Thursday, 1 November 2012

Education in the Third Age

Silicon Age and the Third Age

The riddle of the sphinx is a famous Greek tale.  The Sphinx on the road outside Thebes in Greece, asked the question "Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?".  Any traveller who could not answer the riddle was devoured. That is until Oedipus solved the riddle and freed Thebes from the sphinx.  The answer to the riddle was man.  The morning, afternoon and evening represented the three ages of man.

Online education has so far been usually mentioned in the context of the first two ages of man.  Personally I think this is because the people practising the use and invention of online learning experiences are within the first two ages of man.  In the UK the Third Age is often characterised by people struggling to find activities to fill their time when they first retire or choose to give up work.  Society and Industry can often loose valuable contributors and knowledge as they progress through their Third Age. How can that be addressed to include the people with the most "leisure time" on their hands, the people within their Third Age?

In the UK and Australia there is a charitable educational organisation run for the benefit of it's members.  This is the University of the Third Age  (U3A).  This runs traditional learning activities based around lectures and interest groups prepared and delivered by members.  A new project for them is to design and deliver Online Learning Courses.   The driving force behind this is the realisation that not all members of the U3A are able to attend meetings owing to other commitments or mobility issues preventing from leaving the house.  The isolation issue can lead to older people becoming invisible to society. Another driver seems to be that expertise and experience in geographical group can be transferred to another.  

Online Courses could also be a good opportunity for businesses to help their employees adjust to retirement and allow some of their accrued knowledge and understanding to be retained within the company.  A for instance is that in the UK we have come full circle in promoting apprenticeships in the workplace in the transition between the first and second age.  The people now coming up to their Third Age retirement who did serve 7 year apprenticeships and worked for that organisation in middle management and production roles usually have specialist knowledge that is lost.  Part of the training and support for new entrants in the company could be aided by this repository of expertise.   

The Silicon Age does not necessarily need to bypass the Third Age.  Retirement does not mean people become invisible or childminders.  People in this context are more important resources for passing on knowledge and undersanding. This is an opportunity to use Online Faculty Learning Communities or possibly more appropriately named Online Facilitated  Learning Communities to maintain contact between the different ages of man!

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