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Virtual Learning Communities: Never Alone



The College of Extended Education helps baby boomers learn in their senior years; caption below

Virtual Learning Communities: Never Alone

“Virtual Learning Communities for Seniors Aging in Place” was presented by
Margaret Gordon, dean, College of Extended Education (CEE), Joanne Zitelli, associate dean, CEE, and Jim Bouchard, senior program development specialist, CEE Extension Programs at “Invest in Aging,” the 2006 Joint Conference of the National Council on the Aging and the American Society on Aging on March 17 at the Anaheim Hilton.

The trio’s findings focused on Web-based learning communities that are accessible on the Internet, that can increase knowledge and build self-esteem for seniors who live  independently or in assisted living situations. Zitelli describes the last batch of baby boomers who are entering their senior years as “a generation of seekers. They’re constantly looking for answers. They’re never satisfied with the answers that institutions provide, they’ve always challenged them.

“Our definition of a learning community from the point of view of lifelong learning where individuals are continually expanding their capacity. One of the things that happens in the aging process is that as you age, you lose the people things around you and certain capacities. Gradually, things are being taken away. What a learning community does is give things back to you, building self-esteem with new experiences, new knowledge and new ways of thinking and growing. That is extremely important in terms of well-being and feeling good about yourself.”

According to Bouchard, who serves as coordinator for the CSU Dominguez Hills branch of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI), the campus is the only one that has been given the go-ahead to create a virtual learning community that can reach seniors regardless of location or ability to travel to a learning site.

OLLI includes programs such as Omnilore, a peer-taught learning-in-retirement group; OLLIonline, a film-based, college-level lecture series that is broadcast over television and the Internet; learning groups called O-Pods in senior centers and retirement homes with topics based on OLLIonline broadcasts; the Osher Lecture Series presented by CSUDH faculty; and OLLInet, a technology-based learning group that meets in state-of-the-art computer classrooms.
“Over 80 percent of Omnilore participants or members use e-mail in most of their communication,” he says. “It’s prevalent with our group, which is made up mostly of retired engineers and educators. We’re looking for ways of really tapping into the Internet so that learners can communicate solely via the Website.”

“As the baby boomers (people born in the years 1946-1963) come of age, they will likely change aspects of established senior learning communities.  The emerging generation of retirees has the capacity for working with the Internet,” says Zitelli. “They also want to travel, and will be able to use Ipods and other devices so that can stay connected and  follow lectures and communicate with  their peers anyplace, anytime.”

Gordon emphasizes the value of learning communities for seniors, saying that, “Involvement in a learning community is very important for seniors. When you study services for seniors, one of the major factors is this tendency for seniors to become isolated or disengaged depending upon their situation,” she notes. “When they live at home, there’s a risk that they can become socially isolated as they become less able to get around, and have less access to others. But when they live in assisted living facilities, there is also another kind of social isolation that can set in. They’re with people who may have different values than they do, so they may feel uprooted.

“We have this concept of learning communities and that everyone should have the opportunity to be involved in them. One of the factors that results in successful aging is the ability to sort of get beyond this isolation and continue to be involved. The other one is also what learning can do to maintain your own mental acuity.”

For more information on OLLIonline or the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, visit

- Joanie Harmon

Photo above: (L-R) Joanne Zitelli, associate dean, College of Extended Education (CEE);
Jim Bouchard, senior program development specialist, CEE Extension Programs; and
Margaret Gordon, dean, CEE. Photo by Joanie Harmon










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Last updated Friday, May 12, 2006, 1:20 p.m., by Joanie Harmon