Master minds: Joy of learning never grows old for senior students at U of A

Brian Heidecker refuses to act his age and he won't stop learning. That's how the 74-year-old ended up wandering the halls at the University of Alberta as a newbie taking classes with Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association.

Class in session for 600 members of Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association

Edmonton author and comedian Marty Chan gives a lunchtime presentation entitled 'It is Not the Years; It's the Mileage," at the spring session of the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Freshman Brian Heidecker is heading off to class.

"I have one course on China and I'm going to digital photography next," says the 74-year-old retired rancher and businessman.

As Heidecker makes his way down a crowded hallway in the education building at the University of Alberta, he's amongst a sea of seniors surfing for knowledge. 

It's back to school for student Brian Heidecker. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

They're all members of Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association and they're attending the spring session.

"We have 661 students registered in 50 classes. You can take anywhere from one to four classes in a day for three weeks," says ELLA president Shirley Forrest.

Physical space for the learning and other support is provided by the University of Alberta faculty of extension.

The ELLA classes are for people aged 50 and older and are taught by university professors and other professionals.

The courses range from tai chi to terrorism in the modern world, from drawing for beginners to energy pipelines: fact and fiction. 

Meet some of the members of the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association. 2:34

ELLA, established in 2002, is run by volunteers. Participants pony up $275 to take up to four courses.

There's no university credit for the learning, but Forrest notes the upside: "There are no exams, there are no tests, classes are very relaxed and it's just a lot of fun." 

Shirley Forrest marshals a small army of volunteers as the president of ELLA. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Forrest believes it's the fun that has racked up a record-breaking 1,011 members this year.

"One of the things that's been proven is aging is the cause of social isolation quite often and things like this mean people are getting out there using their brains."

For Heidecker, his first ELLA spring session has been like "old home week."

"I ran into a lot of former university employees, the odd banker, a couple of lawyers, just a bunch of very energetic older folks." 

"What better thing can a person do than take a whole bunch of fascinating classes and keep this muscle between my ears exercised," Heidecker said.

He believes it beats the alternative. 

"We end up at home on the sofa complaining about potholes or something else totally and completely irrelevant."

You can see more this week on Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., noon on Sunday and 11 a.m. on Monday on CBC TV.

ELLA students rush off to their next classes at the University of Alberta. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.


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