Productivity / Professional development

Making the case for lifelong learning

Keeping our brains active and engaged, stimulated and challenged is important, writes Jill Weeks.

Keeping our brains active and engaged, stimulated and challenged is important. I was reminded of the value of lifelong learning when I recently interviewed David Bottomley.

Aged 94, he’s the oldest PhD graduate in Australia’s history.

When I met him, he was still chuffed that the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University had personally congratulated him.

Why did he keep studying in his 90’s? ‘Why not?’ was his answer.

He intends that his thesis, Science, Education and Social Vision of Five Nineteenth Century Headmasters, will be put to work and help put creativity into the curriculum. He also hopes his findings will encourage older Australians to be creative.

Just don’t mention the ‘R’ word with Bottomley.

‘Retirement! Hmph!’ he exclaimed. ‘I can’t even spell the word.’ For emphasis, he added: ‘Retirement? Dreadful thought.’

The world’s oldest graduate

Another person who also kept studying was the late Allan Stewart OAM. I chatted with him a few years ago. He’d had the title ‘world’s oldest graduate’ bestowed upon him. He had originally studied dentistry.

He served in World War 2, worked, volunteered and, in his retirement, hit the books.

When I asked Stewart what his family thought about his studies, he simply said: ‘Well, I have a 70-year-old daughter doing a degree course at a university . . .’

He also said that study was more than graduating. ‘ I believe in mental exercise as a health measure.’

He passed away at 103 years of age.

The One Day university

There are many ways people can keep on learning in their retirement. There are various places where people can continue to learn: community courses, University of the 3rd Age courses, as well as tertiary courses.

Steven Schragis is the founder of One Day University ‘ODU.’ It’s a unique adult education program where people can enrol for a day and hear lectures by leading professors. The idea came to him when his daughter enrolled at university. Steven told me that he thought, ‘I wish I was the one going to college! This is much more fun than going to an office.’

The average age of attendees at ODU is 60 years old, and they ‘receive the recognition of attending a seminar.’ ODU is popular, with about 70% of people returning after the first event.

Currently it’s only available in the US.

‘Would ODU come to Australia?’ I asked Schragis.]


Laneway Learning

In most Australian capital cities, Laneway Learning offers one-off classes in pop-up locations. Classes are of 75-minutes duration. Topics are diverse and include such topics as medieval martial arts, illustrated botanical postcards, understanding your emotional intelligence, future ethics, making rice paper rolls, film and theatre—the list goes on.

Author and writer Stephen Petersen, in his retirement, presents on various topics including ‘Japan—what your travel agent won’t tell you.’

He’s a supporter of Laneway Learning. When I asked him his thoughts on retirement, he said, ‘It gives unlimited potential and opportunity.’

We don’t have to undertake serious studies in retirement, but keeping our brain charged and challenged is a necessity.

This article first appeared in RetireNotes

Jill Weeks is the author of 21 Ways To Retire and co-author of several editions of Where To Retire In Australia and Retire Bizzi. She is a regular contributor to radio


126,865 people use Flying Solo to help them create a business with life. Do you?

Connect with Flying Solo

Explore the benefits of membership