Western Art-Lifelong Learning ProgramWe recently held a class for a group of 26 senior adult lifelong learners. These participants challenged their management to offer more exciting learning programs, which turned out to be our lifelong learning classes.

The class began in the usual manner; we brainstormed what we know about western art. One participant began to talk about his summers in Montana and visiting the Russell Museum. The next resident spoke about a local western art gallery, and another mentioned the country-western instrument display at the Museum of Musical Instruments. A fourth participant began to sing a song that she said her father used to sing, Cool, Cool, Water, and almost all of the other participants joined in. Then another participant told the class that what she thought of was watching a western movie at the local movie theatre. This led the group into listing popular actors like Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Audie Murphy, Clint Walker, Dale Robertson, and Gene Autry.

This one class was the trigger for all those experiences, but we were not finished. Our brainstorm list soon filled one piece of flip chart paper, so we put up another one. Suddenly a participant said that she thought we should “organize our thoughts.” Asking her what she meant, she said “a separate piece of flip chart paper for each category.” The group agreed, so we put up four new pieces of flip chart paper and organized the information.

When I looked around the group, I could see that they were very proud of what they had done. People were sitting up straighter in their chairs, no one wanted to take a break, and they all wanted to keep going. I hadn’t even started the class presentation, and our initial brainstorming session lasted 45 minutes. Why am I telling you about this? Because everything that we want senior adult learners to experience happened in those 45 minutes. They were engaged, talked to each other, organized their thoughts, and dug deep into that memory bank. The participants did this, not the class facilitator.

Lifelong learning is so much more than just watching a speaker on TV or a lecture on a DVD. Lifelong learning is about the experience of every person and the opportunity for engagement and socialization.

So here is my suggestion for implementing a lifelong learning program; go to the local office supply store and purchase flip charts and markers. Begin every class with “what do we know about,” and provide plenty of flexibility for the class to lead you. Sometimes the lists are short; other times, filled with an enormous amount of detail. Don’t be discouraged if participants are not as forthcoming in the beginning; their willingness to speak out is directly related to your respect for what they say. There are no wrong answers, just an experience.