Comparison of student demographics, satisfaction and perceived cognitive demand in two lifelong learning programs

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Leisure activity participation has been found to have a positive impact on our health and well-being (e.g., Rowe & Kahn, 1998), and interest in lifelong learning as a leisure time activity is rising. This study compared self-reported measures of demographics, life satisfaction, cognitive status, and mood states in adult populations (over 50 years old). These older adults were attending noncredit courses in two different adult education programs: an adult education center and a university setting. Students in the two programs differed in several demographic features (age, years of formal education, socioeconomic status, and satisfaction with life). While both groups reported the same level of cognitive functioning, adult education students found the classes more familiar yet more challenging. Students in both programs reported an improvement in mood at the end of the class compared to the beginning. This study suggests that demographic variables, such as years of formal education, socioeconomic status, and life satisfaction, may determine which lifelong learning program adults choose. Regardless of program choice, participation in noncredit lifelong learning programs improves the mood of adults and may provide longer term benefits to their overall health and well-being. Further research is needed to determine whether the degree of challenge (Salthouse, Merish, & Miles, 2002) or lack of familiarity (Park, Gutchess, Meade, & Stine-Morrow, 2007) with the material will influence whether participation in lifelong learning programs has a lasting impact on cognitive health.