Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • February 2017
Written by 

The value of lifelong learning — Engage your mind to enrich your life

Thought you were done with school? You might want to think again! Research over the last 30 years confirms that an engaged, motivated brain leads to a happier and more vibrant life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of the adult population in the United States seeks lifelong learning opportunities to maintain a healthier physical, psychological and intellectual lifestyle. The result is a rise in the number of non-credit courses in community-based programming creating a national trend at local community colleges to offer educational and cultural experiences that extend beyond the typical classroom.

Through many college and university offices across the country, unique, practical and thoughtful programming that falls under the heading of “continuing education” is being offered.

What is continuing education? The phrase is typically associated with adults looking to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, continuing education can also be described in broad terms since we believe that education can happen in uncommon settings and through a variety of different activities, experiences and opportunities.

These opportunities present themselves in the form of personal enrichment, non-degree career preparation or professional development, educational travel, youth programming, customized training, theater and collaborative events that provide culturally rich experiences.

What is the difference between personal and professional development?

Personal enrichment generally includes topics in the arts, communication, cooking, crafts, health and fitness, home and garden, money and personal finance, and more while professional development is designed for individuals looking to advance or change careers by acquiring new job skills.

In addition, continuing education programming is not limited to adults. It is not uncommon for community colleges to offer fun and creative summer programming designed to keep kids active and academically engaged during the summer months.

But can taking a class increase brain function?

According to Lisa Heisler, OTR and current continuing education instructor who teaches “Pumping Neurons” and “Brain Health” at UW-Manitowoc, the answer is a categorical yes! “Brains are miraculous organs. They allow us to understand our senses, create, express and experience emotions, communicate with each other, control the movement of our bodies, among many other things. So powerful, yet so fragile.

“The truth is, mental stimulation in the form of continuing education, combined with a healthy diet and physical activity can stave off the negative effects of an aging brain and conditions often referred to as senility, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research is proving that the things we do in our youth and adulthood can impact and delay cognitive impairments up to 30 years before symptoms appear. Lifelong learning activities are one of the many things that can help us keep our brains healthy.”

As continuing education continues to expand classes and opportunities for travel at local colleges and universities across the country, so too, do the benefits expand for you.

Benefits of continuing education

  • Allows you to expand your mind and improve your memory.
  • Enhances your self-confidence.
  • Offers an inexpensive way to try something new.
  • Helps us make new friends and establish valuable relationships.
  • Builds on skills you already have.
  • Offers an opportunity to learn a new skill and increase prospects of employment.
  • Provides empowerment in the job market or additional employee value on the job.
  • Gives you a new interest that you can share with family and friends.
  • Keeps you involved as an active contributor to society.

Whether you want to learn a new language, write poetry, create a work of art, learn Reiki, or understand financial strategies, your local community college is the place to pursue lifelong learning opportunities to keep your skills updated and your mind stimulated. 

Suzanne Lawrence, MA

Suzanne Lawrence, M.A., is the Regional Director of Continuing Education for the Northeast Region of Wisconsin Colleges. In this position, inaugurated in December of 2015, Lawrence directs all aspects of continuing education programming and marketing for the University of Wisconsin campuses at Fond du Lac, Fox Valley and Manitowoc.

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