Learning never stops, no matter what your age. Research has shown us that the cognitive processes of older people remain efficient and effective. Although some of the older English language learners I interviewed may have lost confidence in their abilities to respond as quickly as younger learners, they did not see this as a barrier to absorbing new knowledge and developing new skills. There is much to be gained in taking up learning opportunities at a later point in the life course, as experience adds value and perspective.
I have met a number of people deciding to take up the challenge of studying at doctorate level when they are in their 60s and 70s. This is often when they have that precious commodity of time to devote to their studies, and it becomes a personal journey for them, rather than one driven by future job prospects. They are not deterred by their age and being placed in a context where achievement is paramount. There is evidence that they are as equally competent as their younger colleagues.
Although the term of lifelong learning is used to encourage people to view learning as an ongoing process, it is not an expression that I particularly like. For me it has connotations of formal learning, whereas informal discoveries are just as important and add much to our understanding of the world we live in. Anything that motivates us to take an interest in our environment will contribute to our knowledge.
The internet has been a great motivator as it gives us access to so many sources of information. It has helped to fuel the enormous growth in people of all ages taking an interest in their family history. That in its turn has contributed to many thousands of individuals of all ages developing research skills. Yet most will not recognise that they have attained such skills, as it is hidden learning. We still find it hard to acknowledge that we are learning, unless there is some form of formal education or training.
However, it is often good for us to have some kind of recognition of our learning achievements, and that is why we enrol on courses; we can then gain certificates and qualifications, which validate our learning. This gives us satisfaction that we have met an objective, but also gives a measurement of our progress. We can then look back and see how far our learning journey has taken us.