Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Education: You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

If you find yourself craving direction, focus and self-discipline in a context outside of the workplace, why not try dipping a toe back into education?
Even if you hated academia when you were young, it may well be rewarding to try again. A lot of the stress is removed when you’re studying by choice with no obligation to continue if you don’t enjoy it. And if you’ll allow me to get a little bit classical for a moment, once you give it a try you may end up thinking along the same lines as Seneca: ‘Retirement without the love of letters is a living burial.’
While conducting research for ‘Great Retirement, Great Sex,’ I interviewed Peter, who told me about his initially very difficult experiences of sudden retirement. Peter had worked for thirty years as a warehouse operative for a large retailer where he drove a mini-fork-lift, unloaded deliveries and unpacked boxes.
‘I turned down the move up to supervisor more times than I can remember.’ He always exceeded his targets and liked being exactly where he was.
But everything changed after an accident at work caused Peter to slip a disc and put him out of action in the business for good. He received more than £200,000 pounds in compensation. ‘I had to have a couple of operations privately and still might have to have another one. I don’t know how the wife has put up with it.’
Peter and his wife, Jane, preferred to be interviewed separately. Jane shed a lot of light on just how deeply Peter’s sudden change of circumstances had affected him. ‘He was popular, played darts in a local league and was always the comedian in the crowd, but after the incident his personality changed overnight. He would sit around the house and go quiet...’
He agreed he hadn’t exactly been at his most chipper after the accident, but turned the focus to the sudden change in outlook that occurred for him on the penultimate night of a surprise vacation to Andalusia that Jane had booked.
While unloading his troubles to a man named Geoff that he’d met at the bar that night, he began to view his prospects differently. Geoff provided the practical suggestion that Peter take some kind of course. Realising that he was so miserable he had to try something, Peter decided to give it a go.
 He enrolled on an engineering night class and despite having been ‘kicked out of more subjects than I passed at school’ found himself picking it up with ease.
He says that everything is different now: ‘after taking a few computer classes I decided that I wanted to try and get an engineering degree from the Open University. I would never have dreamed of doing something like that before, and I can tell you, I’ve had some funny looks when I tell people but it turns out that I’m not quite as hopeless as I thought.’
Whether you’re interested in returning to education to get some letters after your name or just to learn about a subject that has always interested you, there are several options:
The Open University offers 600 university-level courses in more than 60 subjects and you can distance learn from the comfort of your own home. The learning environment is a social platform too, through which you can make like-minded friends through joining online study groups.
If it’s actually predominantly the community element you’re attracted to, then the University of the Third Age could be for you. Yes, it may sound like a sinister new age cult, but it’s actually a great organisation made up of individual learning cooperatives around the UK. It offers a total of 300 subjects in fields such as art, life sciences, computing, and even walking.
There are a huge number of over 60s reaping the benefits of learning in later life. Decades of full-time work can lead to mature students having a more disciplined work ethic than others, so you could say now is the best time to learn!
The topic of my blog next week will be (don’t get too excited) the importance of putting your mind at ease by writing a will. It can be more fun than you think!