Learn new things in a stress-free environment Non-profit association helps promote lifelong learning

If memories of academia make you shudder with the studying, assignments, and tests, consider the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association (ELLA), a non-profit association working in partnership with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension to promote lifelong learning opportunities for adults 50 years and older

Cindy Hanson, chair of the marketing and communications committee, said, “There is something amazing in discovering new interests, learning new information, and staying in touch with how things are changing in the world.”

With over 50 courses from which to choose, participants can take up to four different courses over three weeks. There is no reason for boredom or stagnation. Better yet, students don’t have to worry about prerequisites, exams, or homework.

Wendy Davis, quoted on ELLA’s website, attended her first Spring Session for Older Adults (the precursor to ELLA) 16 years ago. Attending each spring, “changed my life,” said Davis.  “Being retired and single can drive you berserk. So many retired people just talk about their physical problems and it can be so depressing. At ELLA we have stimulating conversations about all the new things we’ve learned.”

ELLA’s wood carving instructor, Laurie Wilson-Larson. | Supplied

In 2001, when the faculty announced that funding cutbacks would end the program, massive rebellion, collaboration, and volunteer action coalesced into the non-profit ELLA. A petition quoted the medical fact that mentally stimulated seniors lead healthier and more productive lives, thus reducing the burden on society.

Those initial activists formed a partnership with the university.

Hanson said, “Volunteers now operate the program, find qualified instructors who enjoy the opportunity to teach and learn from their students, select the course topics, and perform a host of other administrative tasks. The university provides classroom space, vets and pays instructors, and manages registration.”

The program continued and grew to over 600 learners registered last spring. This year’s program covers the gamut, including sciences, humanities, arts, culture, well-being, digital photography, choral music, and even paleontology.

Hanson attended courses before becoming a volunteer. “Lifelong learning is important for everybody. It keeps people vibrant, connected to their community, and keeps them interested and interesting. It is an opportunity to stay current and learn new things.”

Barb Turner is the core stability instructor with ELLA. | Supplied

When jobs require complete focus and regular upgrading, it can keep people from appreciating other vocations, limit connections with others, and interfere with community connections.

The courses offer connections to community, other age groups, other demographics, and perhaps your own family. Imagine the potential conversations opening up by learning subject matter aligned with a granddaughter or grandson’s chosen vocations. Just avoid telling them you pay way less.

Hanson said, “The tuition is reasonably priced, $250 for four courses.” Registration covers the three weeks offered from April 30 to May 18. “Thanks to ELLA’s partnership with the university, people can self-identify as having financial need and bursaries of $175 are available, reducing the course registration fee to the participant to $75.”

The university also has a fund to assist the subsidization of tuition for seniors who require financial assistance in order to attend.

What participants enroll in depends on what they wish to learn. Some participants love their life’s work and choose courses to stay current. Others, like Hanson, want to learn something new.

“I’ll see a course that is being offered and say to myself, “I know nothing about that field of study, but would really like to learn about THAT!’ ”

The choices are wide open to explore topics inside and outside of your everyday life and life experiences. Visit my-ella.com or call 780.492.5055 for more information.

Featured Image: The digital photography course students practicing outdoors. | Supplied

Rusti Lehay

A member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada since 2003, Rusti has been writing professionally since 1999. Her favourite word activity is immersion editing with memoir writers.

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