Lifelong Learning Programs for Seniors

Learning is a rewarding and invigorating experience no matter how old you are. Now that you’ve reached retirement age, the opportunity to learn is even greater due to more free time – and at The Merion, we make it even easier to access many lifelong learning opportunities.

If your thirst for knowledge needs to be quenched, we can help satisfy those cravings. The Merion is located just steps away from Northwestern University, providing residents with the opportunity for in-person and online coursework through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Learn more about this exceptional offering and the benefits that come with lifelong learning for seniors, below.

An introduction to OLLI

Whether you’re learning a new language, exploring new reads via book clubs, diving into history, or taking an online course, continuing education is readily available in university towns like Evanston. Because of The Merion’s proximity to Northwestern University, residents often visit, audit classes, or enroll in Northwestern’s OLLI senior education program.

OLLI offers semester-long, non-credit courses you can take at your own pace with no assignments or grades to adults over age 50. In addition to a broad and intellectually stimulating curriculum, they also offer activities outside the classroom.

Dee, resident of The Merion, looks forward to all the programs OLLI offers to seniors. 

“I love that OLLI offers in-depth classes on a variety of  topics. I have taken classes on artificial intelligence (AI), Leonard Cohen’s poetry, and James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was a year-long class! This year I’m in a class to learn more about August Wilson’s plays, where we even get to see one in person!

The Merion has great lectures and programming. Subjects include history, music, science, and more. I have the opportunity to meet different people and the in-person classes are right across the street! OLLI also offers many classes over Zoom, so you have options! It’s important to know that these classes are not led by a teacher, but rather a coordinator who allows everyone in the class to take part in leading discussions and answering questions.”

Benefits of lifelong learning for seniors

Lifelong learning for seniors can bring about numerous benefits, both in terms of cognitive and emotional well-being, including:

1. Cognitive stimulation

  • Cognitive health: Lifelong learning helps keep the brain active, promoting neuroplasticity and potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association shared a recent study that shows the link between formal education and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Memory improvement: Engaging in new learning experiences is not only intellectually stimulating. It can also enhance memory and cognitive function.

2. Social interaction

  • Community building: Joining classes or groups for learning provides opportunities for seniors to make social connections and new friends, and strengthen existing relationships.
  • Sense of purpose: Lifelong learning can give seniors a sense of purpose and accomplishment, especially when they are contributing to discussion groups, learning new skills, and opening themselves up to new opportunities.

3. Emotional well-being

  • Mental health: Learning new material can contribute to improved mental health by reducing feelings of isolation and boredom.
  • Self-esteem: Mastering new skills or acquiring knowledge can boost self-esteem and confidence.

4. Adaptability

  • Technological proficiency: Lifelong learning helps seniors stay abreast of technological advancements, enabling them to adapt to changes and stay connected with the modern world.
  • Flexibility: Continuous learning fosters adaptability, allowing seniors to better cope with life changes and challenges.

5. Overall health benefits

  • Physical health: Engaging in activities that involve learning, such as dance classes or gardening workshops, can have positive effects on physical health.
  • Stress reduction: Pursuing interests and hobbies through learning can be a form of stress relief and relaxation.

6. Personal growth

  • Fulfillment: Learning new things later in life can lead to a sense of personal fulfillment and a deeper understanding of oneself.
  • Hobbies and interests: Seniors have the opportunity to explore hobbies and interests they may not have had time for earlier in life.

7. Enhanced problem-solving skills

  • Critical thinking: Lifelong learning encourages the development of critical thinking skills, helping seniors approach problems and challenges with a more analytical mindset.

8. Legacy and wisdom sharing

  • Teaching others: Seniors can share their life experiences and wisdom with others, becoming mentors or educators, contributing to the intergenerational transfer of knowledge.

Lifelong learning for seniors offers a holistic range of benefits, encompassing cognitive, social, emotional and physical aspects of well-being. It promotes an active and fulfilling lifestyle, contributing to an overall higher – and longer – quality of life in the later years. 

It’s true. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says dynamic learning opportunities help individuals live longer because of “increased literacy, knowledge, skills, and insight that help people thrive across their lifespan.”


Group of Caucasian male and female friends, meeting for a club book, where they reading and discuss


Online lifelong learning programs for seniors

Ready to get started? Here are some examples of OLLI Anywhere Virtual Study Groups:

  • Contemporary Issues & Community Engagement, like “International Relations”
  • History & Social Sciences, like “Introduction to the New Testament”
  • Literature, like “Literary Masters: Post-War Experiences”
  • Creative Arts, like “Poetry in a New Age”

In-person lifelong learning programs for seniors

You can also attend a class in person as part of OLLI’s Evanston Study Group! Some of these include:

  • Creative Arts, like “British Film Noir”
  • History & Social Sciences, like “Views from the Oval Office” 
  • Contemporary Issues & Community Engagement, like “Washington Week”
  • Literature, like “Best American Short Stories”
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, & Health, like “Exercise: How Physical Activity Boosts Health and Slows Aging”

For the most updated course information and to register, please visit Northwestern’s OLLI page.


Nurture your curiosities with lifelong learning at The Merion

At The Merion, residents attend fascinating lectures, pursue their favorite subjects through educational courses, and enjoy all the benefits of being a lifelong learner. Visit our community to learn more about everything The Merion offers to independent, active seniors.