Make the Most of Learning Later in Life

Learning Later in Life

When I retired from paid work in 2012, I thought I would be doing plenty of gardening, some handcrafts and reading. I also had visions of my house sparkling and tidy.

Five years on, most of the garden is again a wilderness and craft time is limited to crochet in front of the television in the evenings. As for that clean and tidy house, the less said, the better. Instead, I have spent many retirement hours completing 90 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and setting up my own blog.

MOOCs are for any age, not only for the young professionals who are looking to climb the career ladder. Statistics from a Class Central survey show that 29% of respondents are aged 55 or older. That’s more than one in every four students.


If you are no longer in paid work, you may have more time to spend on MOOCs. Even if you have a day job, your evenings may be freer of social commitments than when you were younger. Many older students are not struggling to care for young children.

Some older learners may have health issues or transport difficulties which mean that learning in their own home can be easier than going out.


Some particular challenges may apply to the older learner.

  • Time: While some older learners are not trying to fit MOOCs around paid work, others are still in the workforce. Or you may be caring for a partner, parent, or other family member in poor health. Sometimes MOOCs need to be fitted into short periods of time between other activities.
  • Memory: You may find that you need to concentrate harder to retain information than when you were younger. The MOOC Learning How to Learn provides many tips to improve your memory. Download the videos to your device and watch them over and over again.
  • Accessibility: Housebound? The internet has opened up new horizons for people everywhere. The world has conveniently come to you.
  • Health: Poor health may mean it’s hard for you to walk, sit or concentrate for long. The flexibility of MOOCs means you can watch videos in short sessions. You may even be able to use a mobile device while lying down.
  • Energy: perhaps you fatigue more easily or need more rest than when you were younger. Alternatively, you may wake up at ridiculous times and have trouble going back to sleep. Sometimes, I’ll log on and watch a video or two in the wee hours of the morning before going back to bed.

Social aspects

The major learning platforms (Coursera, edX and FutureLearn), plus many others, incorporate discussion boards in their courses. Some online courses have dynamic discussions, while others are sluggish. I began doing MOOCs with no expectation of having social contact, but through online discussions and peer assessments in some classes, I have made contacts and friends from all around the world. It’s been an unexpected bonus of online learning. Don’t forget to use common sense safety measures if you ever decide to meet an online acquaintance in person. Tell a friend where and who you are meeting, or better still, take your friend along.

Are You Tech-savvy?

Some older people lack confidence about using computers or the internet. The good news is that it’s simple and safe to sign up and navigate MOOCs. The MOOC providers are always keen to make the experience easy for students, whether you have a desktop computer or a mobile device. Do you have an iPad, iPhone or Android device? Free apps are available for most MOOC platforms from the app store.

If you are really stuck, try the platform’s Help or FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page or ask a family member or friend.

Payments and Security

You may not want or need to pay for any MOOCs, but if you do decide to, payment is easy. Not everyone has a credit card, but some banks allow customers to attach debit Visa cards and MasterCards to their accounts without charging credit card fees. Branded debit cards may also be available for purchase alongside gift cards in your local stores. Coursera and edX also accept PayPal. If you have bought or sold anything on eBay, you may already have a PayPal account.

While the risk of hackers is always there, reputable companies invest heavily in security to keep their customers’ details safe. Having anti-virus and firewall software on your own device is also recommended, particularly if you do any financial business online.

Doing the MOOC

Do you just want to watch some videos on an interesting subject, or are you keen to learn something for later recall? Planning and setting aside specific times to do your MOOC will make it easier, rather than simply deciding to do it “when I have time”.

You may need to take notes, preferably on paper, but if that isn’t possible, create documents on your device.


So, often, we start new projects with enthusiasm, then find it a struggle to complete them. Try some tips to keep motivation high and deal with procrastination. It’s easy to lose focus, particularly in self-paced courses.

A Final Thought

Like so many of life’s experiences, you won’t know what it’s like until you try it. Maybe MOOCs aren’t for you. Or maybe you will discover a fulfilling new hobby. Five years ago, I had no idea that I would be writing a blog or contemplating taking my 100th online course.

PS: If you haven’t yet taken the survey, it’s open until 31 January: Click here to enter the survey.

By Pat Bowden, published January 23, 2018.