Lifelong Learners are GREAT Teachers

The concept of lifelong learning has just taken on a new dimension. Lifelong learners are often described as senior adults who are curious about a topic and interested in learning more. The concept of lifelong learning has been studied and researched. The concept of senior adult lifelong learners as teachers has not been examined. But guess what? We have first-hand experience with how lifelong learners pivot to become the lifelong learning teachers.

Residents at Fellowship-Square Mesa recently completed a three part class on the WPA (Works Progress Administration, 1930s). The resident’s enthusiasm for recalling what they knew about the WPA and learning more about this historical program was off the charts. The class discussion and conversations were non-stop and the leader of the class remarked that she felt as if the topic had “flipped the classroom.” Modern day teachers use this term to describe a classroom strategy where the students are responsible for research and presentation of materials.

Two residents in particular made amazing and historic contributions to the class. Using a website resource, “The Living New Deal,” Robert Protz discovered that the skating rink built in his home town of Thief River Falls, MN had not been identified in the WPA archives. Robert called one of his friends who was still living in Thief River Falls and asked him to take photos of the WPA Plaque (required for authentication) and of the building itself. During this phase of research we also discovered a website existed that told the history of hockey in Minnesota. The photos, Bob’s first-hand account of the rink, and the website have been submitted and accepted to The Living New Deal National Project for inclusion in their archives.

Another resident, Lucy Reich, brought the class information about public housing projects constructed by the WPA. Lucy’s family lived across the street from a housing project in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin called “Greendale.” Lucy did additional research and discovered that Greendale, WI was one of three public housing projects built by the WPA known as the “Greenbelt Projects.” The houses were all built around green belts, parks with lakes, and walking paths. The city planners placed the back of the houses (carports) facing the street so the occupants would have unobstructed views of the park like setting. Each community had outdoor sculptures and murals produced by the Federal Arts Program of the WPA.

So, we rest our case. Lifelong learning is about the senior adult learner, not about the teacher or the topic. It is about the experience of learning and sharing what you know or learn. At Fellowship Square-Mesa we believe that the importance of learning is a concept we support every day with our residents. Now we know that in addition to being “learners” they are also “researchers” and “learning leaders.”