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How Clients Can Continue Their Education in Retirement (Without Spending a Fortune)

February 11, 2020



Imagine you’re a singer back in 1963. Paul McCartney offers you a song to record called “Yesterday.” You think about it, but turn it down because you just don’t think it’s right for you. That’s what Billy Kramer did. He thought it was okay, but he was looking for more of a rock ‘n’ roll song, so he turned it down. Paul later recorded “Yesterday” himself, and later it was voted one of the best songs of the 20th century. Billy Kramer must’ve kicked himself for passing up such an opportunity.

Similarly, clients can pass up opportunities for learning in retirement. Top colleges, such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and others, offer online versions of their courses—for free! Unfortunately, many retirees pass on the thought of taking a college course. Perhaps they think they’re too old or that college just isn’t right for them. They may miss out on opportunities to keep learning in retirement.

What We’ll Cover:

  • Yes, college is for 65+
  • What are Massive Open Online Courses?
  • Learning can be good for your clients’ retirements

First, College Is for 65+

Even though 62% of people over 65 consider themselves lifelong learners,1 the thought of spending hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars for a course, driving to a campus, and walking into a classroom of 18-22 year olds is discouraging. Many clients wouldn’t do it.

So what are other options if your clients want to enhance their skills for work or just learn more about something they’re interested in?

Now they can join a course where age is irrelevant. No one can see them, and they can take classes in their pajamas if they want to. They can take the course anywhere with a mobile phone, tablet, or computer. They can join the classes when it’s convenient for them, whether that’s 5:30 a.m. or midnight. And most courses are free.

Second, What Are Massive Open Online Courses?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are online course aimed at unlimited participation and are available to anyone via the web. The courses include lecture videos, reading material, assignments and tests.

Two of the biggest, most popular MOOCs are edX and Coursera. Clients can browse available courses or search for a topic they’re interested in. When they find a course they want to take, they’ll need to register online. Most courses last 6-8 weeks. Clients will have weekly assignments with quizzes and tests so clients can see their progress. There will be online forums, so they can ask questions, provide feedback, and get help if they need it. But will they find courses they’re interested in?

Both EDx and Coursera offer over 1,000 free online courses. At Coursera, 10% of students are in the 60-plus age group.2 Clients will find a wide variety of courses on topics such as 19th Century Opera, Pyramids of Giza, and The Science of Happiness. The courses are offered by top colleges, but do clients get college credits?

Most of the MOOCs don’t offer college credits. However, you can get an optional certificate of completion, for $49 on Coursera and between $50 and $300 on edX. These accessible courses were designed with individual enrichment and enjoyment in mind, rather than credit accumulation.

Popular Sites that Offer Free or Low-Cost Learning Opportunities

Third, Learning Can Be Good for Clients’ Retirements

Many people enter retirement looking forward to a life of leisure. But many retirees experience a spike in well-being and life satisfaction directly after retiring, followed by a sharp decline in happiness a few years later.3 It’s possible that a life of leisure doesn’t provide the sense of purpose and feelings of accomplishment people experienced during their working years. If clients are feeling that retirement letdown, or they’d like to avoid it, taking an online course could help them find a new, exciting purpose in retirement. Plus, learning may help keep their minds sharp as they age.

A study found that people who learned a mentally demanding skill, like photography, showed improvements in memory compared to those who were only engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities. Learning something that was unfamiliar and mentally challenging was the key to improvement.4

What if Clients Like the Idea of Taking Classes In-Person Instead?

Despite the accessibility and no cost of these online courses, there are definitely benefits of taking courses in-person, too. Clients will probably get more social interaction with other students and professors, and they’ll be able to get more immediate answers to questions. But in-person college courses come with higher cost and commitment. If they pay $500 for a community college course, they’ll feel obligated to attend every class, whether they like it or not. If they take a MOOC course and they’re not enjoying it, they can just stop and try something different.

Remember These Things If Your Clients Want to Keep Learning in Retirement

First, realize that clients can take courses online now without the hassle of going to class in-person or paying a lot. They can learn right in their living rooms using their phones, laptops, or tablets. Second, MOOCs offer a wide variety of course subjects and topics they can learn about, and most of the classes are free. Encourage them to brainstorm topics they'd like to learn about, chances are they can find a MOOC course on a topic they're interested in. Third, help them understand that learning can be good for their retirement and their health.  

What If Bill Kramer Would Have Recorded “Yesterday”?

Because he passed up a great opportunity, we’ll never know how popular he would have become. Don’t let clients pass up opportunities to keep learning. In retirement, they’ve got the time to learn new things—and without incurring a huge cost. MOOCs offer plenty of adventures for them to explore. Here’s how to get started.

Next Steps:

  1. View or download the easy-to-understand client piece below
  2. View or email a client version of this web page to clients
  3. Encourage clients to visit some MOOC websites. edX and Coursera are good places to start. Suggest that they browse available courses or search for a topic they’re interested in. Then encourage them to sign up for their first course.



1The joy – and urgency – of learning, Pew Research Center, 3/22/16. Most recent data available.
2Free Online Courses Keep Retirees in the Know, The New York Times, 3/19/15. Most recent data available.
3Retiring minds want to know, American Psychological Association, 1/14. Most recent data available.
4Learning New Skills Keeps an Aging Mind Sharp, Association for Psychological Science, 10/21/13. Most recent data available.

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The material is provided for educational purposes only.