Carlson: Engaging in lifelong learning

In an era when health-care costs are rising, people are living longer and all of us are gifted with natural curiosity and the desire to seek opportunities for self-improvement, lifelong learning takes on special meaning.

We are fortunate in Southwest Florida to have virtually an unlimited array of organizations offering a diverse array of options for lifelong learners. Courses in everything from making clay pottery to mastering the intricacies of digital technology to exploring philosophy are available quite literally at our doorsteps. Let me share why I think these pursuits are worthy of your time and within your reach.

First, recent research supports the potential benefits of active pursuits of lifelong learning opportunities. For example, the National Institutes of Health has reported a study that found that learning new and perhaps challenging skills might benefit your brain. Participants generally did well learning new tasks and could still perform these tasks well after several years had passed. NIH says that probably the process of the learning activity helps the brain adapt to compensate for age-related changes. This and other studies support the notion “use it or lose it.”

Second, opportunities for finding a subject or experience of interest are numerous and, equally important, finding people who share your interests is very likely. A limited survey of five organizations in Manatee and Sarasota counties found that, during the past year, more than 3,000 classes were offered and 65,000-plus people participated. These offerings represent just the tip of iceberg.

Third, learning sites are nearly unlimited. Lifelong learning programs are scattered throughout the Suncoast area, including in downtown Bradenton and Sarasota, east and south Sarasota County, satellite sites at Lakewood Ranch and on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. All of these sites offer a breadth of options.

Fourth, costs are reasonable and affordable. Fees range from zero (no-charge events) to $10 per lecture to $80 for a six-week course. Some lifelong learning organizations offer scholarships for qualified individuals.

What’s more, local governments have acknowledged the value of affordable lifelong learning. November has been proclaimed Lifelong Learning Month by the commissions of Manatee County, Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota. Each of these government entities wishes to encourage the powerful and positive impacts of pursuing lifelong learning opportunities. To quote from their proclamations, “We recognize that adults are never too old to pursue knowledge and skills that will positively influence their mental and physical health, economic prospects, and social life …”

So, how can you find out what’s going on without devoting hours on the phone or the internet. Here’s what I suggest:

• Visit, where more than 20 organizations provide news on their activities and where you can search for topics of interest.

• Attend LLEXPO18 on Nov. 15 at the new Carlisle Inn Conference Center and meet firsthand representatives from area lifelong-learning organizations and hear five notable speakers. (Click here for details.)

• Meet a SunCoast Alliance for Lifelong Learning representative at the SCALL tent on Saturdays at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

Join us in a mind-expanding array of lifelong learning experiences. You will be happy that you did.

Robert V. Carlson is president of the SunCoast Alliance for Lifelong Learning.
SOURCE: Sarasota Herald-Tribune