Academic journal article Generations

Civic Engagement and Lifelong Learning

Academic journal article Generations

Civic Engagement and Lifelong Learning

Article excerpt

An important combination.

Why consider lifelong learning as a potentially critical aspect of civic engagement for the population over the age of 50? As the concept of retirement is redefined and shaped by baby boomers' values and a changing economic oudook, a thorough and thoughtful examination of baby boomers' perspectives is essential if their civic engagement is to be initiated and sustained at levels necessary to respond to unmet needs in our communities.

Current research on baby boomers' priorities and predictions concerning their future activities indicates that they have an interest in exploring new options, continuing lifelong learning and personal development, and being engaged in meaningful paid or unpaid work (Wilson and Simson, 2006). Winsten (2004) and the aarp survey (2004a) paint a specific picture of how the current 50-plus group of baby boomers perceives their time and activities in the future. Respondents to the aarp survey indicate that they expect to spend time in personal development, in full- or part-time paid work, in leisure activities, and in volunteer work. Another aarp survey (2004b) indicates that the shift toward expectations of continued work beyond retirement is increasingly strong, with findings indicating that 80 percent of baby boomers expect to continue working either full time or part time.

The baby boomers' stated interest in continuing to learn and continuing to do meaningful paid and unpaid work evolves naturally out of changing demographics in an aging society, particularly related to education, with higher levels of education associated with higher levels of civic engagement.

In 1995, only 14 percent of individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 were college graduates (Gwynn, 2000). By the year 2025, it is estimated that 33 percent of this age group will hold college degrees. Thirty-seven percent of baby boomers report that continuing their education is an important part of their retirement plan (Hart, 2002). Highly educated baby boomers are already filling the classrooms of colleges and universities seeking additional formal education toward alternative careers. In fact, a Merrill Lynch study (2005) indicates that 56 percent of baby boomers would like to change careers.

These studies underscore the understanding that personal development and lifelong learning play a central role in future plans of the baby boomers. Boomers like to acquire new knowledge and skills, and they say they plan to continue to do so. This interest is driven both by personal preference and by the potential of making a career change into more meaningful and rewarding work. To do either requires seeking out and participating in avenues for lifelong learning.

The concept of lifelong learning has itself been changing. Initially, lifelong learning was seen as an educational strategy targeted largely to adults ages 20-45 who required retraining or workforce entry credentials that had not been afforded them or in which they had not participated for other reasons as youth and young adults. As a policy strategy, lifelong learning has been seen as a way to optimize employment potential for adults and workers over the age of 40 (Dehmel, 2006). Globally, lifelong learning has been viewed as a way for governments to achieve their social objectives by improving the overall welfare and earning ability of constituents, thus reducing poverty and inequality (Kroukamp, 2004). Concurrently, the pace of technological change has made lifelong learning, whether formal or informal, critical for career progress.

As a result of these views on the role of lifelong learning in strengthening society, lifelong learning has achieved increasing importance (Bork, 2001). The notion of lifelong learning as relevant and important to and for the 50-plus population is a more recent advance, which is supported by the literature that demonstrates the value of maintaining both cognitive capacity and social networking in aging populations. …

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