Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: Learning Opportunities For Older Adults

One of the joys of aging is the freedom to pursue learning for learning sake.


When you no longer must pursue subjects to maintain a career—or attain an advanced degree—the mind can soar into areas you have always wanted to know more about, but never had the time to explore.

And while there are numerous continuing education opportunities throughout the Chicago area, there is one that stands out as truly unique.

Chicago and Evanston Programs
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) offers an intellectually challenging curriculum to more than 700 mature adults on its Evanston and Chicago campuses.

According to Director Judy Mann, “We offer unique, peer-organized and led discussion groups, presenting our members with an array of stimulating study groups in subjects such as history, literature, contemporary issues, science and technology, philosophy, creative art, economics and our newest study group concept—civic engagement.

“OLLI has grown more than 30 percent over the last four years,” she continued.  “It is truly a vibrant learning community.”

More Than 700 Member Students
Composed of retired and semi-retired people from all walks of life, this nationwide program with 118 centers, offers members an opportunity to stay engaged in meaningful activity after retirement. OLLI cultivates the varied life experiences of its members and is a place where seasoned adult learners can celebrate their curiosity, seek intellectual inspiration from and with each other, discover creative ways to express their wisdom, and investigate with their peers. OLLI’s motto is “Curiosity Never Retires.”

According to Mann, the age range of student members spans from 50 to 93, and most participants are in their 70s to mid 80s.

Shared Peer Learning
What makes OLLI different is that classes are shared, peer-learning experiences that are held seminar-style in learning groups. There are no professors, teachers or tests. Student members learn together for the pure joy of learning in a non-threatening environment. But, according to Mann, active participation is key to the experience.

At a recent information session at OLLI’s headquarters at NU, the diversity of the student members was clear. Susan Gaud, an Evanston resident and retired Kraft food scientist, spoke about her five-year involvement in the program. There was a man from Park Ridge who called himself an “insurance guy” who said his career is winding down. One woman was a psychotherapist originally from France and another was a translator born in Italy.  And one gentleman expressing interest explained he has been incarcerated for 15 years.

Membership Has Its Benefits

There are three OLLI membership levels:

  • All Inclusive Membership
  • Basic Membership
  • Trial Membership

Costs range from $310 to $150 a semester depending on the membership level.

The two higher levels include:

  • Student WildCARD ID with area discounts
  • Full access to NU libraries and online databases
  • Reduced rates to audit School of Continuing Studies courses
  • Free access to campus computer labs
  • Free inter-campus shuttles
  • Student discounts

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