At the Gardens at Barry Road in Kansas City, Missouri, we encourage our residents to stay physically and mentally active. One of the best ways to stay engaged is to take online classes with your computer or tablet. You'll learn something new and have a chance to connect with other people, all from the comfort of your assisted living apartment. Before you enroll in your first course, follow these tips to make sure you have the right equipment and understand how to complete a class successfully.
There are many reasons to continue your education long after you finish your formal schooling. One of the most important is that learning can help you maintain your cognitive function as you age. According to a report from Harvard Medical School, challenging your brain with learning activities helps maintain strong connections between brain cells, improving communication within your nervous system. Learning something new is also a great way to boost your self-esteem. Even if the material is challenging at first, you'll feel more confident as you master new concepts and learn how to apply them to your life.
Before you sign up for a class, think about why you want to enroll. Do you want to keep your mind sharp and prevent cognitive decline? Are you planning to learn a new skill that helps you connect with your children or grandchildren? Do you want to feel more confident and capable? The answer will help you determine how to approach each class.
If you're on a budget, don't let it stop you from engaging in lifelong learning. Many reputable websites offer free courses on a wide range of topics, giving you access to nearly unlimited learning opportunities. To avoid illegitimate and scam programs, research each course carefully and make sure it's offered by an organization with a good reputation. If course instructors seem pushy or put more effort into getting you to sign up than they do in explaining what the course includes and how it will benefit you, keep your money and look elsewhere.
Check out these reputable sites to see if they have any courses that interest you:
Before enrolling in your first course, check the technical requirements outlined in the course description. Many sites have minimum requirements for browsers, operating systems and internet speed. Make sure that you have or can easily obtain the equipment needed to meet these minimum requirements.
If you sign up for a synchronous learning opportunity — one in which you have to attend class at a specific time and interact with the instructor — you'll need good speakers and a webcam. Many laptops have built-in webcams, but if yours doesn't, you can purchase one online or at a local electronics store for less than $50.
For some courses, you may need to download and install Zoom, GoToMeeting or another software package. If so, download what you need well before your first class session in case you have any technical difficulties that need to be addressed. Downloading the software as soon as possible will also give you time to set up an account and customize your settings, if needed.
Don't assume that everything will work perfectly; take the time to test your camera, speakers and software before the first session. If you have any issues with your webcam, first check to make sure it's connected to your computer (if you're using an external webcam and not a built-in model). Then, make sure your antivirus software isn't blocking the camera from working properly. If the problem persists, ask a trusted friend or family member for help or contact the webcam's manufacturer for assistance.
If you have audio problems, make sure your external speakers are plugged in to a power source and connected to your computer correctly. Then, check your audio settings to make sure that you haven't muted the sound by mistake. If the problem persists, ask someone from your assisted living community to check your equipment.
Even if you're not getting college credit for the courses you take, you should still take learning seriously. One way to do this is to focus on good time management, which entails planning ahead and sticking to a schedule. If you have to complete a large project, don't put it off until the last minute. Break it down into a series of small tasks to make it more manageable and less overwhelming. Your daily task list might include research, writing, editing and proofreading the final draft of a paper, for example.
Avoiding distractions is also essential, so turn off the television, put your cell phone ringer on quiet and let your loved ones know you'll be busy learning. If you have trouble focusing, try the Pomodoro method of time management. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on nothing but your coursework the entire time. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break before tackling the next chapter or assignment.