Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Ageworks: The Evolution of Gerontology Education

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Ageworks: The Evolution of Gerontology Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

There is a tremendous demand for gerontology and geriatrics education. Ageworks is the innovative multimedia division of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California. During the past 5 years Ageworks has created, managed and distributed online courses and products related to gerontology (the study of human aging) to students, professionals working in aging fields, and members of the general public. The first cohort of students has now graduated with an M.A. from this online program. This paper describes the creation of this program and identifies key summative outcomes.

Introduction

This paper details a comprehensive analysis of the nation's first online gerontology program. The authors were tasked with performing a program evaluation following the completion of the fifth year of the Andrus Center's online gerontology program. This paper is a summary of those findings. Ageworks is the innovative multimedia division of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California. Andrus is the nation's oldest and largest private educational center devoted entirely to gerontology. During the past 5 years Ageworks has created, managed and distributed courses and educational products related to gerontology (the study of human aging) to students, professionals working in aging fields, and members of the general public. This paper outlines the process by which the Ageworks team designed and implemented the nation's first completely online Master of Art's degree in gerontology and discusses several key summative outcomes from the first cohort of graduates. Although it is recognized most institutions may lack either the financial, technological or human resources to replicate the efforts described, many departments, programs and even individual faculty members will benefit from this narrative.

From its inception, Ageworks followed three specific principles. First, the Ageworks team recognized early on that there exists a large demand for gerontology education. Kim, et al found that less than 10% of those currently working with older adults had actually had any formal training in either geriatrics or gerontology (1998). Second, for a variety of reasons, students today generally tend to be older, work more, are less likely to want a residential educational experience, and should therefore be viewed as discerning consumers. Third, it is possible to deliver a high quality educational experience via the Internet. In fact, this medium and type of learning may actually enhance the learning experience of many students, particularly adults (Knowles, 1984). From these principles, a five-year strategy to create an on-line Master's degree in gerontology was developed. The details of that strategy are described below.

There is a tremendous demand for education in gerontology. Few academic disciplines have grown as rapidly as gerontology over the last decades (Peterson, D., Wendt, P. and Douglass, E., 1994). In 1957, 57 colleges and universities offered credit courses in gerontology (Masunaga, H., Peterson, D., and Seymour, R., 1998). Thirty-five years later, 1,639 campuses offered such courses (Peterson, D., Douglass, E., Seymour, R. and Wendt, P. 1997). Despite this growth in academic programs and on-campus students, few professionals working with older Americans have ever had any formal training in gerontology. Moreover, the number of professionals working with older persons is increasing exponentially. Ageworks decided to systematically consider how these growing numbers of professionals would obtain a high-quality education in gerontology. One obvious approach was through professional (non-credit) residential training. But many professionals have expressed interest in acquiring additional graduate (for credit) training and degrees. While it is possible for some of these professionals to come to campus, the vast majority need to work full time and/or cannot leave their young children or older relatives for whom they provide care. …

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