The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic deter its objective of encouraging adults 50+ to "Never Stop Learning."
In mid-March, OLLI at UAH made the difficult decision to cancel its Spring 2020 course term for the first time in 25 years. UAH staff and OLLI volunteers quickly started thinking outside the box. "Although older adults are often not considered tech savvy, this is the Rocket City!" says Karen Clanton, Dean of the College of Professional Studies (CPS). "We know our members believe in the importance of staying intellectually and socially active, so our goal is to continue providing them the opportunity."
OLLI members are often in the age or health group that necessitates them to be vigilant in following social distancing guidelines. Because of this, OLLI at UAH has implemented a number of creative ways to keep members engaged. As step one of this plan, the educational series Great Decisions from the Foreign Policy Association was made available to them. This series covers different topics affecting the world and members started meeting through videoconferencing to discuss the lectures as a group. Members could also participate in online tours of different museums, attractions around the world, national parks, and the MET opera live streaming.
For step two, OLLI initiated Coffee Chats with the Program Manager and Coordinator to provide an opportunity for members to interact with the UAH staff and fellow OLLI members. This social time provided participants with a similar environment to their lounge where they meet and socialize in between classes. Topics discussed varied from local and world events to personal accomplishments, or activities and hobbies to do while staying safe at home.
In step three, OLLI moved online with one of their most popular member benefits, OLLI Bonuses. Topics include: how Genomics corresponds with coffee and chocolate, presented by a member of the HudsonAlpha for Biotechnology team; a veteran's view of returning to Vietnam; and an OLLI member's travelogue on cruising around the world and Death Valley National Park.
Jane McBride, an OLLI member for 10+ years, mentioned that "Seeing old friends and meeting new members engaged in typical OLLI exchanges was truly encouraging amidst the torrents of bad news." Another member, Sue Farbman, shared how OLLI's online resources have helped her during this time. "As a participant in the weekly lecture series, I was able to consider some current issues and discuss them, just as we would have in a classroom."
The impact and success of moving OLLI online made the decision to expand the program by implementing a new online LIVE program OLLI Express Online an easy one. This series of OLLI courses is taught by members and other community volunteers through videoconferencing. The broad range of course topics available provide ample choices for members' varied interests. To date more than 90 members are registered and enjoying their experience with the program.
Even some former members who relocated to other cities rejoined OLLI at UAH to participate in the online courses. "I'm in Florida, taking a class organized in Alabama, and taught by an instructor in Ohio!" mentioned former UAH First Lady Beth Altenkirch during a live session on The 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower Arrival.
OLLI at UAH has offered courses, social and cultural events, and travel opportunities for over 25 years to the North Alabama community. Even during this complex time, the community can still participate in OLLI at UAH's online activities, with more courses and opportunities being made available this summer with OLLI Online LIVE. Registration is currently open at Osher.uah.edu/OLLIRegistration. An OLLI membership is required to register and is only $25 per year.
This press release was produced by the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The views expressed here are the author's own.