With Adult Learner’s Week (13th – 19th June – www.alw.org.uk ) well into its 24th year, we should all be celebrating the importance of a lifetime of learning by rediscovering an old hobby or starting something completely new like learning a new language or taking up a photography course to enrich our knowledge and add to our creative juices, but are the over-50s good at learning?
Between work, family life and many other things, it is of course hard to find the time to do anything new. These days, our brains are already working hard to process the constant overflow of information the noughties are synonymous with.
Dr Shaw explains: “In fact often our minds become fixed and set into auto pilot mode, simply moving from one task to the next. However the over-riding problem we face as over 50’s learners is a lack of confidence, with many of us feeling we are too old to learn something new, too old to set up a new business or too old to try something a bit more adventurous. Not so!”
Research shows that the human brain shrinks in size as we age – in part this is true as areas of the brain can begin to deteriorate which can affect communication between the neurons and neurotransmitters. However, the impressive powers of ‘neuroplasticity’ in adult brains when learning suggests we have everything to gain by continuing on our lifetime journey to learn.
“Keeping the cogs suitably oiled can not only help to enhance long-term memory, but the positive emphasis it projects can really make a difference in restoring, rejuvenating and boosting our overall self-confidence and self-esteem.
It’s a great way of breaking the monotonous cycle of the everyday, giving us a renewed purpose and focus to connect with others and be sociable in an environment where you all share a common interest.
By finding new interests or simply learning more about a given subject, you are actively thinking about the things that make you happy, driving a surge of serotonin ‘a feel good’ chemical produced in our body. This neurotransmitter in the brain, can help lift the lid on any ongoing stress, enabling us to feel a greater sense of hope and affirming our optimism for ourselves as well as the people around us.”
Many talk about how learning is broken down into three styles: Visual learners, Auditory learners and Kinesthetic leaners, popularly known as VAK. Shaw argues that there is now much scientific evidence that specific learning styles do not exist. “That said some people do have a better visual memory.
The point is to not get hung up on theories of learning, it is far better to choose a topic that your fascinated by and curious enough to want to know more. When this happens age is no barrier to learning. Defy the myths and enjoy doing something new this summer!”