Free Online Courses Keep Retirees in the Know

By Walecia Konrad
MARCH 19, 2015—The New York Times

Mary Lou Russell has a passion for learning. Since retiring 10 years ago, the 79-year-old former grant maker has taken more than a dozen classes on subjects including classical music and appreciating Andy Warhol. She has attended most of her classes from her Manhattan living room.

“I used to go up to Columbia, down to N.Y.U. and over to New School. I was all over the place with my MetroCard,” Ms. Russell said. “Then I learned about online courses and that has been so freeing for me. I call it the anti-aging vitamin for those of us over 60 who want to stay relevant.”

Taking courses online is well suited for retirees, according to John Blair, 85, a retired engineer in Wayland, Mass. He especially likes the accessibility to top professors at elite universities. He adds that online courses have given him a way to dive into subjects unrelated to engineering, like economics. “By jumping from Yale to Harvard to Stanford to M.I.T., I was able to sample economics courses in a broad way,” Mr. Blair said.

Colleges have been catering to online adult learners for years, often offering video lectures and courses on their websites and posting popular lecture series on YouTube and iTunes. Starting around 2011, the latest iteration of virtual education, massive open online courses or MOOCs, hit the scene. Often free, many of these classes take online learning a step further and provide interactive video features like mini quizzes and student discussion forums.

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