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Boomer Bytes #40: Can You Teach Boomers New Tricks?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Can You Teach Boomers New Tricks?

By Steve Canipe

Oct. 17, 2014. We’ve all heard the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I wondered if that might be true of us boomers. I really hope that some of you who are reading will share your recent learnings – regardless of how old you are. My belief is that age is not an impediment to learning anything new. I’ve just seen too many examples that would belie that idea.

Part of my belief in life-long learning is based on my learning and being open to try new things. Those of us who are 50 or more years old have lived our lives through much change. Think what was happening in the year of your birth. If your memory is getting foggy you may want to peruse a great little website called What Happened in My Birth Year. I was mentioning the youngest of us boomers at 50, what were the things that happened in 1964? According to the website I mentioned the following things happened: There was no Google or Yahoo or really available internet!! The highest grossing movie was Mary Poppins. There were no DVDs or even VHS. The best-selling book was le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty”. The US Surgeon General stated that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health a first for a governmental figure. Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam. SCOTUS declared that congressional districts have about equal population. The game show Jeopardy! debuted on television. Nelson Mandela made his “I Am Prepared to Die” speech at the opening of the Rivonia Trial. There were many other things happening in 1964 including the top of the chart music from the Animals called The House of the Rising Sun. In addition to you young boomers Keanu Reeves and Rob Lowe were also born.


The birth year website is great because it brings back a lot of things one may have forgotten. There is a small college located in Wisconsin called Beloit College that does a similar job to the birth year one. This one is focused on what entering college freshman have never experienced or missed out on. This is called the Mindset List. A quick look at the list for the graduating class of 2018 (they entered this fall) shows the following shockers (the numbers represent the place on the listing of 55): “1. During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center; 4. When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon; 18. Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking; 45. One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs; and 51. Boeing has never had any American competition for commercial aircraft.” List copyright by Beloit College and the above taken from https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2018/

All this historical stuff should have brought to mind that if we have not changed maybe we should. There are huge opportunities for learning including the offerings on television through channels such as Discovery, National Geographic, and The Learning Channel. But beyond these is the access to locally offered courses through North Carolina’s excellent community college system and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, the branch in Boone. Of course for pure academic courses, Appalachian State University is excellent.

If you would like a lot more flexibility there are numerous schools that offer online options. Some of these are for credit and others are not really credit bearing but more interest courses. There is a relatively new process called MOOC courses – this stands for massive open online courses. There is a site that lists the upcoming courses called MOOC List. This will enable a user to select from free or paid courses. Some are both depending on whether you desire credit for the activity. Some have materials available on line and others offer them through university bookstores or through links on sites like Amazon. Some of the courses available in the next 30 days and listed are Combinatorial Mathematics; Discover Palestine; The Fascination of Crystals and Symmetry; Innovation and Design Thinking ; Climate Change Science and Negotiations. There are other possibilities in the various offerings in the free universities. Here schools like MIT, Duke, Stanford, and University of Chicago offer free courses that mirror their courses on campus. There is no credit or exams but it offers the opportunity to learn. All that is required is a willingness to learn on your own.

There are many accumulators which list these free courses. One is called Open Culture and lists myriad opportunities. Another site is called edX. A quick internet search will show lots of opportunities.

Whether we boomers can learn new tricks or not, there are a lot of available sites and opportunities for teaching them. This is true both locally as well as online. Some of the courses are skills-type where one can learn things like welding or electrical. Other courses are more for intellectual pursuits and can open opportunities for studying things like world religions or philosophy or biochemistry. It really just depends on the interest and desire…but many different types of courses are available.

I’ve enrolled in some of the courses online and I will caution folks that they take as much time as being in a more traditional class; however, if there is a sincere desire to actually learn the material these free alternatives are great. The advantage of these courses is that they are free but the disadvantage is that there are few places where one can go for help and the discussion groups can be very large in numbers of participants. Because the courses have no associated charge, the instructors are doing this for either altruistic reasons or perhaps field testing a course they will later offer for pay at their university. When we boomers were in college there were things growing out of the “free speech movement” where professors just wanted to give back. Or they wanted academic freedom to do the courses their way. It was basically a peaceful protest movement.

Whether you are a young boomer (50) or an older boomer (68) or somewhere in between, there are lots of opportunities to learn. We have certainly changed from the day we were born as the examples from Beloit College’s Mindset List and the What Happened in My Birth Year website illustrate. We are really lifelong learners, who seem as a group to value education. Maybe it is because we are tending to work longer that we value the idea of continued education. The US Census Bureau showed, as of the 2012, that there were over 7 million folks over 65 who were employed. It also shows that in the bracket over 55 that there are better than 30 million employed — almost 2 million more men than women!

Whatever the reason, we do have the opportunity to remain active both in body as well as in mind. There is evidence presented on the website WebMD that by keeping the brain active, like through learning new things and/or skills the onset of dementia can be delayed or prevented. So let me encourage my fellow boomers – keep the blood flowing to the brain – learning new things, exploring topics that you did not have time for when you were younger, playing new games, or exploring old ones like Sudoku and crosswords!!

I am really most interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic of lifelong learning. What have you been doing to keep learning? Has it been a formal or informal activity? Please post your thoughts and observations in the space below or send me an email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com.