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Academic for life

Lifelong learning: seeking out new frontiers

Much like the latest iteration of Star Trek, lifelong learners see the benefits of seeking out strange new worlds.


I have been watching Star Trek, all its different TV versions and all the movies, since it first aired in the 1960s. There is a new Star Trek series currently being aired entitled Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. In each episode, the crew of the USS Enterprise encounter a previously unknown race or a new world. This is much like my journey of discovery as I seek new learning experiences after leaving the academic world. I hesitate to use the word “retirement” because I do not feel that I am retired. I do admit that I have more time to pursue new learning activities. I have taken single-day courses on ancient Egypt, several full-term, instructor-taught courses on archeology and medieval history, and a self-directed course on Norwegian mythology. I have done both-in class and on-line learning experiences. I have sought out new frontiers (to quote Star Trek) to push myself beyond my own career path of nursing education and gerontology.

I have embraced, with passion, a belief in lifelong learning (LLL). Interestingly, LLL was a concept that I never really thought about much during my working years. I acknowledged that it was needed in my working life as an educator teaching nursing students. Health care knowledge is constantly changing and new medication and treatment options emerge. This directly influences care of patients. I knew that it was important to keep abreast of these changes. However, I do not think that I extended my thinking of LLL into my post-academic working years, or even into my life outside of my academic role.

However, LLL is so much more than simply taking a course, attending a single lecture, or reading a non-fiction book once in a while. It is the process of acquiring and expanding knowledge, skills, and perceptions. It’s about the decisions one makes and the problems one solves in everyday life.

Researchers Sharan B. Merriam and Youngwha Kee discussed the benefits of LLL from a social capital perspective. They wrote that formal, non-formal, and informal learning activities of older adults promote an active and engaged lifestyle that helps to create and preserve community. Similarly, Simplice A. Asongu and Jacinta C. Nwachukwu identified that continuing education is a useful weapon in the fight against political instability. Similar benefits to lifelong learning have also been described by other authors and researchers. I started to apply this understanding of the value of LLL to my own life and it has been rewarding.

This is perhaps the reason that I joined the later life learning committee of CURAC/ARUCC. A new committee, its objectives include communicating to member associations across Canada about educational events sponsored by a local group. It encourages members in one part of the country to join with colleagues in another region in learning together. Thus, it provides more educational activities for all.

For me, the University of the Third Age (U3A) is a natural outcome of a commitment to lifelong learning. As an unconventional “university,” it welcomes anyone over “retirement age,” no examinations are required, and no credentials or qualifications are offered. Rather, it is a network of learning groups aimed at encouraging older adults no longer in full-time employment to share their knowledge, skills, and interests in a friendly environment. It is something that I am very much interested in. I would like to try teaching within this context. It would be a new learning opportunity for me since teaching is an excellent way to learn. I also think that I have knowledge to share and explore with learners.

Sandra Hirst is a professor emerita of nursing at the University of Calgary, as well as regional vice-president (North America) for the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). Although she is a retired registered nurse, she continues to participate in volunteer roles with organizations that support and enhance quality of life for older adults.

The College and University Retirees Associations of Canada/Associations des retraités des universités et collèges du Canada (CURAC/ARUCC) is a not-for-profit federation of retiree associations at colleges and universities across Canada, operated by a volunteer board of directors. Further information, including a listing of member RAs, is available at or from [email protected]. The two university professors emeriti who are co-directors for the CURAC/ARUCC University Affairs column are Carole-Lynne Le Navenec and Fred Fletcher.

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  1. Karl Pfeifer / January 25, 2023 at 18:28

    One drawback of U3A is that volunteer instructors are expected to pay for the privilege by becoming fee-paying members even when they aren’t themselves interested in enrolling in any of the courses.