Matthew Gallardo
Matthew Gallardo

From birth, man’s thirst for understanding, knowledge and education never ceases. As we age and mature we begin to understand that education and learning is a privilege as well as a necessity. 

Though formal schooling and education begins to tail off, for most, once we enter the workforce, our curiosity never gets old. For many, graduate courses, certifications, on-the-job training and informal study feed the mind and empower the soul. It helps us become better parents and employees, and it may even open a door to a new career path or it simply enlightens us. Both in our formative years and during our careers, education and formal learning are very much a part of our lives. But what about as we grow older, particularly after retirement? This is where “lifelong learning” plays a role.

I think it’s fair to say that until the last decade or two, organized lifelong learning was not a mainstream concept or option for aging adults. Not that it wasn’t vital or was non-existent, but there just weren’t as many opportunities out there for seniors, aside from auditing a course at the local community college or actually taking costly college courses. However, as the world of retirement evolves and we are living longer, opportunities are growing for lifelong learning. One such program is Pathways Institute for Lifelong Learning®.

The Pathways Institute was established in 2005 as a collaborative effort by Messiah Lifeways, Messiah College, and the Brethren in Christ Church. It provides a forum for older adults to find meaningful use of their talents and abilities and provides an opportunity to engage in mental, cultural, and spiritual activities and classes for those 55-plusin South Central, PA. Older adults can enjoy this learning opportunity as either student member or as an instructor.

This program grew in popularity and spawned a second Pathways program located at Landis Homes in Lancaster in 2008. Both sites offer very inexpensive courses every fall and spring. They range from history and culture to science and religion, to literature and nature; taught by local experts, many of whom are retired teachers and professors who still have a passion for teaching and sharing with others. Some of the upcoming fall semester courses include:

  • Alfred Nobel: A Man and His Prizes

  • “The Holocaust” In WWII as Recalled by a Survivor

  • Conspiracy theories, Cover-Ups, Secret Societies and UFO Visitors

  • The Brain and Aging

  • Life in the Pentagon

  • Six Turning Points of the Civil War

  • Introduction to Judaism

  • Art in the 20th Century

  • Writing Workshop: Childhood Memories to Share with Friends & Family

College and universities have also enhanced their offerings to mature learners such as Penn State York’s (OLLI) Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and (BILL) Bucknell Institute for Lifelong Learning, as well as number of online courses designed for older adult learning. The options are becoming more and more prevalent. It’s great to see the value of “mental fitness” and enrichment is catching up to that of physical fitness and well-being. 

Lifelong learning truly embodies our thirst for knowledge and our ageless curiosity.

Matthew J. Gallardo, BASW, CCP, is the Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways.