to add a class to the curriculum. If you want to be a facilitator or instructor, you fill out a form and send it to the OLLI Curriculum Committee, which reviews your proposal, Lindsay said.
“You don’t have to have any teaching experience,” she said. “It just needs to be something you have a great interest and passion about, and you’re willing to get up in front of a bunch of people and talk.”
Lindsay said OLLI is important to keeping older adults active, engaged and learning.
“(Students) want to keep opening their minds to new things and new ideas,” Lindsay said. “It’s wonderful. I am so happy so many people in Evergreen are participating.”
Magnani added: “It keeps you intellectually alive. That’s its best feature.”
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