The Importance of Lifelong Learning

Guest Correspondence

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” —Henry Ford

Ringling College of Art and Design and the Lifelong Learning Academy recently announced that the two organizations had agreed to merge, effective June 1. The Lifelong Learning Academy (LLA) organization will become the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy (RCLLA) and be incorporated into Ringling College’s Continuing Studies and Special Programs (CSSP), a unit of the College’s Office of Academic Affairs. The current Executive Director of LLA, Janna Overstreet, will assume the role of Director of RCLLA.

The Lifelong Learning Academy, currently housed at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, will offer classes there until the June transition. The merger was precipitated by the Academy’s need for more space because of expanded programs; USF Sarasota-Manatee needs more classrooms to accommodate its incoming freshmen and sophomore classes. Ultimately, the RCLLA will be headquartered and most classes taught at the historic Sarasota High School currently under renovation.

So, what is lifelong learning and why is Ringling College interested?

Lifelong learning is the umbrella term for advanced adult education programs that allow students the opportunity to enjoy learning for the sake of learning—no tests, no grades—just the joy of learning. Those  enrolling in such programs tend to be passionate people who want intellectual and social stimulation. Sarasota is blessed to have a number of lifelong learning opportunities. The largest by far is the Lifelong Learning Academy with some 3,000 participants, but others in the community include Pierian Spring Academy and Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning (“SILL’) as well as programs at the Longboat Key Education Center and many more. People attend classes on all sorts of topics that are taught by experts who encourage participation and thoughtful discussion.

Ah, Sarasota, I love that we have such a large intellectually curious populace.

In addition to intellectual stimulation, medical research has demonstrated that adult lifelong learning can promote healthy minds, lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lower blood pressure, increase physical mobility and reduce symptoms and incidence of depression or isolation because these classes provide purpose and meaning to people as they age.

The LLA, which will soon be part of Ringling College, was started 18 years ago by a group of retirees who needed more in their retirement years than golf, bridge, beaches or rest. Since that time, it has not stopped growing. Indeed, in the past three years, LLA has grown 40 percent in the number of participants through numerous courses and special programs, including Einstein Circle discussions and educational travel programs. Topics literally range from Architecture to Zoology.

Ringling College has always had a robust continuing studies program that focused on adult education in art. Those programs have been held on our campus and at Ringling College’s Longboat Key and Englewood Art Centers. This merger with Lifelong Learning Academy exponentially expands our offerings of the College.

With the future classes of the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy being held in the historic Sarasota High School, the building will not only have a world-class modern and contemporary art museum (Sarasota Museum of Art) but also a facility buzzing with people from the community taking a wide variety of classes. It was always our vision that the Sarasota Museum of Art would occupy a bit more than one-third of the historic building and the remaining would be dedicated to some form of continuing education. With the addition of the Lifelong Learning Academy, that vision will be realized when the historic high school reopens in 2017. It’s poetic, really. A building constructed in 1926 to educate the young will be repurposed to educated students of all ages through a plethora of engaging courses, programs, events and exhibitions. This is lifelong learning. This is Ringling College. This is Sarasota.

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design.

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