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April 9, 2020

Lifelong Learning Goes Online to Meet Members Where They Are

Lifelong learning opportunities are being made available entirely online through the University of Denver so participants can enjoy learning while safe in their own home.

COVID-19 has certainly changed the face of education at all levels. Institutions have risen to the challenge to keep students educated and connected during this unique time, and those offering continuing education are among the leaders in innovative remote learning strategies, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and Enrichment Program at the University of Denver.

OLLI is an organization of 3,400 lifelong learners ages 50-plus from around the Denver metro area. Offering three eight-week terms a year in a traditional face-to-face format, the institute’s spring term was cancelled due to the impact of COVID-19. Similarly, the Enrichment Program typically offers dozens of short courses to learners of all ages throughout the year for the love of learning, but had to cancel their remaining spring courses.

These cancellations impacted much more than just learning – it also impacted invaluable community interaction and connection for the participants, many of whom are among the highest risk for COVID-19. This led to the decision to offer several courses at no cost as a community service to help the public stay connected and intellectually engaged during this time of physical distancing.

“OLLI at DU serves the population of lifelong learners over 50 years of age with intellectually stimulating courses offered by peer instructors,” explains OLLI Executive Director Barbe Ratcliffe. “OLLI provides a social aspect of connecting to other lifelong learners with the same thirst for engaging in conversation.”

The results of OLLI’s online undertaking are nothing less than impressive. A total of 86 courses were created to be offered online over eight weeks beginning April 20. OLLI launched two Zoom open houses to determine accessibility and interest for members, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Within 24 hours of launching registration, 637 members registered for online courses, and over 300 had attended one open house. One OLLI member even set her alarm for 4:30 a.m. to ensure she secured a spot in the most coveted classes.

The Enrichment Program also sprang into action after instructor Richard Sacks, who teaches Dusting off the Classics, offered to teach a once-a-week online poetry class as a way to stay connected to his students. This sparked a larger movement to offer daily online Enrichment Program classes during the week and staff mobilized to take lifelong learning to the next level – as well as take it to the only place leaners can access it safely during this time – online.

“Many people are looking for ways to make a difference during these extraordinary times,” said Enrichment Program Director Lynn Wells. “Teachers change lives and what a better way to make a difference in someone’s life than to deliver a thought-provoking or fun class they can enjoy from the safety of their home.”

So far, the free Enrichment Program courses made available online have had upwards of 300 participants from coast to coast. The courses are led by faculty who typically teach in the Enrichment Program, ensuring quality and familiarity with the topics.

 “Our students are excited about the opportunity to be part of the larger lifelong learning community despite stay-at-home orders,” said Wells. “You can feel the camaraderie and wonderful sense of community, even though no one is in the same room.”

Daily Enrichment Program courses are free and open to the public, with descriptions and links to the Zoom rooms available here. For OLLI courses, members are given first priority to register and after that, open seats will be available to anyone over 50.

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