Continuing Education + Job Training // Publishing since 1999

Terrified in Toronto

By ANDREW OLIVER - June 20 2019

Dear Elcee:

I am 55 years old, working in a good job but I am going to be made redundant within the next couple of years.  I have been offered an opportunity to go back to school for training which will allow me to obtain a better paying and more secure job in my company.  The problem is that the idea of going back to school terrifies me.  Can an old dog learn new tricks?

Terrified in Toronto

Dear Terrified:

I recently met a woman who learned to drive for the first time at the age of 65! I asked why she decided to learn to drive at that late age. She said she wanted a challenge.  The famous folk artist Grandma Moses did her first painting at 76. Frank McCourt, author of Angelas Ashes, didn’t take up writing until he was 65.  Learning is different as you age but not in a bad way. Here are some key points to ponder;

Midlife learners bring a level of understanding to learning where they are better able to apply new concepts to previous experience. You have already experienced workplace culture and may have encountered challenges that young learners have not and are therefore better able to incorporate and/or transfer these skills to their new workplace. 

Midlife learners are often more focussed than younger learners.  They are more likely to have a stronger sense of purpose in choosing to return to school and therefore “own” their decision.  Studies show that while a younger person may be able to learn new tasks more quickly an older person is able to integrate information more readily.

Midlife learners may be more disciplined in their studies. While a young college student may seem, at times, all over the map in their studies (many of us remember “cramming” for exams!) the more mature student may be entering studies already accustomed to managing a myriad of demands.  They usually have developed abilities through work and personal life in setting priorities, especially in establishing time for study.

Numerous recent scientific studies on neuroplasticity attest to how remarkable the brain is in being able to utilise various parts of the brain in learning new tasks and concepts. There is also scores of evidence on the positive effects on us on our mental and physical health by continuing to learn as we age.  The good news is…you CAN teach a more mature dog new tricks.  The methods may vary and the cleanup is way, way easier. (Very little shoe chewing and pillow ripping with mature dogs…). I like to think that while younger learners may have more energy and shorter sleep times, older workers gain in the areas of patience and wisdom. I choose patience and wisdom any day. So, go ahead!  Enjoy! Your brain will thank you.

Dear ELCEE is written by Deborah Noel,
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