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Research Says 80 Year olds still learning but find TV Documentaries as good as classrooms

Originally published 16 December 2002

We live in a rapidly ageing society yet educational policy has tended to concentrate ‘lifelong learning’ programmes on younger people. Now new research by the University of Warwick, funded by the ESRC’s Growing Older Research Programme, has established that there is an army of older people out there still keen to learn but who find TV Documentaries are just as good as formal classrooms as a way to learn.

The University of Warwick research was conducted across the UK. It included focus group discussions, questionnaires and interviews with the majority of respondents aged between 70-79 and 25 per cent over the age of 80.

The research found older people say that learning helps to keep their brains active. They say that learning stimulates their intellect and gives them pleasure. They also say that continuing to learn helps them to understand and to cope with constant change in society and some believe that the therapeutic value of learning is a way of ensuring good health. A significant group of the most aged also said that learning just to acquire new knowledge was bottom of their priorities.

The researchers found that on average, each participant took part in six hours of organised learning a week, and 71 per cent said they spent up to £5 per week on learning activities. However there was also a large group who considered themselves engaged in active informal learning such as reading, discussing the news, watching TV quizzes and documentaries, voluntary work and social activities especially those who felt they were now too old or infirm to attend formal courses.

Some of the older people interviewed cited TV programmes such as natural history documentaries that stimulated their interests and encouraged them to explore topics further but other subjects such as computing were seen as better acquired through formal learning. The research points to the need to offer older people a wider choice and variety of ways of learning especially as some felt they were now too old or infirm to attend formal courses.

For further details contact:

Dr Alexandra Withnall,
University of Warwick
Centre for Primary Health Care Studies
Tel: 024 7657 3851
01922 620569 (home)