- This story originally appeared in the September 2023 education issue of COMO Magazine.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Mizzou offers unique educational opportunities for adults age 50 and above.
Housed at Mizzou and developed by MU Extension, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is part of a nationwide program with a presence on more than 120 college campuses in the country.
In Columbia, Osher’s benefits are three-fold, says Jennifer Erickson, educational director. First, intellectual health promotes physical well-being. Secondly, the program’s coursework will stimulate natural intellectual curiosity. And finally, “learning is just pure fun.”
Classes are usually held at the Waters-Moss Memorial Wildlife Area at 1905 Hillcrest Drive.
Osher’s curriculum is designed to provide a relaxed, comfortable, and flexible approach to learning. It offers classes in a number of formats and lengths and provides – in addition to an in-person classroom format – the option for online and hybrid studies. Erickson says the program prides itself on meeting people where they are and creating a place where students can interact with each other in a thoughtful, productive way.
“We provide a variety of non-credit classes, as well as cultural and social opportunities designed for people aged 50 and above,” Erickson explains. “In other words, it’s a wonderful way, as we age, to keep our brains active and engaged, which is very good for healthy aging.”
The program offers a wide spectrum of resources to help people learn more about topics that interest them and to facilitate opportunities to network and socialize with their peers in the community.
Osher offers four semesters of coursework each year, which coincide with the seasons. Two semesters – fall and spring – run for eight weeks, while the winter and summer semesters consist of four-week sessions. Currently, the Osher@Mizzou program offers more than 100 classes throughout the academic year. For example, in the fall semester, there are 21 courses offered, ranging in subject matter from the humanities and political science to current events, American history, and world history — “all sorts of topics along those lines,” Erickson notes.
Learners can select from several four-week classes, or a few eight-week classes. Multi-week classes take place Monday through Thursday, once a week, and usually for 90-minute sessions.
Erickson says that one of the major assets Osher provides is flexibility, particularly in the wake of COVID. The program offers a variety of options for students to select their learning environment.
“The neat part, for people who live in Columbia, is that, for most of our classes, you can choose whether to drive in and see people in person, or to Zoom in,” Erickson says.
In other words, if you want to take a class while you’re sitting at home in your pajamas, you can do that, and still participate in a classroom environment.
“It’s not just that you watch a class,” she explains. “You have the opportunity to engage with your instructor and your co-students.”
If you want to revisit a course after you’ve taken it, many of the online and hybrid sessions are available online. In fact, Erickson says that it’s a priority for the Osher team to make different avenues of learning available to students.
“We want to make the learning experience rich for everyone,” she says, “whether they’re sitting in the actual classroom or at home in workout clothes. Pre-pandemic, we were in-person only. We’ve had a lot of changes since then, obviously. So now, even if you sign up for an in-person class, we’ll send you the Zoom link, and you’ll have options.”
Erickson continues, “One week you might want to stay home, and one week you might not be feeling well, and one week you might want to have lunch with a friend, and one week you might think, ‘Hey, I was really inspired by that lecture, I’d like to hear it again.’ People are busy when they’re retired. It’s really an exciting time in people’s lives.”
Those who sign up for an eight-week class will have access to the recordings of all eight sessions.
Erickson says that the Osher program is a valuable resource because it promotes learning simply for the joy of learning.
“Our students aren’t taking these classes to get a grade or earn a degree. They’re there to learn the subject matter,” she explains. “Really, the value added that has happened in this new version of Osher is that there’s so much flexibility and access for people.”
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Jennifer Erickson, Educational Director